By Barbara Weitz, CJJ-West leader
At Passover, we are called to remember the plight of all peoples in the world who, like us, retell the stories of deliverance from slavery to freedom. This simple act of remembering has been repeated for hundreds of generations and continues to have a power and cultural currency beyond the holiday. Our own story remains a powerful source of identity and motivation for the descendants of the Israelites. We were exiled from our homeland and enslaved in Egypt for four hundred years, and then stateless nomads for forty years in the wilderness of Sinai, at the mercy of the elements, often losing faith as danger surrounded us.
By Peretz Cohn, CJJ/West Steering Committee Member
In the context of our heated and divisive regional and national politics, many communities in America feel increasingly threatened. As Jews, we witness with great trepidation the rise of antisemitism; our physical safety no longer taken for granted. Immigrants, people of color, Jews, Muslims, “ethnic Americans” from everywhere around the world, sense that we are living in perilous times.
There is much work to be done by the Jewish communities here in North Carolina, to speak out against antisemitism and all forms of social injustice. These times demand that we have the difficult conversations within our Jewish communities about antisemitism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, whiteness, and privilege within our own diverse — and often divided — Jewish communities as we continue to reach out to others who face even greater, and perhaps more immediate, external threats to their safety.
Our security lies in our diversity and solidarity with all communities impacted by racism, bigotry, oppression, and exclusion.
By Rabbi Meiri of Congregation Beth HaTephila, originally posted as Between You and Me (December 2019).
Last month, I was one of 30 people Carolina Jews for Justice gathered to make pilgrimage to Montgomery, Alabama. Among the sites we visited were the Rosa Parks museum, Freedom Riders Museum, Dexter Street Baptist Church and the Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, all living testimonials dedicated to the process of truth and racial reconciliation that I believe are essential to our country’s healing and our collective future.
Here are a few immediate reflections:
This year on August 11, Carolina Jews for Justice/West sponsored a program on Tisha B’Av, a traditional Jewish day of mourning, at Congregation Beth Israel in Asheville; it is a time when Jews around the world remember some of the greatest tragedies of our history. Tisha B’Av also presents us with the opportunity to reflect on contemporary atrocities, and this year we are particularly compelled to reflect on the violent and dehumanizing treatment of immigrants and refugees in the U.S. – a modern day catastrophe that demands our attention, our voice, and our action. Action steps were discussed to enable those present to become actively engaged in efforts to support immigrants and refugees in our country. Following the service, CJJ/West Steering Committee member Frank Goldsmith looks on as Rabbi Justin Goldstein shows a Torah scroll to Magaly Urdiales, one of the speakers who represented the immigrant communities, and her son Joaquin.
By Emma Cohn, CJJ Board Member
A week ago on Shabbat, I found myself on a farm in western North Carolina with 28 other Southern Jews talking about white nationalist mushrooms.
I was sitting on a patch of grass at Yesod Farm and Kitchen, a teaching farm and spiritual center in Fairview, a small town in the Appalachian Blue Ridge Mountains. I was there for the #WeAreHere retreat, a training held by the social action organization Carolina Jews for Justice to teach community organizers from across North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee how to lead workshops on white supremacy, white nationalism, and antisemitism. Light stuff.
But I was also there in search of a home.
A response to Keaton Hill’s reflection by Dr. Walter Ziffer
I want to make an observation based on my own experience and by doing so emphatically support what you quote from Adichie, that story telling and song are able to encourage people's lower instincts such as maltreatment of "the other" and all kind of malignant behavior, etc. The Nazis were masters of using false stories and rousing song that influenced even my sister and myself to the point where we admired the SS marching by and singing beautifully, I must admit, songs that aroused within the listeners hatred and Nazi supremacist ideology. What I am trying to say is that the "cognitive" aspect you mention is all important because it is that aspect that determines whether the story telling and the song are for the good or for evil. It is the substance, in my opinion, that is the determining factor whether what is done is for the good or for evil. Singing and singing with passion is the mode of transmission only! Important, of course, but still only the instrument of transmission.
And that, of course, brings me to the mode of how Torah is being transmitted. Rabbi Sacks, kol hakavod, is an important Jewish wiseman whom I respect but...the best way of transmitting Torah is by living it. I am not at all sure that the good rabbi makes a distinction between meaningful and constructive Torah and much that actually tends to be a teaching that encourages dispossession of one's neighbor and dehumanization. That, too, is found in the Torah. The latter, to my chagrin, is also being chanted, often passionately, on many a Shabbat in synagogues around the globe. So, as Judaism is concerned, let us guard from being over enthusiastic with passionately singing Torah. In my opinion, Torah is a human product (Sacks would not agree!) with much that is admirable and of great and timeless value but also with much that is value limited because of its human and therefore limited outlook.
Let me assure you, that this is in no way a criticism of your meditation. I value your thought and words. This is simply a word of caution from a Jew who has seen the many faces of Judaism.
The Asheville City Council will be voting on the budget on June 11. CJJ strongly supports a move to expand the public transportation service and an increase of the wages of city workers. Please contact the Council and the City Manager to encourage these changes.
More information on contacting the Council can be found here, and all members can be emailed at [email protected] Additionally, information on contacting the City Manager can be found here. See the letter below for talking points and a general template.
By Keaton Hill, CJJ-West
In the past few weeks a few CJJ events have revealed the power of storytelling and song.
There are many humane and moral reasons to expand Medicaid in North Carolina. However, it is the Republican opposition’s refusal to acknowledge the financial benefits of Expansion that is completely confusing. The Republicans in the North Carolina legislature argued that our state Medicaid budget was too unpredictable, so we needed to reform Medicaid. That legislation was passed and Medicaid is now transforming into a managed-care system. Why then, is the current Republican leadership ignoring the billions of dollars, the thousands of jobs that would come to North Carolina if we were to expand Medicaid? Why are they ignoring that new enrollees under expansion would be covered at a 90% Federal dollar reimbursement rate as opposed to the current enrollee reimbursement of 67%? Why is the leadership ignoring the fact that North Carolinians’ tax dollars are used to pay for Medicaid Expansion in the 37 states that decided the working poor deserve health insurance? It makes zero sense. Beg your Republican legislators to Expand Medicaid. The time is now.