Marching for Environmental Justice at the People’s Climate March April 29

People's Climate March April 29, 2017 Washington DC. Avodah with Jewish star (logo)

On Saturday, April 29, Avodah Service Corps Members, Justice Fellows, alumni and supporters will march in unison with thousands of other Americans united in the fight to ensure clean air, water and health for all, as we sponsor the People’s Climate March in Washington, D.C.

As the only organization devoted to creating a nationwide network of Jewish social justice leaders, we will not stand idly by while harmful environmental policies and proposed cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency threaten the very communities our Service Corps Members Fellows, and alumni serve.

“Our Jewish teachings instill in us the responsibility to repair and improve the world for future generations. The current dismantling of our environmental policies will affect us all, but it is poor and minority communities that will suffer most,” Avodah Executive Director Cheryl Cook said. “As we work to mold future Jewish leaders, we cannot ignore the environmental injustices in our country. From Flint, Michigan, to the Sioux territories of North Dakota, to the poorest wards of New Orleans, it is our responsibility to protect the most vulnerable. We proudly support the People’s Climate March and resist wholeheartedly the catastrophic environmental policies that stand to cause further harm to the health and well being of those we serve.”

‘Bal Tashchit’ — Do Not Destroy

Photo of the Earth. Bal Tashchit: "Do Not Destroy" People's Climate March April 29, 2017 Washington DC

“Judaism commands us bal tashchit, do not destroy — that is, to work to prevent needless destruction and to be responsible stewards of the Earth. We’re also commanded, in many places and in many ways, to protect the poor and the vulnerable and to safeguard life at all costs. Those living in poverty now suffer the most from climate change, and will continue to bear the brunt of extreme weather, agricultural shortages, rising food prices, increases in disease and natural disasters. We have a clear obligation to take action on behalf of our planet and those who inhabit it — and to demand that our government do everything in its power to do the same,” Avodah Rabbi in Residence Danya Ruttenberg said.

It is a critical time. We have just one planet and protecting it requires long-term commitment. To fulfill our Jewish obligation to be stewards of this Earth and all of its inhabitants, Avodah is shaping the next generation of Jewish leaders, who will be on the frontlines in the cause for environmental justice. Our alumni across the country are working to preserve public lands, influencing urban planning projects to prepare for natural disasters, fighting for fair environmental and trade policies and taking on environmental justice issues within their communities.

Environmental Justice in Action

Take Dahlia Rockowitz, an alumna of our DC Service Corps (‘08-’09) for example. During her Service Corps year, Dahlia worked as the Healthy Returns Coordinator and Nutrition Educator at DC Central Kitchen, which works to prevent food waste, feed low-income residents, and train men and women for new careers in the culinary arts. At DCCK and in her ensuing years at American Jewish World Service advocating on global issues of climate justice, natural resources and human rights, Dahlia recognized the need to address social and environmental issues in-tandem. Now, she is taking her passion for creating a better world by pursuing a master’s degree in environmental justice and policy at the University of Michigan.

Photo of Dahlia with the following quote: “I believe that ensuring communities have the power and knowledge to sustainably manage and develop their economic, social and natural assets and resources will greatly contribute to the just and equitable world we're all working to achieve,” she said.

“I believe that ensuring communities have the power and knowledge to sustainably manage and develop their economic, social and natural assets and resources will greatly contribute to the just and equitable world we’re all working to achieve,” she said.

A Sustainable Future Demands Sustained Service

With almost two decades working to advance social justice, we know that real change does not happen in a day. Lasting change requires long-term partnership and a tireless commitment to cultivating a new generation of leaders. A sustainable future demands sustained service.

Together, we must pursue justice for people across the country who are suffering from unfair environmental practices and the effects of climate change. Join us and thousands of American Jews on April 29th in the People’s Climate March and help build a more just world for all people.

Members of the Avodah community will be joining the Faith Contingent and assembling at 3rd St. SW, between Madison Dr. NW and Jefferson Dr. SW (Google maps link).

About Avodah:

Avodah is building a nationwide network of Jewish social justice leaders. Avodah provides transformative experiences and skill-building opportunities to young Jewish adults across the country. Our leaders have provided critical services to hundreds of thousands of people coping with the challenges of poverty and have added millions of dollars in capacity to hundreds of frontline antipoverty nonprofits.

