Women’s March, Oakland

Image: Family photo at the Oakland Women’s March. Linda, Marisa and I are center; Jim is the guy in the sunglasses taking the selfie. Photo by Jimbo Scott, all rights reserved.

The March would officially begin at 11. At 9:30, the the Jews of the SF East Bay began to gather at a tiny Chinatown park by the Lake Merritt BART station in Oakland, and at 10 we began singing. At 10:30, with wall-to-wall humanity surrounding us, we began a short Shabbat service. Rabbis David Cooper, Steven Chester, and I led prayers.

Jews rarely go out to do political things on the Sabbath. I am not sure how many Jews were there, but we were there in force (at least 200 from Temple Sinai, Oakland, plus Kehilla Congregation and Congregation Beth El Berkeley, and maybe more.)

Early on, I was anxious about safety: my own safety, on a tiny scooter in a big crowd, and the safety of everyone marching with Temple Sinai.

scooterview
My scooter-eye view

Gradually my anxiety lifted, as people kept pouring out of the BART stations, from the buses, from everywhere. The small park in Chinatown where we’d been told to gather was a mass of humanity. Total strangers greeted each other like old friends. We were all so tired of being alone with our TVs and computers, so glad to find out that we were not really alone.

My mood and the mood of the crowd was warm, almost joyful. We were standing together after the last few weeks of transition to an Administration that alternately shocked and confused us.We held downtown Oakland in the embrace of an absolute gridlock of bodies. The age range ran from the seventies (at least) to infants in strollers. One very old lady smiled and waved down on us from a Chinatown apartment, showing us “V for victory” with her fingers.

Linda and I were together on scooters, and our son Jim and his wife Marisa joined us. I thought about all the times I’d gone to peaceful demonstrations of one kind or another holding tightly to his hand; now he and Marisa were watching over us two aging boomers: sweet role reversal. They were kind enough not to mention that they were looking after us.

Eventually the crowd began to move, slowly. No one was upset or angry; we were all happy to be together. The March was marching! By 3pm, police were suggesting detour routes to those who were getting tired. One cop said that he estimated the crowd at 100,000. There was no violence at all.

A gentle rain fell. I don’t know how many made it to City Hall for the rally, but many of us dispersed as gently as the rain. We’d made our point.


Some great signs today:

annssign
Cheerful marchers, serious messages. (Photo Ann Thomas Seitz)

“Paul Ryan Health Care Plan: Die already, and hurry up about it.”

“Not My President”

“This is NOT a DRILL”

“Sing for our Rights”

“It’s Not a Hot Flash, It’s Climate Change”

“Justice, Justice You Shall Pursue”

“Freedom and Justice for All.”

“Nurse Practitioners against Trump: Leave Pussy Grabbing to the Professionals”

All day I kept thinking about the Holly Near song, “We Are A Gentle Angry People:”

 

 

 

 

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Hats, Slogans, Signs: Preparing for the Women’s March

Image: DREAM Act Protesters for President Obama’s Visit to Austin by Todd Dwyer (some rights reserved) Listening to protesters goes with the job, Mr. President.

No one who knows me well will be surprised to know that I’m going to be in the Women’s March in Oakland this Saturday. I and a lot of other women are going to go to the street to raise up our concerns about the expressed agenda of the new administration.

It sounds like there are going to be a bunch of us. 31,000 people have said they are going on Facebook; 45,000 more have registered as “interested.” From my synagogue alone, we have over 100 people registered. I’m going to be there on my scooter.

To those who say “give him a chance” I say, I’ve been working on that since November 10. What I heard during the campaign was a lot of hateful rhetoric about Mexicans, and immigrants, and Muslims, and African-Americans. What I have seen since the election has been a swift upsurge of violence against those groups, with the President-Elect saying hardly a peep about it, despite the fact that he tweets about many other things. For a man who prides himself on plain speaking, he is very coy about saying “Cut it out!” to people who do violence in his name.

So I am going to hit the streets with a few friends, and we will engage in a peaceful demonstration of our concerns. Peaceful, because I am a law-abiding person. Peaceful because what I want for this nation is peace.

Normally I would not participate in a political event on Shabbat, but this is no longer a normal situation.  Nothing about the past transition period was normal, and I have the impression that many of Mr. Trump’s supporters are happy that it was not a normal transition. This fills me with alarm. If I am wrong (I would love to be wrong) then at worst I am being foolish. I am willing to look foolish when I believe lives are at stake.

