Jewish Views on Reparations

by Clare Kinberg

May 19th, Erev Shavuot, was an evening of study, cheesecake and blintzes for AARC. There were four study sessions; I hope to do a blog post on each one:

  • Jonas Higbee: “Building a Community Response to Fascism: Lessons from Richard Spencer’s Visit to MSU”
  • Clare Kinberg: “Shavuot4BlackLives: Jewish Views on Reparations”
  • Etta King Heisler: “Belonging in America:  What is Belonging and How Does it Broaden, Limit, Deepen, or Otherwise Define Our Community?”
  • Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner:  “A Long and ‘Twisted’ Relationship: Us, God, and…Challah?”

First up, my session on “Jewish Views on Reparations.” My impetus for the session was “Shilumim,” the shavuot4blacklives study guide put together by Graie Barasch-Hagans, Koach Baruch Frasier and Mackenzie Zev Reynolds and distributed by Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ).

Shilumim is the Hebrew word meaning ‘reparations;’ ‘Leshalem’ is ‘to pay’ from the same root as ‘shalem,’ to make whole. The concept of the study guide is to extend the theme of Shavuot, which Jews begin to count down to on the second night of Passover, the beginning of our liberation, and which traditionally ends with the revelation at Mt Sinai, the receiving of the Torah seven weeks later. Graie, KB and Mackenzie suggest we extend this trajectory another several weeks to end on Juneteenth (June 19) with a focus on what is needed to fulfill liberation. That is, reparations.

Shavuot4blacklives introduces the study by reminding us when the Vision For Black Lives Platform was released in 2016, many members of the Jewish community had strong reactions to the way that Israel was characterized in the document, particularly the use of the word “genocide” in connection to the Palestinian people. At the same time, “Jews of Color in our community called on all of us to remain committed to the Movement For Black Lives, to racial justice, and by extension, to Black Jews no matter what.” They offer this study guide on the reparations sections of the Platform as one way to do that.

The Israelites despoiling the Egyptians. Image from f. 13 of the ‘Golden Haggadah.” 1325–1349

Our discussion was framed using Aryeh Bernstein’s essay, “The Torah Case for Reparations,” in which he draws on many places in Torah to conclude “Jews must support reparations in principle, because we took reparations for our slave labor, we were commanded by God to do so, and we were promised these reparations in the earliest Divine plan for our liberation.” The Bernstein article, a long, worthwhile read (with lots of excellent links) is a specifically Jewish follow-up to Ta-Nehisi Coates 2014 Atlantic essay, “The Case for Reparations.”

As Bernstein’s essay based itself on Torah, Rabbi Sharon Brous’ LA Times Opinion piece, “Why Jews Should Support Reparations for Slavery,” is based on a rabbinic dispute in the Mishna:

Gittin 55a:12

§ The mishna teaches that Rabbi Yoḥanan ben Gudgeda further testified about a stolen beam that was already built into a building and said that the injured party receives the value of the beam but not the beam itself. With regard to this, the Sages taught in a baraita (Tosefta, Bava Kamma 10:5): If one robbed another of a beam and built it into a building, Beit Shammai say: He must destroy the entire building and return the beam to its owners. And Beit Hillel say: The injured party receives only the value of the beam but not the beam itself, due to an ordinance instituted for the sake of the penitent. In order to encourage repentance, the Sages were lenient and required the robber to return only the value of the beam. The mishna was taught in accordance with the opinion of Beit Hillel

I included in our discussion packet two pieces on Affirmative Action that have relevance to our current moment, a moment in which political concord among representatives of Black and Jewish communities is needed, yet is unfortunately characterized by significant discord.

One recent example of the discord: When Starbucks announced that they were closing for an afternoon (Tuesday, May 29) to do a company-wide training on racial bias, they initially included the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) as a consultant on the training. The inclusion of the ADL was immediately met with push-back from some Black activists, which, in turn, was met by dismay from many Jews who think of the ADL as an outstanding leader of anti-bias education. Contemporary Black activists cite the ADL’s frequent coordination with law enforcement and the ADL’s support for U.S. police being trained on crowd-control and counter-terrorism in Israel.