REVELATION AND REVOLUTION

 

REVELATION AND REVOLUTION: THE OMER

Springtime in Jewish life is framed by two major festivals: Passover, the holiday of liberation, and, exactly seven weeks later, Shavuot, the holiday of Revelation. This period is marked by a daily count-up, focusing outward, on, hopefully, the new grain harvest (Omer), and inward, on our spiritual preparation to embody liberation in our lives and in the world.

We are delighted to offer a new way to mark this time. We asked seven rabbis working at the intersection of spirituality and justice to offer a spiritual practice that can be done daily for each week of the Omer (or longer) to help us refuel for our work in the world. As is traditional, each week of the Omer is animated by a Kabbalistic attribute to help us grow in strength and compassion.

We’ve also provided some ways to learn more about how we can work together for liberation, highlighting seven of Avodah’s incredible partner organizations.

Print up, share, and begin the work of transformation..

‘Fab Five’ of Adult Education in New Orleans Times-Picayune

Micah Nelson

Avodah Corps Member Micah Nelson counts herself among the ‘Fab Five,’ education superheroes of different faith backgrounds who teach students at the YMCA Education Services (YES) of Greater New Orleans, the Y’s free adult literacy program.

These five women teach reading, writing, math and computer skills to students of a variety of ages:  “The youngest was 16 and our oldest was well into his 80s and came to class on a bicycle” and “a grandmother came to us because she wanted to be able to read her grandchild a story” noted Shannon Cvitanovic, Director of YES.

Read the full story of the ‘Fab Five’ in The Times-Picayune

The Journey Home: A homeless man is reunited with family

Manny
Manny

“Tears glistened in his eyes as he repeated, ‘I love you, Mom,’ with the biggest smile across his face as he made a plan with his mother to pick him up from Union Station the next day.” 

After her service year with Avodah DC, Ariel Goodman went on to work as a Homeless Outreach Specialist at Pathways to Housing DC. In this capacity, she met Manny at Union Station after an introduction by Amtrak Police officers, who had taken an interest in getting to know the soft-spoken man. Manny is a thin man in his mid-40’s, impeccably polite, and always willing to share a welcoming smile. Though Manny was always excited to talk to Ariel, he often apologized for “holding her up” and seemed self-conscious about taking up anyone’s time. The first time they met, Ariel bought him a cup of coffee on a crisp Fall morning and wanted to hear Manny’s story. Ariel learned that Manny had come to DC from California and had been out of touch with his friends and family for almost a decade due to his homelessness.

Manny spent most of his time at Union Station since he enjoyed the everyday hustle and bustle of people coming and going. Ariel and Manny built a rapport quickly, and their relationship allowed him the ability to trust again- a luxury he had not had in many years. Ariel worked hard to create a permanent housing plan with Manny, and simultaneously, she shared the local resources for shelters, meals, showers, and food. Every time Manny met with Ariel, he was quick to report which resources he tried, but was most concerned about the progress of his housing. It pained Ariel each time Manny asked about his housing because she did not yet have the news he was patiently wait for. Though he was taking care of himself as best he could, Manny’s health gradually declined throughout the winter from nights sleeping under the front arches of Union Station. This pattern continued for several months, and Manny would sometimes distance himself from Ariel for fear that he would never get off the street.

Ariel was relieved one cold morning when she saw Manny waiting by an archway at Union Station, the place he typically met her. She bought him a cup of coffee and tried to learn how he was doing after going several weeks without contact. He said to Ariel, “I think I’d like to get back in touch with my family. Can you try calling some numbers with me?” Ariel was initially shocked as Manny never shared that he had family he could contact. She quickly began calling around, but most of the numbers had been disconnected or were out of service since it had been many years since he had last dialed them. However, Manny did not grow discouraged. When he and Ariel reached the last number on his sheet, Manny said, “Let’s try this number. It used to be my mother’s home phone. I don’t know if it still is… but we can try.” Ariel called and left a voicemail, doubtful that she would ever hear back.

The next day, Ariel woke up to eight missed calls and voicemails from several members of Manny’s family. She couldn’t believe it. She spoke to his brother first, who said Manny had been missing for the last ten years, and this call was the first their family had heard from him in a decade. Manny’s brother emailed old family photos to Ariel and repeatedly expressed how happy they were to know that Manny was alive and well. Manny’s mother, who was still in disbelief, wanted to drive to DC as soon as possible to pick him up.

That afternoon, Ariel raced to find Manny at Union Station to call his mother with him. Tears glistened in his eyes as he repeated, “I love you, Mom,” with the biggest smile across his face as he made a plan with his mother to pick him up from Union Station the next day. After their conversation, Manny called his brother and could barely contain his excitement of being back in touch with people that had never stopped searching for Manny.

