We are not doing enough in our own communities to counter xenophobia and anti-Muslim hatred that is perpetuated, particularly through our media, when I see reports like this, and I hope more Jewish groups join in denouncing these acts of violence:

Five Jewish teenagers, Yitzi Horowitz, 15, David Brach, 15, Yossi Friedman, 17, Shulomi Bitton, 16, and Benjamin Wasserman, 16, all from Brooklyn, are expected to appear in court Friday in connection with the beating of a Muslim man in Brooklyn.

The suspects were arrested Sunday after police say they shouted racial slurs before punching Shahid Amber, a man of Pakistani-descent, with brass knuckles and breaking his nose outside an area Dunkin’ Donuts.

According to a court document obtained by NY1, the teens also shouted “…terrorist mother-[expletive,] you [expletive] our country. Why are you here? Go back to your country and never [expletive] with the Jews.”

The District Attorney classified the assault as a hate crime, and three of the five suspects are being tried as adults.

“The man was attacked by these people who identified him as a Muslim and claimed that was the reason they attacked him and that’s of tremendous concern to us because he wasn’t attacked just as an individual, but as a member of the Muslim community,” said Joel Levy of the Anti-Defamation League.

In reading the ADL’s, release on their condemnation of the attacks, I was particularly struck by this part: “Hate crime statutes have been adopted by 45 states, including New York State. Many of those laws are based on a model statute crafted by ADL, which has long been in the forefront of national and state efforts to deter and counteract hate-motivated criminal activity.”

What struck me in particular about ADL’s statement, and what adds another level of sadness, questioning, probing and wanting more from our communities, was this last paragraph about hate-crime legislation being modeled from the ADL.

Hate-crime legislation has raised red flags for many of us within the advocacy world, (and I’ve had this conversation a fair amount in LGBT advocacy groups)—that hate-crime legislation relies upon a criminal justice system that is far from just, in which people of color and low-income people are profiled, arrested and convicted at massively higher rates–and no, it is not because they commit more crimes, (which has been documented particularly in drug law policy).

Many of us want to demonstrate or find means to highlight when an act of violence is predicated upon hate that is reflective of deeper oppression and hatred of entire communities, but don’t want this by feeding into the idea that longer prison sentences or increase in rates of incarceration will lead to a more just or humane world.

There is little that is restorative or redemptive about our prison system. These are questions that are still being weighted through, and questions some advocacy groups are still wrestling with in figuring out how to address crimes and the severity and seriousness of acts of hate, and at the same time, attempting to offer a different model of addressing this hate so as to not have it continue to cycle and build and replicate. This does not mean ignoring or excusing or saying that this violence is OK, but it is saying and acknowledging that to begin to address systemic violence it means acknowledging that there are generations and histories of pain and violence involved, and how do we begin to heal that, rather than thinking that if we add more years onto a prison sentence that this will “prove the point” and lead to a more just world.

So, I would love to hear if others have had conversations about different models of addressing hate-crimes in the work that they do, or any resources that people might find useful to share.

crossposted from jewschool

Lech Lecha

3 Nov 2006 In: JVoices

In his book “Gifts of the Jews” Thomas Cahill writes that Judaism is ‘the only original idea in all of human history.’ Outside Judaism history is viewed as a circle with peoples ascending to nobility, falling into depravity then repeating the cycle. But, writes Cahill, when Abraham (in this week’s parsha) crosses into the promised land, Judaism invents the unknown further and all innovation, change, improvement even the ideas of progress flow from that. As Jews we can only say, “Works for us!” – SHABBAT SHALOM!

a & s

Jerusalem Open House Under Siege

2 Nov 2006 In: Homophobia, Israel, LGBTQ

(full disclosure: I work for CBST, which is pretty much JOH’s contact in the States; our senior rabbi was the North America co-coordinator for WorldPride 2006, and obviously works very closely with JOH.)

