If you were at Yom Kippur morning services at CBI on September 30th, 2017, you heard Rabbi Epstein's sermon. If you didn’t hear it, please read it. I promise, it won’t bore you, and it won’t disappoint.
For many of us, 5777 was an eventful year, beginning, oh, I’d say with the election results in November. Much has happened since then — the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court; the firing of Sally Yates as Acting Attorney General when she refused to support the Muslim Ban, and the subsequent fight over the ban in the courts that still rages today; the rescinding of the DACA program, leaving 800,000 undocumented Dreamers who came to this country as children in legal limbo; a ban on transgender service members in the military; the quiet start of construction on the border wall in Texas, right through the middle of a wildlife refuge; the establishment of a “voter fraud commission” led by John Kasich as a thinly-veiled excuse for voter suppression. I could go on.
But the thing that I remember most this year were my mother’s words right after the election: “This isn’t the country my grandparents came to as immigrants. It’s not the same country they loved.”
Those words broke my heart a little. But I am not the kind of person who allows a broken heart to break her spirit.
All of these things were on my mind as I listened to Rabbi Epstein’s sermon. She spoke with great conviction, and the strength of her words lifted me up. As she spoke, her courage bolstered my own. And I felt a desire to turn a sense of despair and hopelessness to action. She made me feel that, if we work together as a community, there is something each of us can do — no matter how small — to fix this broken world.
Below is the letter I wrote to Rabbi Epstein in response to her sermon. It is just the seed of my own small desire to make a difference. But I hope it encourages those seeds you may have in your heart to grow, as well.
Gut Yom Tov.
Hello Rabbi Epstein,
I wanted to thank you for the very moving and passionate sermon you gave on Yom Kippur. It really inspired me to think about how I can become more politically active this year, and how we as a religious community can organize to promote social justice. I know there are other members of our Sisterhood who feel the same way. Even though we're all busy and over-committed, I'm hoping we can find some time to join you in whatever action you think we can take to make this country a fairer, more democratic place for all of its citizens.
One of the parts of your sermon that really stood out was how you made it clear that this shouldn't be a partisan issue. Whether we think people should be sitting or standing during the Shema, the important thing is that we are all praying the Shema -- together, as a community, in support of the same values. And one of those values is unmistakably that all human beings -- ALL of us -- are created in the image of God, and we all deserve the same rights and respect.
Your words were definitely on my mind last night when I went to a "Let People Vote" launch event that was organized by the ACLU. We are the very start of a grass-roots effort to fight unfair voting practices in the United States, State by State. (Actually, by "we", I mean eight people gathered in my neighbor's living room -- plus 600 groups just like us, all around the country.) One of the things that the ACLU made clear in their presentation was that we are to keep our actions non-partisan. Voting rights is an issue that affects all of us, because it is an issue of fundamental fairness -- in a Democracy, no single person's vote should count more than another's -- because we all have equal value and should have an equal say in our government. (Sound familiar?)
So in thinking about it this morning, it seems like our goals as a religious community may be in alignment with what the ACLU is trying to do here. The task of our little neighborhood group is to figure out how to fight gerrymandering in the State of Texas, and it looks like it won't be easy. Despite that, word is that 70% of all voters -- from across the political spectrum -- favor the establishment of independent commissions to redraw voting districts, in order to create a fairer, more representative government. And our little group's job, before the next legislative session in two years, is to convince the Texas State Legislature to do that.
So I guess my question for you is, would you be interested in helping us with this effort, as part of a non-partisan move towards social justice? And by help, I mean anything, no matter how small -- even if it's just spreading the word that we exist?
Here is the link to the ACLU's campaign: https://vote.peoplepower.org/, if you'd like to check it out for yourself or forward it to anyone who may be interested.
Thanks again for an inspiring sermon, and may you have a sweet new year! - Lisa
The nazis are back in Charlottesville. Yes, really. Complete with tiki torches. Not in large numbers, and not for long, but there you have it.
And, I got nothin'. Well, I do. I have better things to do. Have you all seen this movie? It's awesome, and actually based on a true story, if you want to read the review. I think it's even on Netflix. Much more worth your time to see than whatever is going on in Charlottesville with...who? I've already forgotten. Oh well. Enjoy.
WOW is a grass roots organization dedicated to winning the right for all women “to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall.”
Two of us from Cbi Sisterhood have direct experience with this movement--as tensions continue between Israel's ultra orthodox rabbis/communities and more liberal Jews, sharing our experiences feels increasingly important.