About hats: I’m not wearing any headgear named after a vulgarism for a body part. I have no judgement on someone else, it’s just not my thing. I am serious about what I’m doing.

About signs: I’ve been thinking all week about what to put on my sign. I finally settled on this:

לֹא תַעֲמֹד עַל-דַּם רֵעֶךָ

Do not stand by while your neighbor bleeds. – Leviticus 19:16

That seemed to me to be the verse that best applied to my concerns. I am worried for friends who have health insurance through the ACA but who have pre-existing conditions. I fear for disabled people. Right now there does seem to be a guarantee that the ACA is going away, but no equal guarantee that it will be replaced by something better.

I am worried for friends: African-Americans, Latinx, Muslims, and trans persons who have been targeted with hateful rhetoric and by outright violence. I know some young DREAMers who are terrified. They haven’t been “given a chance” – no, even before the new administration came in, the fans of that administration have been giving us what I fear is a preview of the Trump years. I don’t like seeing and hearing threats to my neighbors; I am horrified by accounts of violence against them.

And honestly, I’m worried for the Jews. In the past two weeks there have been two waves of bomb threats against 30 Jewish institutions in 17 states including two JCCs in my area. JCCs more often than not have daycare centers. We heard not a peep of concern from President-Elect Trump. (I know, his daughter is Jewish. This does not explain his silence.)

I am done waiting for Mr. Trump to have an awakening of conscience. I am planning to bring my concerns to his attention on the first full day that he sits in the Oval Office. Get used to it, Mr. President: listening to protestors is now part of your job.

 

CA Manicurists Transform Lives

Image: Delane Sims at work. (Photo courtesy of Ms. Sims, all rights reserved to her.)

Maimonides taught that the highest form of giving, of tzedakah, is to assist a person in becoming independent, so that they will not need charity. That might take the form of an interest-free loan for a business, or money for tuition, or a partnership in business.

There’s a program here in California that personifies Maimonides’ teaching. Steps to Success is transforming the lives of single mothers on welfare, helping them move off welfare and into employment and entrepreneurship. This transforms not only their lives but their children’s lives and the life of their communities.

The back story, as told by founder Delane Sims to the San Jose Mercury News:

“My husband was a veteran, an engineer, and we were looking at being a solid, middle-class family,” she said, sitting atop a luxurious red-leather bench in one of the salon’s treatment rooms. “Literally overnight I was plunged into being a single mom in poverty when my first husband suddenly became addicted to drugs. I felt like a turtle in the ocean with all my babies on my back. I had to find a way to survive for them. So I promised myself, if I make it through this period in my life and ever had my own business, I would do something for single mothers who are struggling.”

Fast forward to today: Delane is now the co-owner of Delane’s Natural Nail Care, a salon that provides manicures and pedicures that meet medical standards of care. The women who work at Delane’s are all on their way up: they are single moms whom Delane has mentored through cosmetology school and into a unique paid internship in her shop. They make a living wage while they learn how to run a business, how to balance parenthood and career, how to deal with the public, and things as basic as how to balance a checkbook. They benefit from networks of resources and relationships that Delane has built over the last 25 years.

As proof of this pudding, meet Myeshia Jefferson, who is co-owner of Delane’s Natural Nail Care. Myeshia is herself a graduate of Steps to Success, the single mother of a 5 year old boy. One of the great beauties of this program is that the women who rise through it become mentors for the next generation of success stories. Other Steps to Success grads have their own businesses in a variety of fields.

So now I invite you to participate with me in building Steps to Success. They have just launched a year-long effort to put the program on a firmer financial footing. Their initial very modest goal is to find 300 people who will contribute $35.  The campaign page will tell you more about specifically how they will use your funds to lift up Steps to Success to serve more women. 

Remember, this is the highest form of tzedakah, of charitable giving! You are making it possible for women with so much going against them to beat the odds and break out of generational poverty. 

Another form of support, if you live in the San Francisco Bay Area: contact Delane’s and make an appointment for a manicure or pedicure. Meet Delane and Myeshia, meet their employees, and get the safest, healthiest manicure available. (I originally met Delane when I went for a pedicure, to check them out for a diabetic friend.)

