Ideas

One of the assignments for this month from my Pioneer Valley Writer’s Workshop Year Long class, was to read three essays to look at the craft tools used in presenting ideas.

First, I read “The Futurist Manifesto by Flippo Tommaso Marinetti. For the class assignment, we were not supposed to say whether we like a piece or not but rather, look at the craft elements used in the writing and determine if they would be valuable for our own writing.  However, this is is my blog, so I will  say that I hated this essay. The language  was over wrought, hyperbolic and flowery. I would not want to write in that style. The piece felt dated with racist and misogynistic elements and I had a strong suspicion that the author was a fascist. When I Googled him, I found out I was right.

Our teacher implied that Verlyn Klinkenborg’s, “Our Vanishing Light”, had  lyrical tone, and visual and sensory imagery.  The writing was okay but it seemed a fairly standard journalistic article. Written in 2008, it might have been startling then but felt like nothing new thirteen years later.

In “Sick Women Theory”, Johanna Hedva uses her personal story to make her point. I thought that was a good strategy or tool to use. By personalizing her ideas, it made thinking about those ideas more accessible. Hedva weaves her story of chronic illness into a compelling critique of western medicine. She explores how disability interacts with political participation, seeking a redefinition of both public and private.  I found her writing the most compelling of the three essays and I enjoyed reading it.

Cancer, Revisited

Earlier this week,  I attended the first annual Kay Johnson Memorial Lecture. Kay was a Hampshire faculty member who died in 2019. I knew her really well because our sons were best friends from birth to the age of 5.

Kay died from metastatic breast cancer. In honor of Kay, I am reposting a piece from 2009.  At that time, my Uncle Norm had a diagnosis of lung cancer. He died a few weeks later. 12 years later, we have still not made enough progress in the fight against cancer. Hopefully once President Biden gets COVID and the economy under control, he can turn his attention to defeating cancer.

Cancer  12/16/2009

As part of my research for my new book, I have been reading short stories from various eras of Harper’s Magazine. One written in 1949, “The Lady Walks,” by Jean Powell, deals with a faculty wife who has breast cancer. Although my original interest in the story was because of the faculty wife character, Ravita, as a nurse I found the description of the cancer treatment clinic she goes to unsettling. The description did not seem that different from clinics I have worked at various times in the past fifteen years.

After reading the story, I have concluded that things have not changed as much as we might think or like in the area of treatment of cancer. Today I participated in a Cancer Care teleconference, “The Latest Developments Reported at the 32nd Annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.”  It was very interesting; there are new drugs that might prevent bone loss in cancer patients as well possibly prevent the re-ocurrence of cancer.  However, treatment for certain kinds of breast cancer is a five-year process, which seems extraordinary long.

Around Thanksgiving, I read a story in the New York Times about a recreational lounge for cancer patients at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, a hospital in New York City. One of the patients is Seun Adebiyi, a young Nigerian immigrant and a Yale Law School graduate. He has lymphoblastic lymphoma and stem-cell leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant. He is also trying to be the first Nigerian to compete in the Winter Olympics in skeleton. His goal is 2014. I have participated in a bone marrow drive but I have never received a call to donate.

I have had friends who have died from ovarian cancer and relatives who have experienced lung cancer. Although we may not have made as much progress in the last sixty years as we would have liked, let us hope that we can make significant progress against cancer in the coming days.

 

Indifference

Sometime after George Floyd’s murder, I started being the facilitator of a once-a-week virtual hour long session on Jews and race in America. The “class” is through the JCA. The last few weeks we have been reading a speech that Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel gave in 1963 at a Chicago Conference on Race and Religion. It was at that conference that Heschel first met Martin Luther King Jr.

This week we read a section about indifference to evil. “There is an evil most of us condone and are even guilty of: indifference to evil. We remain neutral, impartial and not easily moved by the wrongs done unto other people. Indifference to evil is more insidious than evil itself; it is more universal, more contagious, more dangerous. A silent justification, it makes possible an evil erupting as an exception becoming the rule and being in turn accepted.”

Heschel’s speech was focused on the evil of segregation and the daily injustices that black people suffered. He was also, subtly, looking back to the overwhelming evil of the Holocaust. Heschel, born in Poland, left Germany in 1940; many members of his family who remained perished.

