September 11, 2023 Update:
In balancing the continued threat of the COVID variants and organizing needs, CJJ gatherings take place virtually and in-person, recommended outdoors or indoors with masks as determined by individual comfort and community agreements.
For everyone’s safety we ask that you please take a rapid COVID test the day of or a PCR test the day before attending any in-person CJJ or community partner event. If you feel sick, keep the community safe by staying home.
Should you discover a potential exposure at a CJJ event, please be in touch immediately so that we can take the appropriate actions: 919-301-9692.
Many of us are thinking what kinds of risks we are willing to take as individuals to regain our reproductive rights. Dr. LeRoy Carhart, whose obituary appeared in the May 1, 2023 edition of the New York Times, was a man who lived with a target on his back because he was an abortionist— a label he did not eschew. His obituary probably also appeared in the Omaha-World Herald, because it was in Nebraska where he dedicated himself to women’s health, specifically contraception and abortion. More specifically, late-term abortions.
As you will read in the Times’ obituary linked here, he made women’s health his life’s work after a 1991 fire destroyed his farm, and killed his dog, cat and 17 of his 21 horses. The fire had been set in retaliation for his performing abortions. As is said in his obituary, Dr. Carhart waxed philosophical that a perfect world would have no abortions; and yet he recognized that he did not live in a perfect world. He believed that no one —except mothers —knew when life began. The obituary concludes with his daughter estimating that over the course of his life, her father “trained 300 - 500 doctors in how to perform an abortion.”
Just an FYI: Dr. Carhart was a Methodist, a 21-year veteran of the Air Force, and a registered Republican.
Diamond Staton-Williams is a registered nurse, small business owner, mother of three (which includes two teenage girls), and a member of the North Carolina State House of Representatives. Before SB 20 was adopted by the Republican majority, Staton-Williams shared her abortion experience with her fellow legislators. This was met with a retort by Rep. Keith Kidwell that Staton-Williams was “going to the Church of Satan.” Kidwell, who in March 2023 was the primary sponsor of a bill that would ban legal abortion in NC except as necessary to save a mother’s life, later issued an apology and resigned his deputy whip position.
In February, during Faith Based Advocacy Day, a group of us from Temple Beth El met with three legislators: Diamond Staton-Williams, Frances Jackson, and Laura Budd. We shared with Staton-Williams that our Jewish faith, dating back to the Torah, does not view abortion as murder, and that abortion at times is required in Judaism when the life of the pregnant person is at stake. Staton-Williams then shared her abortion story with us, telling us that she sought guidance from God before she made her decision. Regarding Kidwell’s comment, Staton-Williams’ response aligned with our Jewish values: “I think as a person of faith, and believe as a person of faith,” and she was disappointed that Kidwell's faith couldn’t recognize that she could have her “own faith” and her “own beliefs."
by Judy Leavitt
Abortion Bans Are Against My Religion – that is the message magnet I attached to my car. From the National Council of Jewish Women, the message clearly proclaims a fundamental First Amendment and Jewish perspective on abortion – Jews do not want to be governed by policies that reflect a majority Christian view. Since the Dobbs decision by the Supreme Court that overturned a constitutional right to abortion, these messages have been amplified by policies that states are instituting.
On my way into a store a few days ago, a woman came up and wanted to know what the magnet message meant. Before I had a chance to explain, she was already screaming that life begins at conception. I walked away annoyed, but realized it is the first time in almost a year that anyone had reacted so vociferously to the magnet. When I got home and walked around the back of the car on the way into the house, I looked at the magnet: written across in
indelible ink, Baby Killer!
It clearly was a reminder that we live in a community where, as Jews, we are a religious minority. For me, it was a motivator to continue the fight that I began more than 50 years ago in upstate New York when I worked for my Assemblywoman, Constance Cook, who cast the deciding vote in 1974 that legalized abortion in New York state. That law was the basis for the Supreme Court decision, known as Roe v. Wade.
Women were finally able to receive excellent reproductive healthcare from qualified providers The law resulted in a dramatic decrease in women’s mortality from botched and illegal abortions and enabled women to get a full range of reproductive care.
At the time I was volunteering as a maternity and pediatric nurse at our local Planned Parenthood and became aware of how many women were seeking abortion services, which were still only available by a few physicians. My own OB/GYN was the medical director of the clinic. As we shared our observations, we decided that we needed to create abortion services at Planned Parenthood – and the first such clinic was opened in upstate New York. For the next 50 years, women and men assumed those services would be available despite the gradual restrictions that many states instituted.
Now in 2023 the Republican super-majority in the Legislature has passed a bill that outlaws most abortions after 12 weeks and makes it exceedingly difficult to obtain one before that time. It will cause most abortion clinics to close.