Baihlah Rubin: Years ago I participated with CBI in sending W.O.W. photos of women holding the Torah. It was exciting then to support the right for ALL women to pray at the Kotel; how heartbreakingly different to actually enter the women’s section of the Kotel in May with a group of women and pray there. We were all physically searched at security for Torahs (such a security risk). Upon approaching the wall teenage Haredi women with covered faces (not unlike KKK) screamed and shrieked, calling us sinners throughout our entire service.
Margaret Gewirtzman: We had just gone to the Memphis Civil Rights Museum where we experienced visuals of the violence and hate that happened in the States just a few years ago. Frightening. The Memphis trip was followed in short order by a trip to Jerusalem. One of the places we most wanted to visit of course was the Western Wall--from the moment we entered the security line to when we left the old city I literally feared for my safety from fellow Jews--ultra-Orthodox who so violently hate women who wish to pray out loud the words of the Torah. The impulse to remove the tallit that clearly signaled my association with W.O.W. was really strong--being on the receiving end of such blinding hate is incredibly unnerving. What immense courage it takes for all civil rights workers to stand unwavering in the presence of such hate. Despite the legal ruling by the highest court in Israel allowing women egalitarian prayer at the Kotel, there has been a worsening of the harassment of women.
As members of the World Union for Progressive and Reform Judaism, we need to fight this oppression. For deeper understanding of these issues and ways to support the fight, please visit the Women of the Wall’s Website at www.womenofthewall.org.il.
Many of us saw the recent Billy Joel photo where he sports the yellow Star of David on his coat during a concert. This symbol of repression, hate, unspeakable horror was viewed by many, in the context of a 2017 rock concert, as a message of pride -- something of a flip-off to the neo-nazis now sliming the streets of Charlottesville, Va and other towns in this country.
The fact that Joel is Jewish made all the difference; the fashion house of Miu Miu was recently shamed into removing a line of clothes featuring yellow Jewish stars.
As far as I can find, Joel said something like it was time to stand up; spokespeople for Miu Miu offered no real explanations for their artistic choice. Are the choices supposed to speak for themselves? As nonverbal signals, with little or no verbal clarification, they remain open to interpretation.
If you don't know anything about Billy Joel's family history, here is a moving YouTube documentary of the Joel family's experience in Hitler's Germany.
The YouTube documentary is an hour, so won't take your entire evening. I was particularly interested in Billy Joel's nonverbals as he and his brother meet with the children of a nazi party businessman. We invite you to watch and then weigh in on the continuing life of the infamous Jewish star.
What do you think? How do you interpret these recent uses of the yellow star?
- Laura Schulman
Austin Pride kicks off this week, and just as in previous years, CBI members will participate in the Pride Parade that will be taking place on Saturday, August 26th. It's bound to be quite a celebration, so if you have the time, go and check it out.
I asked Baihlah how many people from the local Jewish community would be participating, and she said not many - maybe 25-30 people. Which sounds like a lot of people to me. Anyway, if you go and see this flag, be sure to cheer extra-loud:
Coincidentally, about that flag. It happens to be really similar to the flag at the center of a bit of controversy, which is discussed in this article. Apparently several Jewish participants at a Dyke March in Chicago who were carrying a rainbow flag with a Star of David on it were kicked out of the parade because the organizers said the march was anti-Zionist, and the flag too closely resembled an Israeli flag. No, I'm not kidding. Really. But don't just take my word for it -- here is the march organizer's statement, if you'd like to read it.
So if you're going to participate in Austin Pride, have a great time! And don't get kicked out.
Now that a few days have passed and the edge has worn off of the shock, the women of Sisterhood have begun to react to the Charlottesville tragedy in some constructive ways. People I've talked with have expressed sadness and fear, but also courage and resolution. There is a sense of optimism - that this isn't 1932. That, this time, we know who and what we're facing, and we don't stand alone against it.
Our Sisterhood, through its affiliation with Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ), has made a donation to the local Reform Congregation in Charlottesville (which, coincidentally, is also named Beth Israel), to help them with their security needs and social justice efforts. You can read about it, and other positive actions the WRJ is taking in response to this tragedy, in this Advocacy Update from WRJ.
Carol Calvery expressed her feelings in writing and asked me to share them with you here:
We'd like to hear from you, too. If you want to share your thoughts, feel free to enter them in the comments.