Reading that passage, the word “indifference” stood out. What is the opposite of indifference? Is it attention, caring, sympathy or empathy? Today’s world seems beset by problems. It can feel overwhelming contemplating how to act.

The song “I Think It is Going to Rain Today,” by Randy Newman also came to mind.

“Human kindness is overflowing
And I think it’s going to rain today

Lonely, lonely
Tin can at my feet
Think I’ll kick it down the street
That’s the way to treat a friend”

In my teenage years I sang that song to myself many times. The somewhat sarcastic or cynical lyrics perfectly summed up my view of the world and its problems.

It is many years later and the song still has a lot of meaning. America has many compelling issues. Climate change, systemic racism, COVID and continuing economic inequality are some of them. It is hard to know where to start.

Heschel wanted his audience to face racism and act to end it. Heschel didn’t just give speeches and sermons about the evils of racism. He was an active participant in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and marched with MLK in Selma.

Jim Crow and segregation did end but racism has not gone away. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his essay, Three Ways of Meeting Oppression, “To accept passively an unjust system is to cooperate with that system.” Both King and Heschel fought against indifference to and denial of racism. To act in a way that contradicts indifference to evil requires us to do something, anything. To the best of our ability, we need to stand up and be counted.

 

COVID Vaccines

Me getting my first shot.

 

Earlier today I got my second dose of the Moderna vaccine. So far, I feel okay. The nurse who gave me the shot said the side effects kick in around the ten hour mark. If that is true, I will feel fine at skating but not so well this evening and into tomorrow. She thought I would be fine by Sunday when I go skating again.

I have been volunteering at Amherst clinics, inoculating people and also acting as the scribe for the inoculator. The  Massachusetts rollout of the vaccine has been abysmal. People have faced long waits to get an appointment and the enrollment process is apparently very confusing.

Last week  the Governor announced that people who were 65 or older or had two comorbidities were now eligible to receive the vaccine. People still had a tremendous amount of trouble getting appointments. The list of comorbidities also made little sense. If you  smoke and have asthma you are eligible but if you have high blood pressure, that doesn’t count.

The other thing the Baker administration announced last week was that they were shifting distribution of the vaccines away from doctors offices and hospitals to mass vaccination sites. At that time, the  closest site was at least fifteen miles away from Amherst and not necessarily on a bus route.

Our state representatives, Mindy Domb and Jo Comerford, along with others, worked very hard to get both Amherst and Northampton designated as regional vaccination sites. Starting Monday, Amherst will have clinics in the Bangs Center located in downtown Amherst. If you need more information you can click here. If you need more help, you can call 2-1-1.

Around here, everyone I know is desperate to get vaccinated and is willing to go to great lengths to achieve that goal. I think that is probably true of many people across the country. I did speak to someone I know who lives in Florida; she and her husband have decided, upon reflection and study, to skip  getting the vaccine. She feels they have been careful,are in good health, and therefore, if they were to get COVID, they would get a mild case.

I don’t know how she came to that conclusion. My cousin was very careful and wore a mask wherever he went; he still got COVId and spent five days in the hospital. Now his wife has it.

Everything I have read says that getting the vaccine is preferable to getting COVID. If you have read things that convinced you not to get vaccinated, I would love to know more about that. My advice is, if you can get vaccinated, please do that. More people getting vaccinated will bring herd immunity more quickly.

Proof I got both shots.

Biden Administration

As I was thinking about what to write for today’s post, I came across a post from November 2008 that I wrote about the incoming Obama administration. We are in the first few weeks of the Biden administration which I think has been going very well and is a great change from the previous regime.

The post is one of those that I wrote before I had a wordpress blog; when Network Solution hosted my website. It is interesting that twelve years Obama was facing a huge financial crisis and that today Biden is facing multiple crises including Covid and the economy. Since I can’t link to the original post, I decided to post it today.

November 18, 2008

The New Administration

It is interesting that President-Elect Obama is reading Abraham Lincoln since there are many parallels between Lincoln’s first term and Obama’s. Lincoln was the first Republican president; he faced the mammoth task of financing the Civil War as well as staffing all of the departments and agencies of the government. Many loyal Republicans sought rewards for their support of the party and the President.

Here is an excerpt from Brewing Battles: A History of American Beer  about the issues the new government faced.