The following day, as planned, Manny’s mother made the long seven-hour drive to DC. After ten years of homelessness, wandering across the country, and flying under the radar of service providers, Manny was reunited with the people who loved him most and had never stopped missing him.

[reposted from the Pathways to Housing DC]

Responding with urgency – and staying the course

Dear Friends,

Over the past couple months, I’ve heard from many of Avodah Corps Members, Justice Fellows, alumni and partners across the country who work directly with immigrants and refugees. Between the President’s racist and fear-mongering statements, to the Executive Order attempting to bar refugees and Muslim immigrants, to recent sweeps by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and just-announced aggressive deportation rules, clients with whom Avodah leaders work are deeply concerned about their safety and their future.

We take these recent events very seriously and have stepped up our efforts to protect and stand in solidarity with these vulnerable communities. We will not stand by while the most vulnerable people in our country are threatened. We will not tolerate the trampling of the Jewish and civic values we cherish.

That’s why, in the last two weeks alone: Avodah co-sponsored and mobilized our community to take part in HIAS’s National Day of Jewish Action for Refugees; Avodah co-sponsored and marched as part of T’ruah’s Rabbinic & Jewish Community Action for Immigrants & Refugees; we joined an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief to challenge the legality of the President’s Executive Order barring refugees and immigrants from majority Muslim countries; and Avodah’s Rabbi-in-Residence Danya Ruttenberg wrote about the powerful intersection of Judaism and justice in the Washington Post.

But short-term organizing and advocacy are simply not enough.

With almost two decades working to advance social justice, we know that real change does not happen overnight. It requires long-term partnership and a tireless commitment to cultivating a new generation of leaders. It demands sustained service.

Service and leadership development are the bedrock of Avodah’s work. Our Jewish Service Corps Members, Justice Fellows and alumni are on the frontlines year-round at leading organizations including HIAS, the National Immigrant Justice Center, Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, Sanctuary for Families, New York Legal Assistance Group, and others. With Avodah’s support, they provide their clients with critical services including legal advice, help accessing public benefits and more.

Avodah is a vibrant and growing community of Jews committed to joining together to advocate for a more just country for all its residents. Each year, we provide thousands of Jews with the experience and knowledge they need to affect change over the long term.

It seems likely that this administration will continue to enact unjust policies that all of us must oppose. We will not hesitate to do so. But regardless of those immediate challenges, Avodah will remain committed to the long-term investment in our participants, our partners and their clients.

We count on you to make this work possible. Please join the Avodah community by making a gift today.

 

Thank you,

Cheryl Cook
Executive Director

Avodah joins friend of the court brief to challenge the legality of the President’s Executive Order

Jewish tradition requires that Jews speak out against injustice. Jewish history teaches the critical importance of standing up for those targeted by hatred and intolerance. That is why Avodah was proud to sign on to an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief challenging the legality of the President’s Executive Order barring refugees and immigrants from seven majority Muslim countries. Avodah was joined by several longtime partners including American Jewish World Service, HIAS, Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, National Council of Jewish Women, T’ruah, and the Union for Reform Judaism.

You can read the Brief by clicking this link:

Interfaith Amicus Brief As Filed 2-16-17

Dangerous Unselfishness: The Blessings We Need Urgently Today

This is an edited version of remarks that Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg gave on the Shabbat of Martin Luther King Jr. weekend at Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago.

This parsha–the Torah portion that we read today, the last portion of the book of Genesis–marks the closing of an era.  In it, Jacob dies, and we close the book that showed us how the creation of the world is like the creation of a family.  And we transition to the next great movement in this symphony: The creation of a nation.

Much of the parsha is occupied with a central concern of Jacob’s: the giving of blessings, which have defined his life–from the one that he stole to the one he demanded of an angel.  It seems only fitting that he would close out his life with blessings, finally able to become the kind of person who gives them, rather than taking them no matter what the cost.

He blesses each of his sons, and two of his grandchildren.  He not only names their gifts and their challenges, but alludes to the ways in which they will inform and shape each of their descendants—no longer mere family members, but as entire tribes.  He blesses some with success in battle, some with good work, some with charm, or tenacity, or bravery, or the ability to judge.  He pours unto each exactly what he hopes they will receive from him.

Of course, it’s hard to talk about this without asking the obvious question—what does it mean to give someone a blessing, anyway?

