July 26, 2018

A fellow congregant and leader at BHC and I are trying to launch a Civic Engagement Campaign. The two of us want to see a better, more equitable society in which everyone's voice is heard. We think others want that, too, and so we thought this would be an opportunity to not only engage in some good old fashioned voter registration, voter education and get-out-the-vote activities, it would also be a chance to create or nurture relationships between individuals and institutions. 

In my own mind, I've been calling this effort "Faith in Democracy," because it started through my involvement at my synagogue, and we have been reaching out to other faith-based institutions for our coalition. In reality, we don't have a name, at least not yet. Still, if you're interested in joining our fledg...

June 21, 2018

The reading discussion group is on a hiatus. In the interim a few thoughts from me. 

In my first year of graduate school, one of the required readings in my religious studies core class was a book by anthropologist Clifford Geertz. I don’t remember much about what I learned in that class (it was about 18 years ago, after all), but one concept of Geertz’s really stuck with me. Geertz observes that the goal of religion in the realm of suffering is not to reduce suffering, but to make it bearable—to make life “sufferable.” (I’m paraphrasing.) That idea, that religion makes life sufferable, felt right to me all those years ago, and it continues to make a lot of sense—it is why people turn to religion in the worst of times—we look for God when we need help making life bearable, making it...

April 20, 2018

Image source: Evan Vucci/Associated Press

Professor Ibram X. Kendi really opened my thinking about racism and my own antiracism with his impressive, thorough and National-Book-Award-winning book Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. (If you haven’t read it yet, you should. It’s long, and it’s worth every minute.) 

Ever since I read the book last year, I’ve been following Dr. Kendi’s writing. He is a prolific thinker and an active commentator.  When I saw that he wrote an op-ed in the NY Times regarding the recent news story that the president referred to Haiti and other predominantly black nations as “shitholes,” I decided to read the piece with my fellow travelers. 

In the op-ed, "The Heartbeat of Racism is Denial," Kendi focuses on the public...

March 19, 2018

I first read How Studying Talmud Helped Me Understand Racism in America at a legislative kick-off for Jews United for Justice in January. On initial reading I felt it was just a new way to say ideas I was already familiar with, namely intention does not equal impact. But the more I processed this essay, the more I realized Avi Killip is actually saying something more nuanced. 

Killip overlays categories of injury from the Talmud onto racism. These categories were articulated by the rabbis to legislate how damages are calculated when an animal causes injury. She writes:

Three of these categories are named after various animal body parts: Keren (horn) Regel (leg), and Shain (tooth).

Each category describes the motivation of the animal that caused the damage.  Keren describes an animal t...

January 28, 2018

The Maryland General Assembly is interesting three pieces of "emergency legislation" in response to the disturbing crime statistics in Baltimore.

Unfortunately, instead of addressing the root causes of the violence, and providing funding and resources for violence interruption (like SafeStreets Baltimore or Baltimore Ceasefire) or fixing the broken school funding situation or providing more opportunities for our young people, this legislation seeks to put more people behind bars for longer.

The bills are:

SB 197 / HB100, a mandatory minimum bill (basically the bill that was watered down in Baltimore City last year),

SB 198 HB 101, a bill that proposes a mandatory trying of juveniles as adults, based on "gang-related" charges--taking the power of the adult charges out of the han...

December 19, 2017

For the December reading selection at BHC, I decided to focus on a few poems rather than a single article. I’ve been procrastinating writing this wrap-up because I haven’t written about poetry since my first year of college—more than twenty years ago. In short, bear with me as I walk you through these titles.

The 6 poems selected ended up falling neatly into three pairs. I wish I could tell you I planned it that way from the beginning, but the truth is I got lucky. I selected poems looking for a variety of men and women, contemporary and recent and historical poetry and selections available online. By choosing that way, I ended up with the six poems grouped together like this:

Let America Be America Again by Langston Hughes (1936) + Hey Black Child by Useni Eugene Perkins (1974)


November 22, 2017

On September 1st of this year, the New York Times published an op-Ed signed by four Christian clergy. "Waiting for a Perfect Protest?" Is a modern-day reprise of Martin Luther King Jr's "Letter From Birmingham Jail.

In King's "Letter," King calls out the hypocrisy of his fellow clergy--those who criticized King's work for being 'unwise and untimely,' In it, King notes "you deplore the demonstrations that are presently taking place in Birmingham. But I am sorry that your statement did not express a similar concern for the conditions that brought the demonstrations into being." 

Our authors acknowledge their parallels to King's "Letter." They quote it at some length. Interestingly, they also point out that history has sanitized Dr. King and his work in the American popular imaginatio...

November 21, 2017

Over the past several weeks, more than one of my regular discussion participants has suggested we read poetry together. Intrigued by the idea, I have selected six poems for your consideration for our December reading discussion group at BHC. Some of these are very recent, some not so new. Please find the selections below, in no particular order:

Let America Be America Again by Langston Hughes

Still I Rise by Maya Angelou 

from Citizen, VI [On the train the woman standing] by Claudia Rankine

• from Citizen: “You are in the dark, in the car...” by Claudia Rankine

Hey Black Child by Useni Eugene Perkins (often misattributed to Countee Cullen)

Yet Do I Marvel by Countee Cullen

September 22, 2017

Skin in the Game: How Antisemitism Animates White Nationalism by Eric K. Ward published in the Summer 2017 issue of Public Eye magazine.

Over the past year, as antisemitic speech and acts grew in frequency and viciousness, I found myself in an uncomfortable position. As a committed Jew endeavoring to be an equally committed antiracist, I found myself struggling to hold both the reality of White privilege and the reality of antisemitism at the same time. I am fully and completely convinced that White privilege is real and that I benefit from it. And so I denied or downplayed antisemitism. Without making the choice consciously, I seem to have decided that for me to talk about antisemitism as a real threat I would somehow deny the benefits of White privilege for myself and other w...

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Civic Engagement Campaign

July 26, 2018

Making life sufferable

June 21, 2018

Racism, Denial and Shame

April 20, 2018

The Talmud and White Fragility

March 19, 2018

Stop Mass Incarceration in Baltimore: A CALL TO ACTION

January 28, 2018

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