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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Announcing our new ED!

We are THRILLED to announce that starting in July, Rabbi Salem Pearce will be joining CJJ as our first ever Executive Director! 

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Celebrating Passover in the time of Coronavirus

When Pharaoh persisted in his refusal to liberate the children of Israel, Moses and Aaron warned him that God would punish both him and his people. Unlike the ten plagues that were inflicted upon the ancient Egyptians, we recognize that the plagues of today are rooted in oppression and injustice, not divine intervention. These long standing inequities are being exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, causing disproportionate devastation to the most vulnerable members of our community. 

As part of our commitment to the creation of a just and compassionate North Carolina, CJJ has joined NC United for Survival & Beyond, a statewide coalition of grassroots organizations that has co-created a platform of ten demands for our Governor and the NC General Assembly. Read on for our contemporary interpretation of the ten plagues and how they relate to the ten demands of the People's Platform.

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Close the Loopholes

On Wednesday, March 11, CJJ joined Siembra NC and Apoyo at a press conference outside the Orange County Sheriff's Office to launch our Close the Loopholes Campaign, demanding that Sheriff Blackwood close the loopholes that have enabled ICE to take at least three of our community members in the last year. CJJ-Durham/Orange County member leader Esther Mack spoke on behalf of CJJ; below is an excerpt from her powerful statement.

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Knowing the Stranger

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. 

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The CJJ Racial Justice Practice Group

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.

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A Rabbi's Message about Montgomery

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:

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Gun Violence is a Social Justice Issue

By Frank Goldsmith, CJJ-West

Let’s talk about gun violence.

Admittedly, curbing the epidemic of firearms fatalities has not been at the forefront of Carolina Jews for Justice’s concerns. But how can an organization committed to social justice abstain from commenting on this tragic, and largely preventable, loss of life?  

The Torah teaches that we are not to stand idly by the blood of our neighbor:  lo ta-amod al-dam re’ekha (Lev. 19:16). The blood of our neighbors is flowing all too freely as the result of gun violence, and we must not be indifferent. Why should American blood flow more freely than that of any other civilized nation?

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