Category Archives: Current Events

More Gun Sense Requests

I dream of a world where gun violence is not a constant presence.

  1. There are mentally ill people in every country but there are not mass shootings on a comparable scale in most other countries.
  2. There are mentally ill women in our country and yet most of the mass shootings are committed by male shooters.
  3. I agree that these murderers are sick but please let’s not conflate these two issues.
  4. Calling murderers “crazy” or “nuts” isn’t helping anyone. All it really does is: a. pretend that shootings are unusual and b. stigmatize mental illness more.
  5. Every time we add to the stigma of mental illness, we are contributing to the obstacles that prevent people from admitting they need help and actually seek help
  6. NATIONAL UNIVERSAL BACKGROUND CHECKS NATIONAL UNIVERSAL BACKGROUND CHECKS NATIONAL UNIVERSAL BACKGROUND CHECKS.
  7. We need to spend some money on scientific studies. We need to apply this groundswell of concern to actually FUND some studies on guns, gun violence, and gun laws. PLEASE.
  8. Mental Illness is a real human problem that cannot be “solved” with laws.
  9. Gun violence is a real human problem that cannot be “solved” by blaming it on the mentally ill.
  10. The money the NRA uses to buy politicians and to lobby against legislation is a huge problem that we, the voters, can address directly. Let’s do that now.

 

UPDATES: (A) I posted this on Facebook a while back. Since it’s still getting “likes,” I thought I should post it here. Thanks for reading. (B) If you want to support mental health awareness, go to: www.nami.org

 

 

#GunSense

Every once in a while, your rabbi quotes one of your other rabbis and your heart swells with affection. Yesterday, Rabbi Neil Blumofe quoted Rabbi Paul Kipnes, who was my rabbi-supervisor at Gindling Hilltop Camp in the early 90s (and one of my “big brothers” among the “Pacific Area Reform Rabbis”).

My heart was already full yesterday morning: A) The Torah scroll that was read & lifted yesterday was scribed by a female soferet. B) I was sitting next to my lovely friend Yaira, across from my adorable friend Chris, and looking around a beautiful Jewish sanctuary filled with amazing people. C) I was praying with a Jewish community who loves liturgical Hebrew.

My heart was also broken: It takes me a few days for mass shootings to sink into my brain. At first, Shock – How can there be another mass shooting? How many kids died this time? Again?! Next, Anger – How did no one stop this troubled teen? How is it so easy for a kid to get guns, bullets, and alone time to mount a full-scale attack on a school? Also, Confusion – How is it possible that we live in a so-called advanced society and we don’t recognize the importance of safety for our children? How can we not agree on the most basic of needs for the most vulnerable of humans?

Then, in his sermon, Rabbi Blumofe cited Rabbi Kipnes’ blog:

Two by Two: Saving the Children
From the Storm of Bullets
Raining Down on their Heads
By Rabbi Paul Kipnes

In his poetic charge, Rabbi Kipnes implores all of us to:

Join an organization that reflects your views
Or Send a check to a candidate that reflects your views
Or Attend a rally to reflect your views
Or Make a donation to a group that reflects your views
And then
Encourage two friends to do two by two

So, I wanted to amplify this message and add my two cents.

1. Contacting our elected representatives – I know that postcard parties and sending emails are easier for the introverts than calling. I personally do not enjoy talking on the telephone either. However, everything I’ve read, for example, from INDIVISIBLE suggests CALLING is more effective than mail of any sort. Our mail and email just gets counted and reported as statistics – and we know what conservative politicians do with stats. However, actually CALLING during business hours takes up the office staff’s time. When the staffers report to their bosses, our elected representatives, they report that our CALLS take time away from the rest of their productive work day. That’s GREAT. Let’s do that. CALL. CALL. CALL. Keep a list in front of you. Crochet while you are on hold. Do whatever you can to force yourself to make these calls on the regular. (I’m going to do this awkward thing and link you to a blog post I already wrote about this: A New Resistance.)

2. We were on fire during the first 3 or 4 months of this American presidency. I know that my senators complained about the phone calls we snowflakes were putting in. Let’s get that fire back. If our team can run this marathon of resistance NOW, then it won’t turn into a full 8 years of this presidency. (Heaven, help us.)

Here is a pep talk from EVERYTOWN.org

throw them out.jpg

I found this scary drawing (below) on a friend’s Facebook page.

We CANNOT let this be our future.

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The Doctor is a Woman.

 

December 25, 2017

Starting tonight, the Doctor will be a woman. 

I pity those narrow-minded, under-educated jerks who are mad that the Doctor will be female. (Learn your history, jerks.)