From the moment Southern troops fired on Fort Sumter the Federal government required large sums of money to finance the Civil War. A Special Session of the Thirty-Seventh Congress (July­?August 1861) attempted to meet this need by increasing certain customs duties, imposing a direct tax of $20 million on the States, and instituting an income tax.[1]

It soon became clear that these measures alone could not relieve the country’s financial burdens. Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase was hoping to raise $85 million and sent a bill to the Thirty-Seventh Congress. Congress, which reconvened on December 2, 1861, reviewed his request for a small increase in the income tax and excise taxes on manufactured goods. Distilled spirits, malt liquors, cotton, tobacco, carriages, yachts, billiard tables, gross receipts of railroads, steam boats and ferries, and playing cards all became taxable items. Signed by President Lincoln July 1, 1862, the measure became effective the following month.[2] By the 1870s Congress had repealed most of the excise taxes; the liquor tax, however, has remained in effect until today. The Internal Revenue Act of 1862 marked the entrance of the federal government into the affairs of the liquor industry; it has never left.

On July 22, 1862, President Lincoln appointed George Boutwell to be the first Commissioner of Internal Revenue. A two-time Governor of Massachusetts, Boutwell had been a Whig and a moderate anti-slavery man. This work plus political alliances with the Governor of Massachusetts, John A. Andrew, and Senator Charles Sumner led Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase to give Boutwell the job.[3]

Staffing and organizing the Bureau preoccupied Boutwell, who had almost four thousand jobs at his disposal. The size of the Federal Government expanded tremendously during the Civil War; the Treasury Department was no exception. The endless patronage possibilities caused both Boutwell and Secretary Chase to devote the first year of Internal Revenue’s existence to staffing. They paid little attention to other administrative or regulatory concerns. On August 7, 1862 Chase complained that he had “very little accomplished as yet, though much, I hope, in the train of accomplishment. Engaged nearly all day on selections for recommendation of Collectors and Assessors.”[4]

Six months after Boutwell took office, he had the department organized, at least nominally. The majority of employees were in the field. There were 366 collectors and assessors, 898 deputy collectors, and 2,558 assistant assessors. The Washington office consisted of the Commissioner, fifty-one male clerks and eight female clerks. The law authorized the establishment of collection districts which corresponded roughly to congressional districts. There were 185 districts in the loyal states.[5]
[1] U.S. Department, Internal Revenue Service, History of the Internal Revenue Service 1791-1929prepared under the direction of the Commissioner of Internal Revenue, (Washington, D.C.: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1930), 2.

[2] Ibid., 3; Charles A. Jellison, Fessenden of Maine: Civil War Senator (Syracuse, N.Y: Syracuse University Press, 1962), 149; Leonard P. Curry, Blueprint for Modern America: Non-Military Legislation of the First Civil War Congress (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1968), 149?181; Bray Hammond, Sovereignty and an Empty Purse: Banks and Politics in the Civil War (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), 52; Charles Estee, The Excise Tax Law (New York: Fitch, Estee, 1863), passim.

[3] Thomas H. Brown, George Sewall Boutwell: Public Servant 1818-1905, (Ph.D. dissertation, New York University, 1979), 53, 56, 59, 110.

[4] Salmon P. Chase, Inside Lincoln’s Cabinet: The Civil War Diaries of Salmon P. Chase, ed. David Donald (New York, 1954), 110-111.

[5] History of Internal Revenue, 4; Schmeckebier and Eble, Bureau of Internal Revenue 8; Estee, Excise Tax Law, 310.

©

Copyright, Algora Publishing, 2007.

A few points about this history: It makes clear the large burden of setting up a new presidential administration especially during a crisis. It is also clear that in times of financial need the federal government often turns to the liquor industry and taxes for help. It is entirely possible that the Obama administration will eventually look at excise taxes for help with financing projects and reducing the deficit. State governments will probably follow suit.

Jay Brooks at Brookston Beer Bulletin has been writing a fair amount about taxes recently and nicely cited Brewing Battles as a sourceOne slight correction however- Jay maintains that the taxes stayed after the Civil War due to pressure from temperance advocates and prohibitionists. It is more accurate that the taxes remained because they developed into a steady, secure source of revenue for the federal government. It was not until a new source, the income tax, developed in the early twentieth century that the federal government could contemplate losing the money from liquor taxes. The prohibition movement had an ambivalent relationship to the federal liquor tax. They often decried the legitimacy the tax provided to the industry.