What does a draconian abortion ban mean for each of us, our children, grandchildren, and childbearing folks? Until now North Carolina has had the least restrictive abortion laws of any southwest state in terms of access to abortion and reproductive care, including for LGBTQA+. That all could change. For updated information go to: this link here.
We need to be informed about these changing laws and speak out in support of expanded access to care.
Kesher Connection is an online forum to learn about current justice issues, what CJJ is working on, and how you can get involved! Check out the recording below from April 2023 online statewide gathering. Make sure to listen to member leader Lia Kaz present on the HEART crisis response pilot. Convened by Durham Beyond Policing, CJJ is an integral part of a core group of activists committed to expanding this program, which you can learn more about starting at 14:20 below.
We build the organizing power of our progressive Jewish community in North Carolina through activation around the social justice issues that matter to us. One of the ways the coordinating team at CJJ would like to build power over the next year is by supporting our members developing their skills as organizers and advocates. Jewish Organizing Institute and Network (www.joinforjustice.org) offers an online course called Don’t Kvetch, Organize in community organizing skills that has been helpful for a number of our members, and we'd like to bring together a group of folks at CJJ to take the course together. You can register for the course at this link.
The course was designed for people who are either relatively new to organizing, or who have been organizing for several years without having had the benefit of sustained training. It can be especially eye opening for people who have some experience under their belt, and it's invaluable having an organizing context to think about how to apply the concepts in the course. The course teaches organizing fundamentals like the difference between organizing and direct service, what a campaign is and how to build power, and how to think about working in coalition with other groups, all essential parts of how CJJ shows up. You can register for the course at this link.
The course is entirely online, it will begin in mid-April and run through the first week of June. Most of the course content is pre-recorded videos that you can watch on your own time - requiring under two hours of your time per week. You would be taking the course in a group of about 20 - 30 people. There will be a live training each week where you'll get to talk about the content from the course and practice some of the skills, which will be recorded if you can't make the time. You will also be able to post on a discussion forum responding to a prompt each week. You can register for the course at this link.
Registration for the course is on an income-based sliding scale, from $175 - $345. Send an email to [email protected] or let a staff member know if additional support is needed, or if you have any questions. Thanks for making CJJ your Jewish social justice home.
The woman ahead of me waiting to pass through the metal detector at the entrance to the General Assembly in Raleigh, North Carolina, wore a t-shirt that read, “Everybody Loves Somebody Who Has Had an Abortion.” I surmised that she, too, had come to participate in the first Faith Leaders Lobby Day on February 28th, organized by Planned Parenthood Votes! South Atlantic.
Just beyond the red-carpeted main staircase was an indoor courtyard filled with lobbyists steadfastly devoted to all sorts of issues. It was easy to spot my group: women in pink “I Stand with Planned Parenthood” t-shirts, female ministers with clerical collars, and a contingent of Jewish women wearing “Carolina Jews for Justice” stickers (they were members of temples and synagogues, unaffiliated Jews, and members of local chapters of Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, which has a 2023 policy statement on reproductive choice).
Almost 50 of us – Jews, Muslims and Christians of multiple denominations – had come to explain to legislators how our faiths support our right to make reproductive healthcare decisions for ourselves. We were in Raleigh to advocate for HB/SB 19, recently introduced to codify in North Carolina the right to an abortion once guaranteed by the struck-down Roe v. Wade decision and signed onto by every Democratic member of the House and Senate of North Carolina. We were there lobbying because even though North Carolina currently allows abortions up to 20 weeks, which makes it an abortion refuge for women from neighboring states with bans on abortions earlier in pregnancy, others were lobbying for a six-week “heartbeat” bill.
As I waited outside a Democratic representative’s office for my group’s turn, a large group of men at a nearby table prayed with their bible. We, too, had come to advocate for public policy because of our faith. But our advocacy was based on the separation of church and state. It was based on the notion that religious freedom means that the men praying next to us should not be able to impose what they believe about when life begins upon pregnant women in our state.
I explained to each of the three representatives we met with that for thousands of years, our Torah and other religious texts have put the well-being of the pregnant woman first, prioritizing her life over the potential life of the fetus.
Yes, my faith believes that life is sacred; for that reason, women must have full access to the entire spectrum of reproductive health care, including contraception and abortion.
Rabbis have long interpreted the commandment “Be fruitful and multiply” to apply only to men and not women because you cannot be commanded to do something that could kill you. A close friend almost hemorrhaged to death giving birth; another friend, now deceased, had a heart attack when nursing her baby and needed a heart transplant because pregnancy hormones caused heart disease.
