#MoralEmergency

On July 2, 2018 in La Opinión, the largest Spanish-language newspaper in the United States, Bend the Arc published a translation of the Declaration of a State of Moral Emergency, signed by over 200 Jewish organizations and more than 18,000 American Jews in response to the Trump administration’s separation and detention of immigrant families.  Reconstructing Judaism, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, and many Reconstructionist congregations are among the signers. Here is a link to a pdf of the full-page ad.

For more ways to get involved with other local Jews organizing to serve our immigrant neighbors threatened with deportation, see the blog and website “We Were Strangers MI.”

 

To this country, in whose promise we still believe, to the millions of people who are outraged and horrified, and especially to the thousands of children who have been separated from their families, we declare our nation to be in a state of moral emergency.

This Administration has established border policies unprecedented in their scope and cruelty, that are inflicting physical, mental, and emotional harm on immigrants and punishing those seeking refuge at our borders.

We are anguished by the stories and images of desperate parents torn from their babies and detention facilities packed with children. We shudder with the knowledge that these inhumane policies are committed in our name, and we lift our voices in protest.

The Jewish community, like many others, knows all too well what it looks like for a government to criminalize the most vulnerable, to lie and obfuscate to justify grossly immoral practices under the banner of “the law,” to interpret holy scripture as a cover for human cruelty, to normalize what can never be made normal. We have seen this before.

When crying children are taken from their parents’ arms, the American Jewish community must not remain silent.

To those who are targeted by these cruel policies, know that the Jewish community hears your cries. We will take risks to support you, and we will demand that our nation’s leaders take action. We will not abide the claim that people didn’t know or understand the extent of your suffering; we will not allow your torment to be in vain.

Our government can persist in this inhumane behavior only if good people remain silent.

And so we declare a state of moral emergency, and we rise to meet this moment. Even as our democratic institutions are under duress, we raise our voices and take decisive action. United by the wisdom of our tradition, we stand with immigrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, with the children, and with their parents. We declare: Not here. Not now. Not in our name.

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.

 

Misheberakh for the State and People of Israel: Rabbi Ascherman visits Ann Arbor

 By Martha Kransdorf

In the first week of May, Israeli-American human rights activist Rabbi Arik Ascherman returned to Ann Arbor on a speaking and fundraising tour. My co-pilot, Harvey Somers, and I were the anchor people for his visit here. We’d like to first of all thank AARC for their support and to thank all of the co-sponsors for the May 2 JCC Fundraising Dinner and Community Forum: Beth Israel’s Social Action Committee, Jewish Cultural Society, Pardes Hannah, & Temple Beth Emeth. In addition to Rabbi Ora, rabbis from each of the other congregations were present, and took part in the evening’s program.

Rabbi Ascherman was the head of Rabbis for Human Rights for 21 years, and last fall he founded a new organization, Torat Tzedek, Torah of Justice. At the Community Forum, he described some of the current issues that he is working on, and the list is long and quite moving. His work ranges from meeting with lawyers and interviewing people who have been threatened by settlers, to lobbying at the Knesset on behalf of poor Israelis, to helping Arab shepherds hold onto their flocks when settlers frighten them and scare them away. Torat Tzedek has also been involved helping African refugees fight the Israeli government’s efforts to deport them and helping Bedouin communities hold on to their way of life.

Rabbi Ascherman’s courage and commitment have not wavered. He won’t throw in the towel. He admits that he is somewhat less optimistic than he has been in the past, but his response is to roll up his sleeves and work harder. He urges us, similarly, to react with urgency by becoming more active.

In addition to speaking at the JCC, Rabbi Ascherman spoke at Shir Tikvah in Troy, and he led text studies at Lunch & Learn programs at TBE and at Kehillat Israel in Lansing. His visit wrapped up with an “Open House” at BIC. A busy week, by any account. We are grateful to our communities in Michigan, which contributed over $4000 to Torat Tzedek. If anyone would like more information on Rabbi Ascherman’s work or on Torat Tzedek, please feel free to get in touch with either of us.

Martha Kransdorf ,  mkransdo@umich.edu    734-663-7933

Harvey Somers,  harveysomers@gmail.com   734-780-6907

Rabbi Ascherman blogs regularly in The Times of Israel. On April 19 2018 he included this “Misheberakh — A Loving Prayer of Healing for the State and People of Israel

The Hebrew is followed by a transliteration, and then a translation.

מי שברך קדמונינו אברהם ושרה, יצחק ורבקה, יעקב לאה ורחל, הוא יברך וירפא את החולים, מדינת ישראל ועם ישראל. הקדוש ברוך הוא ימלא רחמים עלינו להחלימנו ולרפואתנו מכל מחלה המקשה עלינו להגשים את הטוב ואת השאיפות לצדק שבליבנו – ביניהן: העיוורון לנוכחותך בכל אדם והעיוורון למציאות; החירשות לקול הדממה הדקה בתוך רעש הפחד וההפחדה, קולות הענות והמלחמה במחנה; והפקודות; האטימות לסבל של האחר/ת;  הרשימו שנשאר מכל מה שסבלנו אנו, השיכרון מכוח ומשלטון; השנאה לחושב/ת אחרת מאתנו; והאהבה היתרה לארץ ישראל ולמדינת ישראל ולעם ישראל ולכל דבר קדוש המסנוור אותנו לקדושתך ולרצונך. אנא, החזק בנו את היצר הטוב והחיות את אמונתנו בעולם מתוקן במלכותך וביכולתנו לקרבו.  שלח לנו במהרה רפואה שלמה, רפואת הנפש ורפואת הגוף, בתוך שאר החולים/ות, השתא בעגלא ובזמן קרים, ונאמר אמן.