Some ways to learn more about Steps to Success:

Recent article in the San Jose Mercury News

Interview on KGO Radio with Brian Copeland

Story from KTVU TV

“Holiness in the Nail Parlor” (on this blog)

Want to make my day? Contribute to Steps to Success via my fundraising page. Anyone who contributes $35 or more to their campaign by the end of January 2017 through that page will receive an hour of study with me via Skype. Your choice of text or topic!

 

 

Vidui in Memory of MLK

Image: President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with Martin Luther King, Jr. in the White House Cabinet Room, 18 March, 1966. Public Domain.
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A vidui is a Jewish confession of sin. We tend to associate this form of prayer with Yom Kippur and with the prayers of the dying, although a short vidui is part of the traditional weekday liturgy.A communal vidui includes sins which I may not personally have committed, but which some in my community may have committed. By claiming them as my own sins, I underline that I am responsible not only for myself, but also for elements in our communal life which may have fostered the sin in our members.Some Jewish prayers include acrostics as a hidden message within the prayer. For a vidui, making an acrostic of the entire alphabet is a way of saying that our sins go from aleph to taf, or from A to Z – we confess to an entire library of sin.I offer this vidui for my sins and those of my communities.

For all our sins, may the Holy One who makes forgiveness possible forgive us, pardon us, and make atonement possible.

For the sin of Arrogance, that makes it difficult to see our own failings

For the sin of Brutality, that makes it possible for us to stand by and think, “He must have deserved it”

For the sin of Credulity, in which we have believed “news” from unreliable sources

For the sin of Disregarding facts that were uncomfortable for us

For the sin of Executing those whose offenses did not merit their death, and for standing by as our civil servants carried out those acts

For the sin of allowing unreasoning Fear to dictate our behavior towards others

For the sin of Greed, underpaying for work or over-charging for services

For the sin of baseless Hatred, that demonizes entire groups of other human beings

May the Eternal forgive us, pardon us, and make atonement possible.

 

For the sin of willful Ignorance, not wanting to know things that are embarrassing to us

For the sin of Jailing massive numbers of people for nonviolent crimes, separated from opportunities to better themselves and their families,

For the sin of Killing the hope of young men who believe that their only futures lie in prison or the grave

For the sin of Laziness in speaking up, when we hear racist language

For the sin of Minimizing the discomfort of others

For the sin of Non-Apologies that failed to express true sorrow

For the sin of Omission, when we failed to act upon our expressed convictions

For the sin of Presuming on the basis of skin color

May the Eternal forgive us, pardon us, and make atonement possible.

 

For the sin of Quiescence in the face of the racist behavior of others

For the sin of Racism, in all its myriad forms

For the sin of Self-congratulation for acts of common decency

For the sin of Taking umbrage when someone calls us on a racist word or act

For the Unconscious acts which have injured others without our awareness

For the sin of Violence against other human beings

For the sin of using Words in ways that perpetuate racism in any way

For the sin of Xenophobia, fearing and hating those who seem foreign to us

May the Eternal forgive us, pardon us, and make atonement possible.

 

For the sin of Yakking when we should have been listening

For the sin of Zoning out when we assumed this list wasn’t about us

For all of the sins of commission and omission, all the sins we committed consciously and unconsciously, for those that were simply accidents and those for which we failed to make an apology

May the Eternal forgive us, pardon us, and make atonement possible.

For it is through true acts of genuine repentance and a sincere desire to change that we will open the future before our nation: a future of fairness, justice and peace. May all troubled hearts be comforted, may all wounded souls be healed, and may we live to see the day when the scourge of racism is truly behind us.

Amen.

Image: Rabbi Stacey Blank of Kehillat Tzur Hadassah in Israel blows the shofar. Used by permission of Rabbi Blank, and all rights to it are hers.

Resisting Like a Mensch

Last night Meryl Streep modeled good resistance to bad behavior. She pointed out behavior that was reprehensible. She did not name-call. She did not even name names. She simply observed that it is a scandal when a powerful man uses his national pulpit to mock someone who is less powerful.

This week there are several confirmation hearings scheduled by the U.S. Senate for cabinet appointees. (Click link for the schedule.) This is our opportunity to speak up. Call your Senators, and tell them what questions you want the candidates to answer. This is something you can do regardless of party affiliation: you call tell your Senator what you want. You don’t need to name-call. Just say politely that you’d like Senator Jeff Sessions to be asked XYZ in his confirmation hearing, or that you hope that Ms. Betsy deVos will be questioned about XYZ. You can tell them you support those nominations, or that you oppose them.