I brought into our Shavuot  discussion my own perspective which relates back to the 1970s when, to my dismay, the ADL argued against Affirmative Action programs, then among the chief policy proposals advocated by African American organizations. The ADL had determined that Affirmative Action was not good for the Jews. Our Ann Arbor community should be interested in the history revealed in this 2003 article “Jews temper views on affirmative action”:

“In the Supreme Court’s landmark 1978 decision against affirmative action in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, Jewish groups lined up in vocal opposition to affirmative programs. In that decision, the court banned quotas but allowed racial criteria to be used in admissions decisions. This time around [2003], their positions are more muted, as well as more diverse. Only the Anti-Defamation League, one of the then-staunchest leaders of the national fight against affirmative action, has filed a brief opposing Michigan’s program.”

I included the 2017 article “Affirmative Action as Reparations” to make the link between the current arguments for reparations and the original thinking behind Affirmative Action.

Menachem Begin protesting against the Reparations from Germany Agreement in March 1952. The sign reads: “Our honor shall not be sold for money. Our blood shall not be atoned by goods. We shall wipe out the disgrace!”

Finally, I included the Yad Vashem Shoah Research Center document on “Reparations and Restitutions,” which, to the surprise of most of us at the table, begins by saying, ‘From 1953-1965, West Germany paid the State of Israel, Jewish survivors, and German refugees hundreds of millions of dollars in a symbolic attempt to make up for the crimes committed by the Nazis during the Holocaust.” The early growth if Israel’s economy was made possible by this money, yet it caused deep division among Jews.

There is a lot of information in this blog, and I hope much food for thought. The comments are open below for any who want to continue this discussion here.

 

AARC Shavuot 2018: Belonging, Behaving, Believing

“In 1934 Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, wrote his classic text Judaism As Civilization. Kaplan taught that there are three ways of identifying with a religious community: by believing, by behaving, and by belonging…And it’s true that no matter what Jews believe, and no matter how Jews behave, there is an underlying, fundamental and intrinsic interconnection that ties us together in a common history and present reality.”

–Rabbi Joe Klein

Celebrate Shavuot with a Night of Learning

Saturday May 19, 7-10 pm at the JCC

Choose from 4 study sessions taught by AARC community members

Eat cheesecake and other dairy sweets

Bring a box of grain to donate to Food Gatherers

Close the evening with Havdallah

7:00 PM:  Gather

7:15-8:15:  Jonas Higbee: “Building a Community Response to Fascism: Lessons from Richard Spencer’s Visit to MSU” (‘Behaving’)

7:15-8:15:  Clare Kinberg: “Shavuot4BlackLives: Jewish Views on Reparations” (‘Behaving’)

8:15-8:30:  Cheesecake Break

8:30-9:30:  Etta King Heisler: “Belonging in America:  What is Belonging and How Does it Broaden, Limit, Deepen, or Otherwise Define Our Community?” (‘Belonging’)

8:30-9:30:  Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner:  “A Long and ‘Twisted’ Relationship: Us, God, and…Challah?” (‘Believing’)

9:30-10:00:  Havdallah

Next Year, Together

At Mimouna this year, we had a serious discussion after Shulchan Orekh/Dinner feast that began with Rabbi Ora making a connection to the afikoman and asking us questions about our relationships with our neighbors:

The word afikoman can be broken up into two Aramaic words, אפיקו מן, meaning “bring out sustenance.” According to the mystical text Sefer HaSichot, eating the afikoman draws down God’s infinite bounty into the framework of our material world.

In light of our many blessings, and the blessings of being in relationship, let’s answer these questions together:

  1. What relationships do we (individually and collectively) already have with local Muslim communities?
  2. In the coming year, what new relationships might be established?
  3. What could AARC’s Mimouna celebration look like next year?

We talked about ways we individually and as a Jewish congregation could grow our relationships with other vulnerable and targeted communities. As a beginning, here are some upcoming activities that were mentioned:

 

This Sunday, April 15, 3-7pm, Open House at the Islamic Center of Ann Arbor, sponsored by the Muslim Association of Ann Arbor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday and Saturday April 20 and 21st, Temple Beth Emeth Social Action Committee is hosting Jan Harboe, author of Train to Crystal City, a book about the secret American internment camp and incarceration of U.S. citizens of German and Japanese descent during WWII.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, April 25, the film And Then They Came for Us about the Japanese interment during WWII, at UM-Rackham Amphitheatre, 915 E. Washington St., Ann Arbor.

