Shedding Man’s Blood: Judaism and the Death Penalty

D’var Torah for October 8, 2021

This week’s parashah is Noach, which is ironically fitting, because this shabbat is also being observed as Death Penalty Sabbath by Christian and Jewish congregations in North Carolina.  

Why ironic?  I am not going to discuss the familiar stories of the flood, the rainbow, the tower of Babel.  Rather, I am struck by these two verses that appear in Chapter 9:

But for your own life-blood I will require a reckoning;

I will require it of every beast;

of man, too, will I require a reckoning for human life,

of every man for that of his fellow man!

 

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Making our Votes Count - Fair Districts

The sage Hillel taught, "Al tifros min hatzibur. Do not separate yourself from the community." That is interpreted by many as a declaration that Jews should vote as one element of their participation in their community. Historically, Jews have been one of the segments in the US population to turn out greater than others. But voting only works if the votes count. How might our votes not count? 

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Racial Equity, Property Taxation, and Rosh Hashanah

As we approach the High Holidays, we often focus on the life we are leading and what we need to change. What mistakes have we made and more importantly what new actions we should take in the New Year? Most of us have lists of both types particularly for our personal lives, but have we considered what we might do to better our community? Here in Western North Carolina one way to address that is joining the fight to eliminate inequity and racism in the Buncombe County and Asheville property tax codes, which place an inordinate burden on people of color.

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Jewish Values and Labor Day

By fortuitous coincidence, this year Labor Day falls on Erev Rosh Hashanah, a time of internal and public moral reckoning and our vows to do better in the coming year. The Asheville-based nonprofit Just Economics each year urges congregations of all faiths to observe the sabbath before Labor Day as “Labor Sabbath,” to lift up the plight of workers and act faithfully to seek justice for workers.  

From the global pandemic, to racial and political strife, to the politicization of health protection measures, this year has highlighted existing injustices for workers in an unprecedented way. Millions of workers face unemployment, lack of healthcare and paid medical leave, the threat of eviction, and unsafe working conditions. Small businesses have closed, reopened, and may have to close again, throwing their owners and employees out of work. Essential workers are putting themselves in harm’s way for less than a living wage, and the impacts of racism are devastating for workers of color. All this, while the stock market soars and many large companies and executives thrive. 

How will we pledge to do better for the working people in this nation? What do our Jewish values have to say about that?

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New In-Person Event Guidelines

Since March 2020, it has been CJJ's organizational policy that all official events happen virtually. The health and safety of our community remain our utmost priority, and after extensive research and consideration, we are updating that policy to allow for in-person events. The parameters for in-person events are detailed below.
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Resources for Voting Rights Activism

Assembled below are some of the best nonpartisan organizations working to promote voting and increase voter access and transparency, both here in North Carolina and nationally. 

If there are others that you think should be added or have questions, please contact Cole Parke or Ron Katz

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A Mini Guide to Voting Rights Activism

If you’ve been wanting to get involved and can’t decide what to do, this guide is for you. You have limited time (don’t we all?) and you want to be effective, so what’s the best way to dive in? The purpose of this guide is to answer that question. My goal is to help you take action to make your voice heard and to engage as many others as you can in doing the same.

Remember that educating yourself about the issues is important, but don’t stay on the sidelines.  Democracy in the United States is in peril and the more people involved, the more likely we’ll save (and even expand) democracy. Take comfort in knowing that hundreds of thousands of people have become new activists in the past few years, and that everybody’s contributions – small and large – add up to huge impact. You can keep up with ways to take action by signing up for newsletters from partners listed on our Resources page. Please consider being a part of this!  It’s no time to feel discouraged. There is much to be optimistic about, but we will succeed only if enough of us are willing and able to take action.

This guide begins with my perspective on voting rights activism (even for people who don’t call themselves activists). Following this is an overview of ways to take action. The last section is an up-to-date description of current actions you can take. Things change quickly, as legislative bodies go in and out of session, and as redistricting and elections take front seat later this year. I plan to provide updates in the coming months. 

If you’d like to learn together and take action together with others on voting rights, join your local chapter’s Voting Rights workgroups. The names and contact information of CJJ's Voting Rights Team Leaders for each chapter are listed here (scroll down to the bottom of the page!).

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Help pass the Equality Act!

-By Cole Parke, CJJ Statewide Organizer

Earlier today, I got my first real-deal haircut in over a year, and I feel GREAT! It was such a relief, not only to put my head into the hands of a trusted (and masked) professional, but also to be in a queer-affirming space  in addition to asking how I wanted my hair styled, my hairstylist asked me what pronouns I use, and was kind, respectful, and affirming throughout our interaction.

As a queer and trans person, I don't take this kind of experience for granted, especially in parts of the country where LGBTQ people aren't protected from discrimination.

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Pursuing Racial Justice in our Criminal Legal System

-By Frank Goldsmith, CJJ-West Steering Committee & Statewide Board Member

 

Barukh atah hashem eloheinu melekh ha-olam, matir asurim.

Praised are you, Lord our God, sovereign of time and space, who releases the imprisoned.

Fairness, mercy, and compassion are at the heart of Judaism’s approach to criminal punishment.  Thus we begin the traditional morning service with the birkhot ha-shachar, the morning blessings, which include praise of God for releasing those bound or imprisoned. 

The birkat ha-gomel, thanking God for saving us from danger, is recited not only when we have recovered from serious illness or returned from a long journey, but also on the occasion of being released from prison (B’rakhot 54b).  (It is not because the imprisonment might not have been deserved; Orthodox siddurim translations candidly thank God “who bestows goodness upon the guilty.”)

The Torah, while sanctioning punishment for the guilty, admonishes us to remember their humanity; excessive punishment is forbidden, “lest your brother be degraded before your eyes.” (Deut. 25:2-3.)  The offender is still our sibling. 

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Jewish community calls for Rep. Cawthorn's resignation

The following op-ed was published in the Asheville Citizen Times on Sunday, January 17, 2021, authored by Deborah Miles of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Western NC, and David Hurand of Carolina Jews for Justice.


The Western North Carolina Jewish community had been looking forward to having a constructive dialogue with Madison Cawthorn, our newly elected congressional representative.  We had asked for a meeting date and were awaiting a response.  Now, however, after witnessing his role in the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, we have decided that our differences are beyond the pale of conversation. We are instead calling for his immediate resignation as Representative of North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District.

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