A fellow lobbyist recalled how she brought a friend with an unwanted pregnancy to her rabbi for counseling. Do we really want to live in a state that would impose civil and criminal penalties on clergy who counsel their congregants in the conduct of their daily lives?
We had not anticipated that representatives would share their stories with us. They did. One, a mother of two, acknowledged having had an abortion. And yes, she had prayed for guidance from God. A legislative aide of another representative had battled uterine cancer but later became pregnant with the help of in vitro fertilization. She rejected the notion that any legislator was going to decide what was best for her reproductive health. A third representative noted how many legislators’ “pro-life” views do not extend to supporting SNAP or Medicaid benefits for the impoverished.
Exiting the building, I walked across the Great Seal of North Carolina. It features two female figures symbolizing Liberty and Plenty. What North Carolina needs right now is a legislature that recognizes women’s personal liberty and acknowledges that everybody loves somebody who has had an abortion. To paraphrase the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, only with such liberty can women share in the full dignity that comes from being an adult human responsible for one’s own choices.
This post was written by CJJ member Amy Lefkof from Charlotte. It was first posted on the Times of Israel blog linked here.
Interview with J Hackett
Black Wall Street-AVL, The Grind Coffee Shop, Grindfest, Green Opportunities -- all entrepreneur organizations and businesses started or led by Joseph Hackett, known locally as J Hackett.
Hackett is dedicated to making Asheville a business and tourist destination for BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color). As a community ally, Carolina Jews for Justice is committed to supporting Black-owned and Black-led businesses.
J has a compelling story to tell.
He grew up in Philadelphia but went to school in North Carolina. J was given a scholarship by Elizabeth Dole, then Director of the American Red Cross. He could choose any school; he picked UNC-A. He started as an opera singer, then switched his major to sociology, with a minor in Africana Studies. He got married in Asheville and then moved to Richmond. His wife, Dr. Alaysia Black Hackett, was appointed in 2022 by President Biden as Chief Diversity Officer of the US Department of Labor.
J relates about a pivotal time when he started a business at age 26. As a young leader without strong financial knowledge, his business failed, resulting in a prison sentence for organizational mistakes. Since completing his sentence and probation in 2018, Hackett has made it a priority to help people like himself learn how to be better leaders of their organizations.
J returned to Asheville and was appointed Executive Director of Green Opportunities (GO) at the Edington Center in the Southside Community. He expanded the Kitchen Ready program and developed other work programs focused on developing skills for people unemployed or previously incarcerated.
After leaving GO, J worked internationally for Tremm Global Charities briefly before turning his attention to improving the opportunities for Black-owned businesses in Asheville. With Gene Ettison, he founded The Grind as the first Black-owned coffee bar and networking space, especially for Black entrepreneurs. He and his current partner Bruce Waller have grown The Grind to be recognized as the 3 rd best coffee shop in NC, the #1 minority owned business in WNC, and the fastest growing startup in Asheville in 2022.
Hackett is also the founder of Black Wall Street AVL (https://blackwallstreetavl.com/), which he describes as "a black business incubator that helps start, grow and expand Black Businesses"; As those two business ventures continue to thrive, Hackett has focused on helping others learn to
write grants for their non-profit organizations.
The idea for providing such opportunities evolved from the State of Black Asheville (https://stateofblackasheville.com/) data started by Dr. Dwight Mullen, currently chair of the Reparations Commission (and J’s former professor at UNC-A). The data demonstrated how few successful black businesses were in Asheville. J sought support from Rotary, the Chamber of Commerce, the Tourism Board, and elsewhere. He was successful in receiving grants from the City of Asheville and NC Idea Foundation -- and Black Wall Street AVL took off. His dream was to start with 20 businesses in 2021; instead, they enrolled 74. Revenue was projected to be $250,000; instead, it exceeded $1 million. Since then, they have enrolled 135 businesses, generating over $2 million in revenue and 24 new jobs.
Another city grant allowed the working space at The Grind to move to its own space at 8 River Arts Place, still known as Southside to the Black folks who lived there. “Grindfest,” a celebration of Black Wall St/AVL members and supporters, brought in more revenue.
