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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Shabbes Reflections from Anna Grant

On Saturday, November 7, in advance of the Protect Our Votes rally in Raleigh, CJJ hosted a Shabbat morning service in order to create a space of community connection with other Jews for justice and to ground ourselves in the prophetic traditions of our Judaism. Anna Grant — CJJ-Durham/OC member, NCAE organizer, and all around social justice super hero — offered the following reflections during our time together.


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Are You Ready to Vote?

Voting is happening now, and uncertainty still dominates the news.

  • Will we be able to vote safely in person? The answer is yes! County Boards of Elections have taken great pains to make voting safe for poll workers and voters.
  • Will some precincts be closed? That is not clear at this point, but recruitment of poll workers has been strong.
  • Will there be long lines? Early Voting has been strong and is breaking records! That bodes well for Election Day having shorter lines.
  • What if I want to vote by mail? You can still vote by mail (provided you submitted an application for your absentee ballot by Oct. 27), but you need to send in your ballot as soon as possible.
  • How do I know if my absentee ballot has been accepted? If you have a valid absentee request on file with your county board of elections, you can use North Carolina BallotTrax to determine its status.
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Today we remember

Two years ago 11 people were murdered at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

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What's Coming This Election Season

This content was originally shared on our Oct. 21 Southern Jews Call: Building Community in Crisis. We will be holding a second call for the same audience, on Wed., Nov. 18: Register here.

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Support the Asheville Racial Justice Coalition’s “Walk the Walk” Campaign!

In June of this year, multiple organizations in the Asheville Jewish Community co-signed a joint statement of solidarity with those experiencing harm and grief from widescale racism in our society. We committed to educating ourselves and actively supporting organizations addressing racism. 

Effective justice work centers around the notion of “Nothing About Us Without Us.” For policy changes genuinely to address racism, the people who are most affected by decisions must be central to the decision-making. Many believe that the City of Asheville’s efforts to engage the Black community, gathering information and ideas and applying them to decision-making, have been inadequate. The Racial Justice Coalition of Asheville is launching the Walk the Walk Campaign, an in-depth canvassing initiative directly engaging people most affected by City and County decisions regarding reimagining public safety and approaches for reparations.

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Labor Sabbath: A D'var Torah

This week’s parashah is Ki Tavo, and while there is not much I will have to say about all the blessings and the amazingly graphic and inventive curses, the tokhea, that are in it – in fact, I will say nothing at all about them – I do want to take note of the portion’s opening paragraphs.  

Ki tavo means “when you come,” referring to Israel’s entry into the promised land.  The first act upon entering the land is to perform a harvest ritual with a basket of each of the first fruits of the soil as a token of acknowledgment of God’s role in freeing the people and bringing them to this land.  The ritual includes the recitation of the words familiar to us from our Passover Haggadah:  

My father was a fugitive Aramean. He went down to Egypt with meager numbers and sojourned – or we might say “immigrated” – there; and there he became a great and very populous nation.  

The Egyptians dealt harshly with us and oppressed us; they imposed heavy labor upon us.

We cried to Adonai, the God of our fathers, and Adonai heard our plea and saw our plight, our misery, and our oppression.

Adonai freed us from Egypt by a mighty hand, by an outstretched arm and awesome power, and by signs and portents.

Adonai brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

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2020 NC General Assembly Candidate Report - WNC Districts

It is important for candidates to be able to share their positions on important issues and for the constituents in those districts to know about those positions. Carolina Jews for Justice (CJJ) is a nonpartisan nonprofit “fighting for a just, fair and compassionate North Carolina.” As a nonpartisan nonprofit, CJJ cannot endorse or oppose candidates or parties; however, we are committed to promoting voting and giving people in our state the information they need to vote.

Carolina Jews for Justice-West (CJJ-West) is a chapter of CJJ. Here in western North Carolina, we wanted to promote the opportunity for candidates and constituents to connect and decided on a three question candidate questionnaire.

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Flawed Friends: Whom Do We Praise?

By Frank Goldsmith

Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers in their generations.

 – The Wisdom of Yehoshua ben Sirach (“Ecclesiasticus”) 44:1.  

We are in the month of Elul, the month of teshuvah, of taking stock of our moral account, of repentance, of seeking forgiveness, of returning to the path of righteousness.

We admit the many ways in which we have sinned, beating our hand against our chest with each phrase.  

Al ḥet sheḥatanu l’fanekha . . . 

“For the sin we have committed before you . . .” 

But the acrostic enumeration in the machzor, though extensive, is finite; can any list truly encompass the range of human failings?   

Al ḥet sheḥatanu l’fanekha b’yod’im uv’lo yod’im.

“For the sin we have committed before you knowingly and unknowingly.” 

How can we commit a sin unknowingly?  By remaining cloaked in ignorance, when some inquiry would cast a new light.

Such is the risk when we honor someone by erecting a monument.  Zebulon Vance, who was memorialized with a 75’ monument in downtown Asheville in 1897, was a complicated man whose life included, as do all lives, a mixture of the praiseworthy and the abominable.  

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