Sign up to be a member of the Ann Arbor Jewish Sanctuary Ann Arbor Jewish Sanctuary and Immigration Committee by going to this website, We Were Strangers, MI. 

 

Here is a really good article from the Detroit Jewish News, “Detainee Defenders,”  about the work to defend several hundred Iraqi who have been detained with deportation orders.

Introduction to Mussar: Recap

Rabbi Ora led an introduction to Mussar session at the JCC on January 28th with a very nice group of 16 people. The session began with the question ‘what is Mussar?’ Rabbi Ora defined Mussar as a practice of soul development that strengthens one’s ability to love.

The group learned how Mussar is deeply ingrained in Jewish history —  in fact, Mussar (as a trend towards ethics and morality in contrast to the reification of halachah) has existed for almost 2,000 years. They then took a look at the concepts of the yetzer hatov (the good inclination) and yetzer hara (the evil inclination), and how Mussar considers every moment as an opportunity for us to choose between the two by serving ourselves or serving the other.

Rabbi Ora shared a list of online classes offered by the Center for Contemporary Mussar and the Mussar Institute, and encouraged folks to register for Beth Israel Congregation’s class beginning in March 2018. She put together a document with information about “The Center for Contemporary Mussar,” online classes through the Mussar Institute, and a class being offered at Beth Israel. Here’s a link to the document with these resources.

Ayeka Café – A Monthly Gathering

The Bible’s first story of revelation takes place in the Garden of Eden: After Adam and Eve eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they grow ashamed and fearful, and hide themselves. Then the voice of God travels through the garden, and God asks Adam and Eve: “Ayeka — Where are you?” And Adam reveals: “I heard Your voice in the garden; and I was afraid, and I hid myself.”

Translated literally, God’s question — Ayeka — means “Where are you?” But we can read it more broadly, as Adam did, to also be asking, “How or Who are you?”

Beginning February 1 2018, Rabbi Ora will host a monthly Ayeka Café for AARC members and friends. We’ll gather together to ask ourselves and each other: Ayeka? How are you, at this moment in time? There will be space to explore individual answers in a variety of modalities: through spiritual chevrutah, writing, and/or art-making.

The first Ayeka Café will be 7:30-8:30 PM on Thursday, February 1 at the Common Cup (1511 Washtenaw Avenue).

Ayeka Café is a moment to settle in, grow gentle with yourself, and hear the question: Where are you? Join us in the asking and the answering.

 

Ta-Shma: Come and Learn

 

Beginning Saturday January 13, 2018, there will a new structure to our Second Saturday Shabbat morning services. From 10 to 10:30 AM, Rabbi Ora will lead a half-hour of pre-service learning and discussion. The name of this new initiative is TaShma, which is a Talmudic phrase meaning ‘Come and Learn.’ Our standard Shabbat service will follow each ‘TaShma’ session, beginning at 10:30 AM.

For 2018, the focus of our ‘TaShma’ series is: Revolution Hebrew: Eight Words to Transform Your World. It’s no secret that Jewish prayers are repetitive; during Shabbat services, key words come up again and again – words like MelechOlamKadosh. But the accepted translations of these words (King, World, Holy) obscure deeper meanings.
Revolution Hebrew: Eight Words to Transform Your World will change your experience of prayer by uncovering these hidden meanings. Each month, we’ll tackle a different familiar word and discuss how its ‘unfamiliar’ reading reflects and/or revolutionizes Jewish values. Whether you’re new to Hebrew or fluent, Revolution Hebrew can enrich your spiritual life and shift how you see the world.

 

Ann Arbor Jews prepare for white supremacist speaker at UMich

In anticipation of Richard Spencer’s likely speech on UMich campus during 2018 spring break, Jews in Ann Arbor are preparing. The visit raises an array of  issues for the University and the community. On January 10, 2018 Spencer’s team sued the University of Cincinnati in a scenario similar to what’s happening in Ann Arbor.

Jews in Ann Arbor are adopting a variety of approaches to preparing for Spencer. The comment feature on this blog post is open so that you can weigh in on your reactions to these.