I asked J how the Jewish community could be supportive of Black Wall Street AVL. His response included:
- Volunteer for activities of Black Wall Street, including at Grindfest, May 26-28 (https://blackwallstreetavl.com/events)
- Share knowledge about business strategies with members
- Support participating BIPOC businesses
- Host events at Black Wall Street spaces
- Reach out as a friend and make personal connections with members
For more information about J, watch (https://tedxasheville.com/speaker/j-hackett/). To join us
in working for racial justice, go to carolinajewsforjustice.org or contact Judy Leavitt
Holocaust Education in North Carolina
By Marty Mann, CJJ-West member
As a member of the North Carolina Council on the Holocaust (a council under the NC Department of Public Instruction) and a retired Buncombe County educator, I want to better educate the Jewish community on the Gizella Abramson Holocaust Education Act. (Gizella Abramson was a Holocaust survivor who created the North Carolina Council on the Holocaust.) I believe there has not been enough education regarding this law and its history provided for North Carolina educators, parents, and the community. This article seeks to remedy that lack of information.
Over the past year and a half the Holocaust Council and state educational agencies have been working to develop a curriculum and to train staff to implement the Act’s requirements, currently scheduled to begin next school year. Here are some key points about the history and content of the Act, partially taken from an article for the North Carolina Holocaust Speakers Bureau by Raleigh attorney Richard Schwartz, Co-Chair of the NC Council on the Holocaust:
In 2019 the late Representative Linda Johnson, emotionally moved by her attendance at a teacher workshop conducted by the North Carolina Council on the Holocaust, introduced a bill that became known as the Gizella Abramson Holocaust Education Act.
The General Assembly passed a budget that year that included enacting the bill. Due to disagreements between the Governor and the General Assembly the Governor vetoed the budget bill, and therefore the Act was not passed.
After passage failed the Act was revived in 2021 to include language from the federal
“Never Again Education Act” enacted in 2020, requiring that the federal act’s concepts of anti-Semitism, Holocaust, and Holocaust denial and distortion be used for our state’s standards, staff development, and curriculum and materials.
The revised bill also “significantly strengthened our education laws by requiring the State Board of Education to review the middle school and high school curriculum and to consult with the North Carolina Council on the Holocaust and North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching to integrate education on the Holocaust and genocide into English, Social Studies, and other courses, as appropriate.”
The bill provided for “the development of a state-wide Holocaust Studies elective for middle schools and high schools and required the state Department of Public Instruction and local boards of education to provide professional development to ensure the appropriate implementation of this Act, working with the NC Council on the Holocaust.”
The bill finally passed in 2021 and provides funds from the state budget for two years to be used in preparation of the curriculum to be implemented in the classroom beginning in the 2023-2024 school year. It is possible that implementation of the Act could be delayed, but that would require a change in the law.
The Act’s reach is statewide, forming part of the NC Standards for Grades 6-12. Teachers will be required to attend professional development created by the state to teach content and strategies for the subject matter. The schools’ leadership in each school, school systems’ central office personnel, and the Department of Public instruction will attempt to ensure that the curriculum is consistently taught from classroom to classroom and school district to school district.
I believe while the Jewish community stands to benefit from this Act, unfortunately it addresses only a small part of what should be taught in classrooms regarding the true history of our country and world. There are many ethnic, religious, racial, and other groups that have not had their histories accurately portrayed. As Jews, we need to be active in speaking out for others. Accurate and complete history must be taught to every student, as we all have contributed to this country.
If you are interested in receiving updates or have any questions, please contact the author at [email protected].
Posted on December 14, 2022 by Jessica Wakeman on MountainXpress
Abby Lublin wants to talk about Jewish joy.
It may not seem like an especially joyful time for the executive director of Carolina Jews for Justice. Antisemitism has been front of mind for many Americans in recent weeks: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump had dinner at his Mar-a-Lago resort with Nick Fuentes, a white nationalist media personality who has accused Jews of subverting American values. The nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate reported a 23% increase in the use of a slur against Jewish people on Twitter in the week following the social network’s purchase by Elon Musk. And Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West (who also dined at Mar-a-Lago with Trump and Fuentes), was suspended from Twitter for posting a swastika blended with a Star of David.
Lublin, however, is adamant about uniting the Jewish community through a sense of belonging, not shared trauma. “It is especially important for Jews to live in our joy, in our boldness and in our connection,” she explains. “In a state like North Carolina, we’re never in places where we’re the majority, and so Jews have to really find each other.”
The Jewish community has woven strong ties in Asheville. The city is home to two synagogues — Congregation Beth HaTephila and Beth Israel Synagogue — as well as a Jewish Community Center. And Lublin, who lives in Durham, says Western North Carolina supports a robust local chapter of Carolina Jews for Justice, which is based out of Asheville and covers 17 counties.
“We’ve seen a steady flow of people who are Jewish who’ve come [here] because they see a vibrant Jewish community that they can be part of,” Rabbi Batsheva Meiri of Congregation Beth HaTephila tells Xpress. “And so Asheville becomes attractive to them.”