Cool Whovians: If anyone comes at you, please remind them:

1. The show was designed, directed, and sustained by a Jewish woman and a gay British Indian guy.

2. If there was ever a time when women deserved a female hero with the power to dole out poetic justice on a grand scale, this it. She is long overdue. #metoo 


3. Last semester, I took a Hermeneutics class, and every week, our class discussions reminded me of scenes where the Doctor re-invented interpersonal communication, moments when the Doctor helped two very different groups (species even) truly hear each other.


4. No, her Companion does not have to be a straight male or a gay female. Two female leaders can often be trusted to become a successful team who produce meaningful work. Even the ostriches have learned this year: Some of our (formerly) favorite men cannot be trusted. Many of them have secretly been abusing women for decades.


5. Girls and women have been identifying with male characters/heroes for our whole lives – Moses, Joseph, Paddington, Harry Potter, the Winchesters, to name a few. – because we often do not have many other choices. There are not many Buffy Summers, Veronica Mars, Pippi Longstockings, and Leslie Knopes out there.
It won’t be so bad for boys and men to learn to empathize with an imaginary woman. It might even help.


6. Maybe you’ve never watched Doctor Who. Maybe you don’t even like SciFi. Maybe you don’t need a righteous, mindful, fanciful imaginary character to comfort you during the next 3 years (or it could be 7 more years). But – for me – I need Doctor Who to get me through. I will miss Peter Capaldi, and I will miss Pearl Mackie as well.


7. Here, I must thank the talented Jessica Rosenberg who introduced me to the universe of the Doctor, and who continues to answer all of my questions.

This is my favorite part of every December.

Enjoy tonight, my Whovian friends.

 

p.s. As Jodie Whittaker becomes The First Female Doctor, we’re remembering Delia Derbyshire, who composed the theme tune for Doctor Who but was barred from studios due to being a woman. She is now credited as paving the way for women in the music industry.

The Jewish Holiday of Purim and Community Response to Hate and Violence

Good evening. I’m Susan. I’m here for the dialogue and the Turkish food. I also have some ideas I want to run past you.

The Title of my talk is: The Jewish Holiday of Purim and Community Response to Hate and Violence.

I’m going to tell the story of the Book of Esther. I’m only going to tell selective sections of the Purim story. Some of the story of Esther is uncomfortable, especially in a world where women are supposedly equal to men.

Once upon a time, King Ahasuerus was a drunken, fictional king in Persia. His wife Queen Vashti refuses to be exploited during yet another drunken feast. Ahasuerus sent for her. She doesn’t come. The King’s advisors are outraged. The King’s advisors convince him to get rid of this wife and search for a new one.

Esther is a pretty young Jewish girl who lives with her uncle, Mordecai. When the king’s administration demands all pretty young things come to the palace to audition for queenship, Esther’s uncle prepares her to go. His big advice is: Don’t tell anyone that you are Jewish.

Esther is one of a large group of women who spend a year at the palace being groomed. Mordecai spends a lot of time around the gateway to where the women are, hoping to hear how Esther is. Let’s skip some of the uncomfortable details of how Esther wins this beauty contest. The bottom line is that Esther becomes queen, wife to the drunken and easily influenced king Ahasuerus. Queen Esther is safe and comfortable in the palace.

Now, Mordecai spends his time in the gateway to the palace. He has become an advisor to the king. Not exactly part of the king’s regime, but not exactly a regular citizen either. Mordecai is appreciated for his mind and for his concern for others.

Enter Haman. Haman is an advisor to the king. Though he is not the king, he demands the respect the king’s position might afford him. Just like the king, Haman demands that citizens bow to him. Mordecai refuses. Maybe he refuses because Jews do not bow to earthly kings. Maybe he refuses because he doesn’t think Haman deserves that kind of respect.

Bottom line – Mordecai refuses to bow to Haman. Haman becomes obsessed with Mordecai, complaining about him and his whole people. Haman makes revenge his pet project. He gets a law passed. On the fifteenth, all the Persians are encouraged to attack the defenseless Jewish citizens of the kingdom.

When Mordecai hears of this new law, he is outraged and worried. He puts on the traditional clothing of mourning. He seats himself at the gateway to the palace, wearing sackcloth and ashes. His niece, the queen becomes uncomfortable. She sends a messenger to him with clean clothing.

He sends her a message: “Haman is planning to kill all the Jews! Go to the king! Fix it! Fix it! Fix it!”

She sends him this message: “While that is upsetting news, what do you want me to do? My whole job is based on pleasing the king. I can’t interrupt him, and I certainly can’t tell him bad news. Plus, you told me never to tell anyone that I’m Jewish.”

Mordecai writes back: “Don’t think for a minute that you can stay safe in the castle. Being queen won’t protect you. If you don’t stand up for the Jews, help will have to come from another place……”

Esther thinks about it. Then, despite her fear and discomfort, she sends a new response: “Gather all of our people. Ask everyone to fast with me for three days. Then, I will go to the king to ask for help.”