Mi sh’beirakh kadmoneinu Avraham v’Sarah, Yitzhak v’Rivkah, Ya’akov, Leah v’Rakhek, hu yivarekh v’yirapeih et ha’kholim, Medinat Yisrael v’Am Yisrael. HaKadosh Borukh Hu yimaleh rakhamim aleinu  l’hakhlamatanu v’l’rfuatanu mi’kol makhalah ha’makshah aleinu l’hagshim et ha’tov v’et ha’sheifah la’tzedek sh’b’libeinu-beiniehen: ha’ivaraon l’nokhakhutkha b’kholadam v’ha’ivaron l’mitziut; ha’khershut l’kol ha’demamah ha’dakah b’tokh ra’ash ha’pakhad v’ha’hafkhadah, kolot ha’onot v’kolot ha’milkhamah b’makhaneh v’hapekudot;   ha’atimut l’sevel shelha’akher/et; ha’rashimu sh’nishar mi’kol mah sh’avalnu anu; ha’shikaron mi’koakh u’mi’shilton; ha’sinah l’khoshev’et akheret m’itanu; v’ha’ahavah ha’yiterah l’Eretz Yisrael v’l’Medinat Yisrael, v’l’Am Yisrael, v’lkhol d’var kadosh ha’misanveir otanu l’kedushatkhah v’l’ratzonkhah. Anah, he’khezeik banu  et ha’yetzer ha’tov v’ha’khayot et emunateinu b’olam mitukan b’malkhutkha u’v’yekholteinu l’karvo.  Shlakh lanu b’meheirah refuah shleimah, refuat ha’nefesh v’refuat ha’guf, b’tokh sh’ar he’kholim, hashta b’agalah’ u’v’zman Kariv, v’nomar amein.

May the One who blessed our ancestors Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob, Leah and Rachel, bless and heal the ill:  the State and People of Israel.  May the Holy One of Blessing be full of mercy and us to heal us from every illness that keeps us from fulfilling the good and the aspiration for justice that is within us – Among them: Blindness to Your Presence in every human being and blindness to reality; deafness to the Still Small Voice within the thundering fear and fearmongering, the sounds of war and singing in the camp,  and orders; hatred of those who think differently than us, disproportional love for the Land of Israel, the State of Israel, the People of Israel and every holy thing that blinds us to Your Holiness and Your Will.  Please strengthen within us our good inclination and revive our faith in the possibility of a repaired world under Your Sovereignty and our ability to bring that world closer to reality. Send us complete and speedy healing of body and soul, along with all who are ill, speedily and in our day.  And let us say, Amen.

 

Calling all justice-seekers and justice-pursuers!

On Shabbat morning, December 9th, AARC will be celebrating Human Rights Shabbat along with more than 140 congregations across the globe. The centerpiece of our Shabbat service will be YOU. Whether you’re involved in local activism or global human rights work, you are invited to share your work and inspiration with our community.

 

Please sign up to present as part of our Human Rights Shabbat here. We’re excited to hear from you! On Shabbat morning, you’ll be given 4 minutes (total) to address the following questions:
  1. How does your Judaism inform your activism?
  2. What gives you hope?

Speaking of ‘justice-pursuers,’ this unusual turn of phrase comes from the Hebrew ‘tzedek tzedek tirdof’ – ‘justice, justice you shall pursue, so that you might live’ (Deuteronomy 16:20). Various commentators have asked why the word ‘justice’ (sometimes translated as ‘righteousness’) is repeated in the verse. Some have interpreted the repetition as a subtle reminder that the pursuit of justice must also be pursued with justice.

Rav Elya Meir Bloch, a 20th century Orthodox rabbi, elaborates:

“Many times we pursue that which is righteous and fair. Our goal is to ensure that what is right prevails. We are often tempted to let the ends justify the means. We may overlook the fact that we have to step on a few laws here and there as long as in the end ‘righteousness will prevail.’

We know unfortunately how many times throughout history the pursuit of justice was carried on with unjust ways. This has caused terrible destruction. The message of our verse is that we may not overlook unscrupulous methods to achieve lofty goals. Righteousness must be pursued with righteousness. Achieving tzedek in any other way is not tzedek.”

Human Rights Shabbat is organized to coincide with International Human Rights Day, which celebrates the December 10, 1948 signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This years marks its 70th year. You can participate with people from around the globe in marking this anniversary by recording your voice (with your kids!!) reading one of the articles. Here is the website to do this. If you do, let us know in the comments!

 

 

Human Rights Shabbat — Saturday morning, December 10

December 10 is International Human Rights Day, and so we’re making our second Saturday service a Human Rights Shabbat service.  I’ll lead the service, at the normal 10 am time.  We’ll do some of the regular Shacharit service, but have a discussion rather than a Torah service.  In this difficult week and month, I’m still thinking through how to approach this.  My plans from a week ago suddenly seem inadequate.  But I hope many of us can gather and share hope and community.  So save the date.