This shit is ridiculous:

Jerusalem Open House,* one of the Middle East’s few LGBT resources and certainly one of the only LGBT community centers is under siege by Haredi Jews for having the audacity to have a pride march.

To quote Israel National News (I don’t know much about, but I get the impression that this is a right-wing source, ergo they are probably getting their own things right):

Israel’s Chief Rabbi, the Rishon LeTzion Rabbi Shlomo Amar, publicized a declaration condemning the homosexual march and advocating wide public protest. He called upon “every Jew for whom the existence of the Nation and Land of Israel is important,” as well as rabbis all over the world, to “arouse a tremendous protest until this bad parade is totally called off.”

Rabbi Amar “calls with love and affection to all our brethren, the House of Israel, to strengthen themselves in holiness, modesty and purity, and especially during these difficult days when Israel is persecuted from without and within and we are in need of great Heavenly mercies…”

Or, to quote ynet.com:

The Haredi counter-march is set to take place on Hillel Street, where the march is set to begin. One plan that came up in Haredi forums is to infiltrate the march with some fifty men who “don’t look Haredi…who will ‘blast’ the parade from the inside,” said a source close to Rabbi Weiss.

“He said every cop seen along the way should be beaten. After all, the police will try and stop us…so we should be prepared and bring sticks to hit them,” he stated, adding “a direct order hasn’t been issued, but everyone knows.”

The Haredis will most likely be joined in their protests by religious group Agudat Israel. Despite pushing ninety, movement leader Menachem Porush is still active in advancing a counter-march to the rally.

“We haven’t yet decided what to do, but we can’t, without a doubt, allow such an abomination to go by as part of the daily agenda in Jerusalem,” Porush told Ynet. His goal, he said, was to “take away their right to march.”

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P. W. Botha (1916-2006)

31 Oct 2006 In: JVoices

Pieter Willem Botha died today at the age of 90. First elected to South Africa’s parliament in 1948 as a member of the ruling National Party, Botha went on to become prime minister in 1978 and president in 1984.

After gaining power in the all-white 1948 election, the National Party followed through on its campaign promise to institute an apartheid system. Many South African political events that captured the attention of the world took place during Botha’s terms in office.

For example, nearly exactly fifty years ago on December 5, 1956, a large group of South African leaders, including Nelson Mandela, were rounded up and charged with high treason in the form of a communist-terrorist conspiracy. Of the 156 defendants, 23 were white; according to Wikipedia, more than half of these whites were Jewish. While all of the defendants were acquitted in 1961, some were later convicted in the 1963 Rivonia Trial. All of the white defendants initially named at Rivonia were Jewish.

White Jews thus had a double-edged identity in South Africa, as they did in so many other places. “Jews were active on all sides of the apartheid struggle,” Jay Sand tells us, “some in support of racial separation, others (like noted activists Helen Suzman, Joe Slovo, Ronnie Kasrils, Albie Sachs) standing with Nelson Mandela.”

crossposted to jewschool

A few weeks ago, on a whim I met up with a friend to go see a movie. It had been one of those long days where the idea of sinking into the comfort of surround sound and chocolate was the perfect combination, and I was intrigued by the bit I had heard about a new film about Tony Kushner called Wrestling with Angels. So I headed over to the Film Forum, a theatre after my own heart (they serve peanut butter chocolate chip cookies–that’s all I’m saying) and settled in (watch the trailer here). I had heard bits that it was a film about him growing up, about his sexuality and how it influenced him as an artist–the film turned out to be so much more. I knew of Tony’s work, particularly of Angels in America, but I had no idea of the depth and breadth of the amazing artistry, history and theatre that he has been apart of making in the United States, nor his humility.

What I didn’t know was how much I needed this film.