If you are phone-averse, call your Senator’s local office late at night. You’ll get the voicemail. Keep those phone numbers. Call regularly about things that concern you.

If your Senator is already someone you feel will do what you think is right, still call them. They need to be able to say, “10,000 of my constituents have called me.” They need to know that you support their point of view.

Chatter on Twitter means nothing. Chatter on Facebook means nothing. A phone call from a constituent always gets the attention of an elected official, because they want to be re-elected. 

And someone out there is saying, “What does this have to do with Basic Judaism?” To that I say: everything:

Once there was a gentile who came before Shammai, and said to him: “Convert me on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot. Shammai pushed him aside with the measuring stick he was holding. The same fellow came before Hillel, and Hillel converted him, saying: That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it.”  – Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a

We Have Seen This Before

And if a stranger live with you in your land, you will not do him wrong. – Leviticus 19:33

Possibly the most frequently repeated commandment in the Hebrew Bible is “welcome the stranger.” One of my colleagues, Rabbi Michael Latz, finds it in some form in 36 different places. It is often bolstered with the logic, “for you were strangers in the land of Egypt,” (e.g. Leviticus 19:34) which brings to mind Hillel’s version of the Golden Rule: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellows.” (Shabbat 31a)

Today the news is full of suspicion for the Syrian refugees fleeing the disaster of Daesh (aka ISIS, but follow that link to find out why I am not going to call them “Islamic State” anymore.) One of the men who murdered hostages in the Bataclan Theater in Paris carried a Syrian passport and now the cry has gone up: “Don’t take them in, they may be terrorists!”

In places connected to Syria by land masses or the Mediterranean, I can understand the fear. But here in the United States, the border for Syrian travelers is well-defined: it’s a secure area in airports and seaports, and no one gets through unless U.S. Customs and Border Security says they get through. Refugees are subjected to special screening by various offices of several different departments of the government, any of which can turn them down. The process takes 18-24 months; it’s no quickie. If you want to learn more about it, you can do so here.

There was a time in the past when people were desperately trying to flee an evil regime, and we Americans took it upon ourselves to see them all as undesirables: wrong religion, possibly spies, maybe saboteurs! Our ports were firmly closed to them. We actually turned away whole shiploads of them: refugees not wanted.

It emerged, after the war, that the Nazis had manipulated the whole thing: they sent agents to Cuba to aggravate antisemitic feeling there and in the U.S., and spread rumors that some of the refugees were “a criminal element.” Eventually the ship returned to Germany, and the refugees went to the camps, most of them, to their deaths.

Let’s not make the same mistake twice. Check thoroughly everyone who applies for refugee status, by all means, but do not allow Daesh or any other evil regime to manipulate U.S. policy.

And remember, my fellow Jews: we were once strangers fleeing the land of Egypt.

Image: “Women and children Syrian refugees at the Budapest Keleti railway station” taken by Mystslav Chernov. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Hope is a Jewish Value

 Image: A hovering Rufous Hummingbird (via Wikipedia)
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
Two things come to my mind when I hear the word “Hope.” The first is this poem by Emily Dickinson, of which I give the first stanza above. The second is HaTikva, “The Hope,” the national anthem of Israel:
As long as the Jewish spirit is yearning deep in the heart,
With eyes turned toward the East, looking toward Zion,
Then our hope – the 2,000 year old hope – will not be lost:
To be a free people in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem.
Miss Emily did a marvelous job of portraying the ridiculousness of hope: “a thing with feathers.” For over a thousand years, Jews finished each Passover seder with the words, “Next year in Jerusalem!” and it might as well have been “Next year on the Moon!” And yet our ancestors refused to give up on the idea, the hope, that someday we’d return to the land of Abraham, of King David, and of Rabbi Akiva. At the very end of the 19th century, Zionism became a worldwide movement, and in 1948, the modern State of Israel was born.
As individuals, we also have hopes, visions of the selves we might be, stronger, better, more whole than we are today. If at this moment, your life feels flimsy, messed-up, and incomplete, don’t despair. Remember Emily Dickinson’s “thing with feathers.”  Feed that little bird your best efforts, your good resolutions, and a willingness to ask for help and accept it. Change is possible, if we are willing to maintain our hope.