In mid-December the Jewish Federation of Greater Ann Arbor sent out a letter, co-signed by the leadership of most Ann Arbor congregations including AARC, which urged us to prepare for Spencer’s appearance here. The letter says in part, “We are reaching out to Ann Arbor city representatives, the Ann Arbor Police Department, and to the University with the aim of collaborating on effective measures to ensure the safety of our community’s people and institutions…”

Many UM students and faculty are taking an activist approach which eschews collaborating with the police. The Detroit Jewish News reported on protests here. The Stop Spencer at the University of Michigan campaign is bringing together many constituencies targeted by white supremacy and rising white nationalism. Their statement of organization reads:

Richard Spencer has invited himself to speak at the University of Michigan. We have preemptively created this protest event (date to be determined if and when he comes to campus) to get people thinking about what they will be doing when a prominent white supremacist and his supporters arrive on campus and in our community.
We support a diversity of tactics being used against Spencer. We are not interested in telling people what to do on this day, nor do we see it as our role to do so. #StopSpencer is not planning any official protest or event.
Safety is our primary concern. Any form of protest that does not center the needs and well-being of marginalized people is not one that will be effective in protesting Spencer, who will be targeting those same folx. We call on you to critically reflect on your actions, and what groups you choose to work with, in order to understand the potential impacts (harmful or not) on others.
The fight against white supremacy, racism, police violence, Islamophobia and antisemitism is ongoing work. Richard Spencer’s visit is merely a symptom of the white supremacy that is institutionalized in this University, our local government, and local and state police forces (ie the Ann Arbor Police Department). We condemn the history of collaboration between white supremacists and police, which specifically occurred in the 80s and 90s in Ann Arbor. We ask that you acknowledge the legacy of local resistance, and lend your resources to groups already involved in the fight against white supremacy.
We encourage you to leverage your privilege, power, or capacity to take collective action against Spencer in any way you are able. We believe it is imperative to dismantle white supremacy in all its forms.
In solidarity,
Stop Spencer at the University of Michigan

Recently, Jewish students have organized the ad hoc Ann Arbor Jews Against White Supremacy, which is aligned with the campus Stop Spencer campaign.

Two upcoming events of interest:

Stop Spencer at the University of Michigan Town Hall Meeting,

Saturday January 13, 2:30-4:30 in the Anderson Room at the Michigan Union. The purpose of this event is to learn about Richard Spencer’s potential visit from Stop Spencer organizers and community members. For facebook info on the Town Hall.

And specifically for Jews (though everyone is welcome), on Saturday January 27, 7-9pm, a havdallah “to resist antisemitism and white supremacy.” Location to be announced. The purpose of this gathering is to join together with “members of the Jewish community in Ann Arbor for community-building, story sharing, and organizing for the first of a two-part Havdallah gatherings!  Richard Spencer’s visit to the University of Michigan is harmful to our Jewish community. It also deeply affects (Jewish and non-Jewish) people of color, queer, trans*, and two-spirit folks, Muslim people, immigrants, and other groups targeted by white supremacy.” For facebook info on the havdallah.

This post is open for comments. What do you think?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Parenting Group during Beit Sefer, other special January events

Seth and Kathy Kopald

AARC is starting up a new parenting group twice a month on Sunday mornings during Beit Sefer/Religious School. Parents with kids of any age are welcome, including parents of preschool and toddlers. We will offer childcare during the group meetings.

This free, parenting discussion group will be facilitated by Seth Kopald, an Internal Family Systems (IFS) practitioner, parent educator, former Montessori teacher, education consultant, and former Head of School. The Sunday morning groups will run from 9:30-11 every other week, beginning January 14th at the JCC. Seth, Kathy and their family joined AARC this past year.  You can read their New Member Profile here.

Seth will introduce the IFS model in conjunction with Attachment Parenting theory. He will facilitate enriching and generative discussions about parenting with a focus on helping parents discover how their internal world affects their parenting and their level of peace and joy while parenting. Discussion will also include strategies for loving yet clear child discipline/guidance practices.  Coffee available!

On January 28th, AARC Beit Sefer is co-planning a special Tu B’shvat environmental conservation program with the Jewish Cultural Society.  Parents and all other members of AARC are invited to come for the event,”Bats of the World,” presented by the Organization for Bat Conservation. The fun begins at 10:30am at the JCC.