Meiri says membership at her congregation has grown by 10% each year since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We have this influx of people who have been transplanted here because of the pandemic, and we also have a lot of people [in Asheville already] who are excited to come back and be part of temple life,” she explains.
Much of the Jewish community in Asheville revolves around rites of passage similar to those of other faith traditions. Meiri cites “religious school, training for bar and bat mitzvahs, welcoming babies, helping people through times of grief and getting married,” as well as regular worship services, as the pillars of community life.
Cultural celebration, particularly around food and music, may be one of the most prominent aspects of Jewish life in Asheville. Deborah Miles, a member of Carolina Jews for Justice West, founder of the Center for Diversity Education at UNC Asheville and a member of Beth Israel, notes the joy she gets from performances of Bandana Klezmer, in which her husband, Marc Rudow, plays fiddle. The group grew out of a class at the Jewish Community Center 17 years ago and now regularly plays parties and cultural events.
However, members of Asheville’s Jewish community also tell Xpress they’re united on social justice issues through the practice of tikkun olam, or “repair of the world.” Meiri says racial justice, voting rights and reproductive justice are the three topics most prominent on her congregation’s mind.
Assisting refugees has been important to Congregation Beth HaTephila as well. Members helped five Afghan evacuees who had settled in Asheville with their immigration hearings, Meiri explains. Her congregants have also raised money for displaced Ukrainians; in April, she delivered $56,000 donated from people in Asheville to the Jewish Community Center in Krakow, Poland, which was assisting those fleeing Ukraine’s war with Russia.
Miles says she has participated in local “get out the vote” efforts for years. “Because of [Jewish] history, we know just sitting there is not going to protect us,” she explains. She says making a personal connection to voters and having deeper conversations with them about the issues helps encourage them to vote. (Miles is the mother of state Rep. Caleb Rudow, a Democrat representing District 116.)
‘The oldest conspiracy theory’
Such engagement is particularly important now, Lublin suggests, given what she calls the mainstreaming of antisemitic beliefs in political discourse. She says lies about Jews are “the oldest conspiracy theory … frequently trotted out when it benefits those in power.”
Lublin points to white supremacists’ recent embrace of “The Great Replacement” — the conspiracy theory that white Christians of European descent are being replaced by people from the Middle East and Africa who have higher birth rates. In the U.S., some people with far-right views believe that Jewish people are manipulating immigration to achieve that end; for example, at the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., marchers chanted, “Jews will not replace us.”
Esther Manheimer, mayor of Asheville and a member of Congregation Beth HaTephila, echoes Lublin’s concerns. “I worry about Jews in America and antisemitism being a polarizing political issue,” Manheimer writes in an email to Xpress. “No form of subjugation should be politicized, yet it is.”
Manheimer continues that she “struggle[s] to imagine how to pull back from partisanship playing into preventing and responding to hate speech and actions, but that is what we need to do as a nation, and leadership should be a role model in this effort.”
Much of that antisemitic rhetoric is taking place at the national level, but local law enforcement remains alert for worrying signs. Asheville Police Department Capt. Joseph Silberman, who is Jewish and has been on the force for 19 years, says in the past two years, police have investigated “a number of incidents” directed at the Jewish community.
Jewish institutions in Asheville take safety “very, very seriously,” Silberman says, explaining that they will contact APD with any concerns. The department has also provided those institutions with training on explosives awareness.
However, there have been “no specific threats, or what we would consider communicating threats, to a Jewish institution or place of worship,” he says. Among the incidents APD has looked into included damaged property — “minor vandalism that didn’t have a specific antisemitic connection but we still are sensitive to” — and harassing phone calls, Silberman explains.
Silberman also says there have been “prominent Jewish people that were threatened” on the internet by white supremacists, and in those cases APD has worked in partnership with the FBI. He declined to go into more detail about that activity with Xpress.
“You have to take all of these very seriously,” Silberman says. “But the reason it’s so sensitive is we can’t let one fall through the cracks, because we don’t know what it would lead to.”
Hate crimes are governed by federal statute, Silberman says, and North Carolina has legislation prohibiting “ethnic intimidation” due to race, color, religion or nationality. He says nearly all of the incidents related to the local Jewish community that have aroused concern haven’t met the criteria to be charged under those laws. Spray-painted vandalism at a temple, for example, might raise concern but not meet the threshold of ethnic intimidation.
Asked whether any local incidents have made him personally concerned, Silberman recalls one case of intimidation against a resident of Jewish descent. “I remember feeling personal discomfort to have that reminder that there are people like that out there,” Silberman says. “As far as we’ve come as a society — and it’s been leaps and bounds the past 50 years — there are still people like that out there, and being on guard is still necessary.”