The people join Mordecai in sackcloth and ashes and fasting. Esther visits the throne room. The King welcomes her. Esther prepares two consecutive feasts for the King and his advisor, the evil Haman. At the second feast, Esther tells the king that she’s worried about the Jews and the new law. She admits that she is, in fact, Jewish. The king takes a moment to absorb all this information and then his administration quickly adds to the law.

The new law is that the Jews are allowed to fight back. So, the Jews and the Persians prepare to fight. The Jews win.

This story is violent and fictional. And it leads to a famous joke about us. Purim and Passover are both summed up this way: “They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat.”

What have we learned from Purim?

Some of our lessons are these:

Jewish survival is confusing and wonderful. Jews are a minority in the world, and yet we survive.

It’s important to stand up for what is right, even when it’s terrifying.

Sticking together, working together, praying together, fighting together means everything.

Find the entry ways. Mordecai is almost always at a doorway or a gateway. The royal administration notices him because he’s always by the entrance.

Be a Noisemaker

We bring noisemakers to the Megillah reading. When the reader says Haman, people make so much noise, trying to blot out the sound of his name. Since January 20th, many of us have had a the chance to be a noise maker. There are a million suggestions and guidebooks out now about how to be the best and most-effective noise makers. Here are my favorite suggestions this week:

One: I have heard from a few sources that we should start talking about the Republican Administration. When the president does something that we find offensive or frightening, instead of talking about the individual president, we can talk about the Republican Administration. Instead of trying to hold one slippery person accountable, we as a group will hold the party responsible. And hopefully, the party will care about how we see them as a group.

As far as I can see, this party sees us as our group identity, religious minorities. So, we can let them know how that works – from the other end.

Two: When it comes to letting a politician know what we think, emails and voicemails aren’t as powerful as calling. (You must know that I  never never ever talk on the phone. I text. It’s faster and it doesn’t depend on two people being free to talk at the same time.)

BUT I’ve been calling our senators and my neighborhood’s representative. I haven’t called every day, but I’ve called at least once a week. I have a new notebook and I keep track of whose lines are busy, who answers, what I say, and what they say.

I’m a noisemaker. I get my ideas from a few websites and journalists whom I like and respect. I write down one issue. It usually starts with – “I’m concerned about….”

Hamentaschen

I have a Cookie Proposal.

If you’re Christian, then the whole country validates you, your customs, your traditions, your calendar.

The country doesn’t know that much about us Jews, but they believe they do. They know that we don’t accept Jesus as our savior, but most of what they know about Jews, they know from television shows like Seinfeld.

The main thing that non-Jews in Texas know about us is food. During hannukah, my friends ask for potato pancakes. During the high holy days, they ask for matza ball soup. During Passover, I usually share chocolate matza brittle. During Purim, I make hamentaschen, these three cornered cookies with different sweet fillings.

So, here is my idea: a Muslim Cookie Strategy.

The non-Muslim Americans don’t know you. They have no idea what Eeeed is, how to pronounce it, why there are two of them, and when to expect them in the calendar.

My strategy is teach folks about Islam with cookies. It’s not a brilliant theory, and it’s not just a play to receive snacks, but this is my idea: Before or after Eeed and other celebrations, bring some snacks to people who don’t really get you yet – the fire department, the police department, the teachers at your kid’s school, the nurses’ station at the hospital. I am proposing Cookie Diplomacy.

Storytelling

On Purim, one of our mitzvot, holy obligations, is hearing the Megillah, Megillat Esther, the Book of Esther. We are not obligated to read it, we are obligated to hear it. So, to fulfill this divine commandment, we gather together to hear the same story, every year. Storytelling is the glue that binds our community together. But just being part of the Jewish community isn’t enough. We, all of us, can use storytelling to bind us to our neighbors.

The reason we are here tonight is the Dialogue Center, a group that values connection.

As I have learned from my chapter of the Sisterhood of Salaam/Shalom, storytelling binds us.

As I have learned from the New Israel Fund, it’s time for us to stand together, to tell each other the good stories and the bad stories.

There is no better way than to deepen empathy than to share our stories.

Compartmentalization

Take the tough stuff seriously, and then party seriously. Ta’anit Esther is the fast the day before Purim. It’s hard for some of us to celebrate the fictional death of the fictional Persian attackers. Judaism provides us a fast day to separate our grief from our celebration. There is nothing like a day set aside for grief to make a day set aside for a party possible.

Conclusion

Thank you for this invitation. I’m honored to be included at the Dialogue Center. The Dialogue Center does important work, and the Dialogue Center also feeds me very well. Being part of this community, a group of friends, cousins, and bakers, is a blessing to me.