Some know that I recently started graduate school–more specifically an MFA program in Creative Writing for Poetry. I knew I needed to catapult myself forward, and the changes have been a fresh and needed start. But I have still known this block, this only to be whispered and shared alone, block that some artists have, which is the fear that the work isn’t useful. Particularly for those of us who have been “raised” in organizing and activism, even though we have seeked and attained inspiration, energy and wisdom from the arts, sometimes it is still hard to see ourselves as valuable in producing them. This has been a struggle of my own.

So I thank the producers of this film on this personal level, for opening up to “the world” the very prolific, passionate and humbling man, and I thank them for creating this history. This film, along with attending the 10th Anniversary of Cave Canem‘s celebrations, reminded me, or should I say thoroughly shook me, to do the work I am meant to do.

The film was broken into three “acts”, Act I — As a Citizen of the World; Act II — Mama, I’m a Homosexual Mama and Act III — Collective Action to Overcome Injustice. All of the acts demonstrate how he came and chose to produce work, providing a forum for addressing some of the most critical issues of our time–HIV/AIDS, war, race, sexuality, class and Israel and Palestine.

The last act, in particular, reveals the influence of Kushner’s Jewish heritage in his passionate concern for social justice, expressed in deeply personal terms. It is also this act that made me even more proud that JFREJ will be honoring Tony Kusher, along with Grace Paley and the Transport Workers Union Local 100, this November 16th for the 10th annual Marshall T. Meyer Awards. From the scenes showing the reproduction of the children’s holocaust opera Brundibar to the musical Caroline, or Change–about domestic work and the choices no woman should have to make to live—Kushner pushes all of us to be our best selves. Indeed, he is in good company, with Grace Paley by his side, and the local union which demonstrated its power to all of New York last winter.

We are living in daunting times. I hear this from those who have lived and worked and fought for many more years than I, and I say this even as we may be seeing a Congressional shift in power after November 7th, for I know that electoral politics and change are only one part of the many changes we need to effect larger systemic and societal change.

Knowing this film, knowing the work of artists in keeping us alive, has become, dare I say, a benediction–a lesson in faith. The kind of faith that some who don’t believe in god can believe in, the kind of faith and guidance that may not make it all right, but is a balance, as we take our steps forward in the world–and sometimes even gives us the strength to leap–to dare I say, move in the risk, in the art of risking for change.

I am so unbelievably grateful for the presence of these artists, and am honored that I will be able to bear witness to their honoring. I hope many of you will be able to join me.

i had almost finished the essay below on radical history, martyrology, hagiography, and the ‘reconviction process’ last friday. that night, i heard that one of the people killed that afternoon in oaxaca by mexican government paramilitaries was someone i knew. as i thought about these most recent murders in the attack on the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO), and about the way that the death of a u.s. citizen abroad changes the kind of attention that a place and its struggles receive, i realized that a lot of what went through my head was exactly what i’d been writing before i heard the news.

i don’t want to use this space to tell the story of brad will’s death, and i don’t feel capable of doing justice to the story of the most recent events in the months-long oaxacan uprising. but i do want to introduce this piece through the lens of what happened on october 27, 2006 in oaxaca, and what we are doing in response to it.

the state kills our comrades; it gives us martyrs. that is its crime, its responsibility. what we do with their deaths and lives afterward is our own. do we decide that ‘the story’ is how they were murdered, or how they contributed to the struggle? do we focus on the death of the person that those in power might care about – for reasons of racism, patriarchy, nationalism, professional privilege – or use that interest to direct public attention more broadly? do we speak nothing but good of the dead, transforming our martyrs into saints, or point out their failings so that their posthumous prestige does not attach to all aspects of their lives? More »

Conversation with an Online Rabbi

31 Oct 2006 In: Gender, LGBTQ, Torah, Tradition

Moshe (my housemate) told me about the website “askmoses.com” where you can ask questions of a rabbi under conditions of anonymity. So I took the opportunity to begin a conversation with a rabbi about some issues that have troubled me concerning my transgender body and communal prayer.