To take a quick step back—I think of prayer as a communication between me and God; it’s an offering up, and sometimes a sort of a receiving.  Blessing, on the other hand, is something that we can give over to other people—something we bestow on one another, rather than to the divine.  It has that same sense of lifting up from our deepest selves, that feeling of bringing something out from our hearts, but instead of releasing it to the transcendent beyond, we give it to someone else.

It’s about allowing love and holiness to come from or through us, and letting it spill out onto other people.  It’s about allowing our own divine image to reach out and touch the divinity in others.

When I was thinking about what I wanted to say today, first I read the parsha, and I had all of these thoughts sort of bubbling through me.  And then, as Martin Luther King Jr. Day is Monday, I re-read another beloved text, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s final speech, “I’ve Been To The Mountaintop,” given the day before he was assassinated in 1968.  It is powerful.  It is prophetic.  It is a speech by a man who knew that his own death was near.  God, he says, “allowed me to go up to the mountain.” Like Moses.  “And I’ve looked over,” he says, “and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you.”  Like the Book of Deuteronomy itself, he reviews what’s happened in the work of civil rights, and what’s needed for the road ahead.  Like Jacob, he knows his time is almost up and he’s trying to bless them with deeper understanding of the gifts and challenges in play for the next chapter.

I’ve read and listened to this speech many times, but it touched me differently this week.

There was one line in particular that stuck out to me, one I’d never really noticed before.

The line was this:

“Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.”

It’s in the context of King trying to fortify to those listening for the work yet to come, to remind them that seeing the movement through may demand something real and substantial of them.

“Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.”

What does that mean?  “Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.”

It’s a kind of giving over of the self, isn’t it?  An offering up.  Unselfish because it is about giving over to others, for the benefit of others.  Dangerous because, really, it’s not safe.

It’s easy to be unselfish when it’s safe.  When it only takes a moment to sign an online petition or to grab a couple of cans of food that’re already in our pantry to drop them somewhere we’re going anyway.  Those are both good things to do, but they’re certainly safe.  It’s easy to be unselfish when it doesn’t ask much of us.  When it’s not demanding.

Danger implies some risk.  It’s not actually certain if you’ll be OK in the end. But you give over of yourself anyway.

And the more I think of it, this is not unlike blessing.  A giving over of the self, for the benefit of others. Offering something crucial of ourselves, because someone else needs us to at that moment.  Reaching out from the part of us created in God’s image to touch the divine image in someone else.

Acts of service and justice are blessings.  We draw from our light and love.  We bestow. When we put our bodies on the line for a cause we believe in.  When we share our resources.  When we put ourselves at risk interpersonally or professionally to stand up for what’s right.  When we offer what we have for the world’s desperate needs.

These are the ideas that undergird the work that Avodah does. We train Jews, mostly those who are early or very early in their careers, to become lifelong leaders for social and economic justice.  We help them to understand the complexities of the systems that contribute to poverty—that people aren’t just poor because they don’t work hard enough, but because predatory loan structures can entrap people for life; because schools in low socioeconomic areas are more likely to be underfunded; because a person working full-time at the federal minimum wage will make only $15,000 a year.  We support them in their professional growth and give them the tools to prevent burnout. And perhaps most importantly, we give them a Jewish community and the ability to understand this work through the lens of our tradition.

Needless to say, the work at Avodah feels more urgent now than ever.  We may very well find ourselves tested with regards to our religious mandates to protect the vulnerable in our communities, to care for the stranger, to pursue justice and to uphold human dignity.  We may find ourselves wondering if we should pick our battles.  We may feel pressure to keep silent.  We may be concerned about what might happen if we stick our neck out.   But this is the time to stop focusing only on our family or even our own tribes, if you will, to seeing ourselves as part of a larger nation, a larger story.

Dr. King, in his Mountaintop speech, told the story of a man beset by thieves on a dangerous road.  One man saw what was happening, but they passed by, they didn’t stop.  The other one stopped, intervened, got the man safe, administered first aid. He chose not to be, as King put it, “compassionate by proxy“.   The question is not—to paraphrase King here—“If I stop to help this man, if I speak up, if I protest, if I take this risk, what will happen to me?”

But, rather, “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”

Jacob reminds us that we can all learn to stop thinking about what we need, how to take, what ways other people ought to be blessing us, and move into a space of giving over what we have.  Rather than even just giving blessings, we have the ability to make of our lives blessings.  To let the holiness flow from our every word, our every action, our every doing.

Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.

Shabbat Shalom.