A New Resistance

GOOD MORNING, AMERICA. HOW ARE YOU?

For the next 4 weeks, I’m going to make these 6 phone calls every day, except Shabbat. I wanted to give myself a limited time to see if I could pull it off without pulling my hair out.

Today, I want to let them know that I oppose Sessions appointment to Attorney General. He is unfit to serve.

Day One:
Cornyn’s Washington office: Can’t reach a staffer, though there are many rabbit holes to follow on the options menu. They all lead nowhere.
Cornyn’s Austin office: Busy signal.

Cruz’s Washington office: Their voicemail inbox is full.
Cruz’s Austin office: Found a lovely, yet repetitive human! (It only took about 5 tries.)

In William’s DC office, a lovely human being named Elise answered the phone and listened to my concern. Super polite.
William’s Austin office: Voicemail inbox full…….

On my way out of town, I might stop by Cornyn’s 6th Street office – just to check to see if he is okay!
Senator Cornyn, you’re not answering ANY of your telephones, ARE YOU ALRIGHT?

Note: It only took about 20 minutes to call, including trying each number a few times and talking the two people I actually reached.

A Litany for Black Lives Matter – written by the Church of God in Christ – adapted for the American synagogue.

Leader: Today, we stand together in solidarity with our African American brothers and sisters. We unite with all of those who have lost their lives to the unjust forces of police brutality, racial profiling, and systematic oppression.

Congregation: Together, we will stand. As co-created ones, we affirm that all Black bodies mirror the image of God. (Gen 1:27)

Leader: Together, we will march. In efforts to embody the prophetic command, “Let justice roll on like a river and righteousness like a never-failing stream.” (Amos 5:24) We will dismantle racial and social barriers in order to stand as one and march to the beat of peaceful protests, until God’s work is done.

Congregation: Together, we will march. Adonai, you have taught us to march for freedom and justice. We will march together like the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. We will learn from the marches of generations past, and we will prepare the next generations to march with us.

Leader: Together, we will remember Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley, Rumain Brisbon, Cameron Tillman, Reneshia McBride, Trayvon Martin, and so many others who have lost their lives at the hands of police brutality. We hear the ringing of the twelve shots that were fired at Michael Brown’s body. We see the horror in Eric Garner’s face as he uttered his last words – “I can’t breathe.” We grieve the unfulfilled dreams of Aiyana Jones, who was only seven years old.

Congregation: We know that we should not stand idly by the blood of our neighbors, (Lev 19:16) and yet we have ignored the graphic images of tragic deaths. We have ignored the cries of victims, their children, their spouses, their parents. With new awareness and humility, our souls lament.

Leader: Together we will boldly name the unjust acts throughout our nation, the unwarranted deaths and shamelessly prejudiced acts. Yet, we are honest enough to also name the reality that resides within these four walls. We too have been unjust. In our ignorance, we too have persecuted. In our privilege, we too have closed doors and silenced voices.

Congregation: Together, Adonai, we seek your forgiveness and the forgiveness of our neighbors.  We have ignored the cries of those whose stories did not beckon the media’s response, whose graves went unmarked, whose bodies remain missing, whose memorials are forgotten.

Leader: Together, Adonai, we refresh our commitment to justice. The Prophet Micah taught us to walk humbly with God and to love mercy. We are also called to act justly. (Micah 6:8)

Congregation: We will walk with humility, and we will love mercy. Our humility and love would be empty without our just action. Together, Adonai, we strengthen our commitment to act justly.

Leader: Together, we proclaim the value of Black bodies. We will deconstruct discriminating stereotypes that have legitimized the death of African Americans, criminalized Black boys and girls, and dehumanized Black women and men.

Congregation: Together, we will proclaim: Black Lives Matter.

Leader: For the parent who grieves a child she will never hold again, we will proclaim –

Congregation: Black Lives Matter.

Leader: For the child who lives in fear because his neighborhood is barricaded by police, we will proclaim –

Congregation: Black Lives Matter.

Leader: For the father who feels compelled to teach his son how to keep his head down rather than hold his head up, we will proclaim –

Congregation: Black Lives Matter.

Leader: For the sister who is doubly-subjugated because her skin is labeled ugly and her gender is less-valued, we will proclaim –

Congregation: Black Lives Matter.

Leader: Throughout our congregations, our cities, our classrooms, our work-places, and our homes, we will continue to declare: All of us are created in the Divine Image. This is a truth older than the United States, a truth that America cannot erase. Therefore, we proclaim –

Congregation: Black Lives Matter. African American Justice Matters. Black Freedom Matters. African American Dignity Matters. Black Lives Matter.

 

Thank you to the Church of God in Christ for the Black Lives Matter Litany and other powerful, meaningful prayers which respond to current events.