January Calendar of AARC Events

Sunday January 7, 11am JCC: AARC “Third Age” group. Friendly discussion on enhancing Jewish life for members 60 (more or less) and older. This is the second get-together of a new group initiated by the Membership Committee co-chair Marcy Epstein.
Saturday January 13: Second Saturday Shabbat Morning Service. Signup for member lunch here.
Sunday January 14, AARC Book Club9:45-11:30am, home of Greg Saltzman. The book will be: Mohsin Hamid, Exit West (2017) – fiction, short list for Man Booker prize.
Sunday January 14, Parenting Group led by Seth Kopald during Beit Sefer, 9:30-10:45. This group will meet every other week during Beit Sefer through February.
Sunday January 14, during Beit Sefer, Amit Weitzer, Executive Director of Habonim Dror Camp Tavor, will present about camp to students and parents.
January 26Fourth Friday Kabbalat Shabbat, with tot shabbat and potluck, at the JCC.
January 28th 10:30am, JCC: Beit Sefer and all congregation “Bats Around the World” environmental conservation program co-sponsored with Jewish Cultural Society.

About Lincoln’s Nigun

Cover of Joey Weisenberg and the Hadar Ensemble’s 2014 album, “Nigunim Vol IV Brooklyn Spirituals.”

At our October Fourth Friday Kabbalat Shabbat, Rabbi Ora introduced a new to us nigun [a mystical musical melody] for “L’cha Dodi.” Composed by Joey Weisenberg, it is called “Lincoln’s Nigun,” which immediately generated speculation, Why Lincoln?

Evidently, we are not the only ones curious about the nigun’s title. Just last month, Tablet Magazine published a story on the background of “Lincoln’s Nigun,” “If You Like the Music at Brooklyn’s Hippest Shul, Thank Abe Lincoln.” If you have the time, read the article. But to summarize, Weisenberg’s composition was inspired by both a story related in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln about respect the troops showed President Lincoln (the soldiers would part to the left and right to make way for Lincoln) and a phrase in “L’cha Dodi”: “yamin u’smol tifrotzi/to the left and to the right they part ways” expressing respectful welcome for Shabbat.

Weisenberg also characterized the music as influenced by Civil War Americana, as well as traditional Jewish melodies. For some, the melody brought to mind the song “Ashokan Farewell” from Ken Burn’s Civil War miniseries, composed by Jay Ungar, the only song in the soundtrack not composed during the Civil War. (In writing this blog, I also found out that Jay Ungar played at Paul Resnick and Caroline Richardson’s wedding!)

May we enjoy singing this together for many Shabbats to come.

 

 

About our Selichot Prayer Service, Sat Sept 16

by Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner

The practice of Selichot goes back at least 2,000 years, and may be even older: Legend has it that when King David realized the Jerusalem Temple would eventually be destroyed, he begged God to tell him how the Jewish people would be able to connect with God while in exile. God told King David that the people could recite ‘selichot’–penitential prayers–to bring them closer to God, and that they should include a recitation of the “Thirteen Attributes of God,” a passage from Exodus evoking God’s compassionate nature–and one that we now recite throughout Rosh haShana and Yom Kippur: “Adonai! Adonai! A God compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, rich in steadfast kindness, extending kindness to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; yet He does not remit all punishment…”

As Jewish tradition evolved, it became customary to recite Selichot prayers in the days and weeks leading up to Rosh haShana. In Eastern Europe, Selichot were originally recited early in the morning, prior to dawn. There was a custom in Eastern Europe that the person in charge of prayers would make the rounds of the village, knocking three times on each door and saying, “Israel, holy people, awake, arouse yourselves and rise for the service of the Creator!” It later became common practice to hold the first Selichot service–considered the most important–at a time more convenient for the masses. Therefore, the Selichot service was moved to Saturday night.

For our own Selichot service this Saturday night, we’ll end Shabbat together with Havdallah, and then learn a few soulful niggunim – wordless melodies – that will form an aural backdrop to our Rosh haShana and Yom Kippur services. If you’d like to get a head-start on learning these melodies, or if you’re not able to make it to Selichot, here are 2 of the tunes we’ll be learning: Joey Weisenberg’s Shochein Ad and Nishmat Kol Chai.

Selichot Prayer Service
 Saturday, September 16
8pm
each bring a candle (we’ll have extras if you forget)
 Touchstone Common House
(yellow building at the front right behind the Touchstone sign)
 560 Little Lake Drive (off Jackson Rd between Wagner and Zeeb)

please park on the street