Restructure the Edifice: Ways to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy

This year, we had the disjointed task of celebrating Dr. King’s birthday on the precipice of a government set to go backward on many of the very issues important to him. Some folks think of Dr. King’s call as an opportunity to volunteer, participate in days of service (known in the Jewish world as “mitzvah days”) and engage in other social action-related events, tying direct service to Dr. King’s call “to serve.”

This work is exceedingly worthwhile; service is an important way to address the immediate ills of society while working for the systemic change needed to eliminate these ills.  And yet, I struggle with this misinterpretation of Dr. King’s legacy each and every year. These kinds of direct service are not the main kind of service at the center of Dr. King’s life work. Dr King stood for love and serving others, yes, but his understanding of the Bible’s call to love your neighbor was through radical racial and economic justice. As he wrote, “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” His service involved giving his voice, his strategy, and his life to attacking systemic injustices–helping to restructure the edifice itself. His methods included direct nonviolent collective action–including strikes and boycotts–political advocacy, lobbying, building coalitions, convincing and challenging adversaries, and speaking truth to power. He was a key player in a community organized bus boycott that lasted more than a year, went to jail countless times for nonviolent protest, sacrificed his working relationship with President Johnson in order to repeatedly challenge him on the Vietnam War, and was in Memphis supporting striking public workers when he was assassinated.

There are crucially important ways that you can honor Dr. King’s work and legacy by helping to restructure the edifice, especially at this time when leaders of the next government are talking about cutting the social safety net and rolling back civil rights protections.

Here are some ways that you can honor Dr. King’s legacy:

  • Are there racial justice groups (for example, Black Lives Matter or Showing Up For Racial Justice) or immigration justice groups (United We Dream) in your area doing anything to mark the day? Perhaps they’re holding a rally, teach in, demonstration, press conference, training, advocacy day? Begin the work of building relationships with other people working on these issues in your community.
  • Are there other organizations working on issues at the intersection of racial and economic justice work, such as housing justice and criminal justice reform, that are doing anything to mark the day? Are they holding a rally, teach in, demonstration, press conference, training, advocacy day?
  • Is there a picket line or a direct action that could use donations of time and / or resources?
  • The Voting Rights Act, one of the hallmark national legislative victories Dr. King was a part of winning in his lifetime, was recently gutted by the Supreme Court, which in 2013 struck down one key provision and rendered another key provision unenforceable. This, coupled with horrific gerrymandering and restrictive voter laws, are among many of the things that make it extremely difficult for people of color to have their voices heard fairly in the electoral process. What local groups are working on this issue near you?
  • Enter the district office and legislative office phone numbers for all your elected officials (federal, state, and local) into your phone. Are the nominations to the Cabinet you can call your US Senators about? Are there bills around racial justice you can advocate for? Are there measures cutting the social safety net to which you can register your opposition? Check to see if racial and economic justice groups have highlighted nominees and legislative policies about which you can visit or call your city, state, or federal elected official.

Dr. King once said, “I believe that we can work within the framework of our democracy to make for a better distribution of wealth, and I believe that God has left enough and to spare in this world for all of his children to have the basic necessities of life. I will never be satisfied, and I will never be content, until all men and all women can have the basic necessities of life.”¹

Hopefully, this list gives us a few ideas of how to carry this mission forward to make America more just. Here’s hoping we all can be more worthy of Dr. King’s legacy.

Russ Agdern is Director of Recruitment and Outreach for Avodah and has spent the last 15 years of his life as one of many organizers trying to push America to “be true to what you said on paper.”²

crossposted to Jewschool

¹Speech given to RWDSU Local 65, September 8, 1962 in Monticello, NY

²from the I’ve Been to the Mountaintop Speech, April 3rd, 1968

A Time for Moral Grandeur

I just got home from one of the largest conferences in the institutional Jewish world.  I ran into a lot of prominent friends and colleagues there—executive directors, presidents and vice-presidents, fellow rabbis, heads of boards of Jewish communal organizations and institutions. I arrived on Monday, the day after Trump appointed Stephen Bannon, known for his ties to the white supremacist alt-right movement, to be his chief strategist and senior counselor.

The President-elect’s campaign promises have violated, according to the ACLU, no fewer than five Constitutional amendments.  He appears to be moving forward with his plans to register Muslims and deport up to three million immigrants.  Hate crimes have spiked since the election.

“How is your organization planning to address the consequences of this election?” I would ask my acquaintances as we made small talk in the lobby.