I used the pseudonym “Levi”. Here’s a verbatim transcript of our convesation.

Levi : I have a question about the effect of my presence on the orthodox community with which I occasionally daven. It will take some time to explain the background, before I get to the question. OK?

Rabbi Yakov L : Welcome. I’ll be with you in a moment…

Rabbi Yakov L : K

Levi : Hi Rabbi

Levi : Here’s the first part of the background

Levi : I am transgender. In my case, this means that even though I was born female, I had surgery to remove my breasts and to construct a male-appearing chest. In addition, I take male hormones.

Levi : As a result of these actions, and with the complete and entire embrace of G-d, I have a deep voice and a full beard. I joyfully live and work as a man, and no one can tell my original gender by looking at me. I am a Reform Jew, and I do not consider myself to be bound by halacha, nor do I consider my behavior to be against God’s will, or against my personal code of ethics.

Levi : While I am mostly not very observant, I daven sometimes in an Orthodox shul, on the men’s side. No one is aware of my transition, and everyone sees me as male. My question concerns the community. Does my presence spiritually change the experience for the men I daven with if they don’t know my history? In what way?

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I just recently moved to New York and registered to vote here, and I’m fascinated by the upcoming elections. Aside from a few scattered people wearing massive “Hillary” buttons and some “Spitzer” posters announcing the inevitable, I haven’t seen or heard much about any of the candidates from the people I interact with on a daily basis.

When I lived in Connecticut I knew all of the candidates for everything in my town; the current First Selectman (no mayor for us!) used to drive the school bus that brought my brother to kindergarten, in high school I worked for the campaign for our representative to Congress, even the registrar of voters is my friend’s mom. So it’s strange to not be discussing the elections on a daily basis as if it was the latest junior high school intrigue. More »

Perspectives on the Million Man March:
For Black Jews, a Second Day of Atonement Can Bridge a Gulf
Seeking reconciliation among themselves can be a major step toward a
healing process between two troubled groups.

Los Angeles Times, Oct. 13, 1995
The Boston Globe, Oct. 14, 1995

For African American Jews–and it should be quickly and clearly understood that we are not an esoteric oddity, but as many as 200,000 Americans who make up nearly 4 percent of the U.S. Jewish population–the High Holiday season has been extended.

Along with the call for 1 million black men to convene in the nation’s capital, planners of the Million Man March have appealed to the black community nationwide, male and female, to observe Monday as a day of atonement.

The idea is an expropriation from Yom Kippur, the holiest of Jewish observances. It is a positive application of the frequently heard supplication in black circles that “we should do as the Jews do” in regard to economic and political self-reliance, despite the endlessly reported chasm between those two communities. It is an idea whose genesis in part stems from discussions between Rabbi Capers Funnye Jr., who is black and a regional board member of the American Jewish Congress, and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who is a planner but not the planner of the march.

Who and how many show up in Washington on Monday is secondary. The observance of a day of atonement for all African Americans is an act of healing long overdue in our diverse and sometimes disparate community. Black leaders of every ilk have long preached the need to get our own house in order before casting stones at any external foe. And we must seek and obtain reconciliation among ourselves, the Malcolms and the Martins; the Black Muslims, black Christians, black Jews, before any healing process with other groups can have any significance.

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When I think civil war…

29 Oct 2006 In: JVoices

Vice President Dick Cheney spoke on NPR last Wednesday regarding the increasing violence in Iraq. When asked if he would call it a “civil war,” Cheney replied: “No, I don’t think it’s a civil war. You’ve got a united government, a unity government in place. You’ve got united military forces, in terms of the army, and to some extent the security force.” Then he added, “When I think civil war, I think Antietam, Gettysburg.”

Cheney’s reference to the American Civil War in the 1860s struck me as odd. Hasn’t the Bush administration drilled into us for five years that the war against international terrorism is a new kind of war, where the only constant is change?

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