Some leaders of small, nimble nonprofits or left-leaning denominations had quick answers and were already springing into action.  The bigger the organization, though, the more likely it was that my interlocutor would begin to mumble. “Dig a hole and hide in it,” one of them responded.  Another wondered whether they might be able to say anything at all, given the risk of angering right-leaning funders.  Still another noted with concern that Trump’s support of Israel might put their organization in an awkward position.

The Zionist Organization of America has invited Bannon to its awards dinner; the Republican Jewish Coalition has defended Bannon’s character and statements. Other major organizations sent emails stating how delighted they would be to work with Trump.  Many more have been, simply, silent.

One of the most oft-quoted phrases in the Jewish educational lexicon is, “Never again.”  It refers to the Jewish determination that the atrocities of the Holocaust, and the abuses leading up to it, should never take place again, anywhere in history.  Our kids learn about the Holocaust as early as kindergarten, and are taught about the “righteous among the nations,” the non-Jews who risked their lives on behalf of Jews. We also highlight the Jews who were Freedom Riders and note with pride that the great theologian Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marched with Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma. We quote Elie Wiesel, who swore “never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation.”

Now, the silence is somewhat deafening.

Even if Trump’s campaign tweets and ads hadn’t had anti-Semitic overtones, even if Bannon himself wasn’t a notorious anti-Semite, we would have a moral obligation to raise our voices.  As it happens, it’s not even in our own self-interest to be short-sighted and fearful.

Of course, some Jews and Jewish organizations have already spoken out against the Bannon appointment, have been co-sponsoring protests, developing interfaith alliances, organizing on behalf of those likely to be vulnerable in the new administration. I’m glad that Avodah is one of them.

But it’s not enough. And what’s more, Trump isn’t just taking advice from Bannon; his other advisors include Islamophobic conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney and Kris Kobach, author of draconian immigration laws. Given our history, the entire Jewish community should be speaking out on these issues. And they’re not.

In 1963, Rabbi Heschel sent a telegram to President John F. Kennedy in anticipation of an upcoming meeting. He wrote, in part, “LIKELIHOOD EXISTS THAT NEGRO PROBLEM WILL BE LIKE THE WEATHER. EVERYBODY TALKS ABOUT IT BUT NOBODY DOES ANYTHING ABOUT IT. PLEASE DEMAND OF RELIGIOUS LEADERS PERSONAL INVOLVEMENT NOT JUST SOLEMN DECLARATION… PROPOSE THAT YOU MR. PRESIDENT DECLARE STATE OF MORAL EMERGENCY….THE HOUR CALLS FOR HIGH MORAL GRANDEUR AND SPIRITUAL AUDACITY.”

Moral grandeur involves real personal risk.  We may know this intellectually, but it’s different when one’s own work is on the line. Taking a stand may cause friction with key stakeholders; it may make some people angry.

It does not seem that Jews would be the first or even the second group formally targeted by a Trump administration—but all the more that we should be using our relative privilege on behalf of those who are.

“Never again” is now. It’s time for the Jewish community—and the rest of the country—to speak clearly against Trump’s plans and appointments, and to actively resist racism and intolerance every step of the way. If we witness a verbal or physical attack, we should put our own bodies on the line to protect those targeted.  If Trump does try to deport immigrants, we should make our homes and synagogues and communities places of refuge.  If he tries to call for Muslims to be registered, we should be first in line to register along with them.  And now, while things are merely scary, we should thicken the bonds of solidarity and sow the seeds for what may be a long fight ahead.

For, as Heschel—himself a refugee whose entire family was killed in the Holocaust, himself a man who knew all too well what was at stake—once noted, “the prophets remind us of the moral state of the people: Few are guilty, but all are responsible.”

Danya Ruttenberg is Rabbi-in-Residence at Avodah and author of Nurture the Wow: Finding Spirituality in the Frustration, Boredom, Tears, Poop, Desperation, Wonder, and Radical Amazement of Parenting.

Statement on the Appointment of Steve Bannon as White House Chief Strategist

Avodah was dismayed to hear that Steve Bannon, CEO of Breitbart News, has been appointed to White House Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor. Bannon himself has described Breitbart as “the platform of the Alt-Right,” a movement rife with white nationalism, racism, and anti-Semitism.

Cheryl Cook, Executive Director of Avodah, released the following statement:

“As an organization that works with many of the most vulnerable people in our country, we are deeply concerned about Bannon’s appointment as Chief Strategist. There is no room for fear-mongering and bigotry in our leadership. We ask that Republican Congressional leaders to stand up and demand that Bannon’s appointment be rescinded.”