Of course when the federal government, in the depths of the Great Depression, needed a quick source of revenue, the 18th amendment was repealed. The liquor industry and the liquor tax became legal on December 5, 1933, seventy-five years ago. I will be writing more on the subject of Repeal in the coming days.

A New Day

In 2009, I went to President Obama’s first inauguration. It is lovely memory which I have been reflecting on this week. There is also a poignancy to thinking about that day since my brother was alive and well then but has been gone for over 7 years now.

I watched all of the inaugural festivities on Wednesday and thought they were perfect and beautiful. Obama’s first inauguration represented a new beginning and so does Biden’s. Four year of our worst president ever who also happened to be a fascist has erased what a bad president George W. Bush was.

Let us take the hope Biden’s presidency has inspired and turn it into action to defeat COVID, systemic racism and economic inequality. Here is my post from January 22, 2009, exactly 12 years ago.

Change Has Come

I went to Washington for the Inauguration. It was amazing. My husband and I were there from Saturday until yesterday. Saturday evening we went to a Fairfax County Democratic Ball which was very interesting. It is great that Virginia went Democratic for the first time since 1964.

Sunday we went to see a Lincoln exhibit at the National Museum of American History and also saw Julia Child’s kitchen. She had two copies of Joy of Cooking which I guess means that book was as indispensable to her as to the rest of America. We also met the director of the museum. He gave us directions.

Then we walked toward the Washington Monument to try to attend the We are One concert. We hooked up with a lovely young woman named Rima and her sister. Rima is a Washington native so she was very helpful and extraordinarily nice. The whole time in Washington everyone was very nice. We wound up being pretty close to the stage at the Lincoln Memorial, and I did see with my own eyes, not on the JumboTron, the bottom half of Obama walk to the podium so I guess that we can count that as my Obama sighting.

The concert was very exciting. Garth Brooks was the best. When Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen sang “This Land is Your Land” everyone was singing. One person near me was pledging allegiance. The concert built as it went along and Obama’s speech was very good. Beyonce closed the concert which was very entertaining.

On Monday we walked completely around the Tidal Basin and saw both the Jefferson Memorial and the Roosevelt Memorial. The Martin Luther King Junior Memorial will also be on the Tidal Basin which is where the Cherry Blossoms are in the spring. The scenery was beautiful. (I will put up pictures in the next few days.) Since it was Martin Luther King Day and President Obama said it should be a day of service, we went and picketed in front of a Hilton Hotel with the workers from the hotel. Apparently they have been working without a contract for a year and a half. All of the candidates for governor of Virginia were there including Terry McAuliffe, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager. He was the biggest celebrity we saw on our trip. He was passing out cookies.

Tuesday morning we go up at 3:15 in the morning and made our way to a subway stop parking garage in Northern Virginia. Even that early there was a line and many, many people on the Metro. We went to my sister-in-law’s office which is relatively close to the Capital. We ate some breakfast and had some coffee then set out to get to the Mall to see the swearing-in. There were more people on the street then I have ever seen and it was only 6:30 in the morning.  My brother had two tickets but very nicely gave them away to stay with us and his children, who are eighteen and fifteen. We were trying to get to 7th and Independence which was the start of the non-ticketed standing area on the Mall. At one point a truck needed to get by and everyone had to squeeze together. Near 7th a guard told us that we should go on to 12th or 14th. We wound up getting on to the Mall at 12th – there was no security- and watched the whole on a JumboTron between 9th and 12th.

I feel so fortunate that we actually got onto the Mall and saw the whole thing live. It was very cold and we stood there from 7 a.m. until 1p.m. They showed the concert again as a warm-up and then the ceremony started at 10 a.m. The crowd was enormous  and very friendly. There were millions of flags and every time there was anything to cheer about everyone waved them at the same time. It was so moving to see the flags and to feel so good about my country. To be in Washington for a positive reason and share that with so many people was truly a blessing. When Obama spoke and stood up for the Constitution and civil liberties it was thrilling. Reverend Lowery’s benediction was stunning and it was a great feeling to say Amen with everyone else. Only my feet got cold and I put hand warmers in my shoes. Attending the swearing in feels like I got a  gift. Yes We Can! Yes We Did! Yes We Will!

Human Rights Shabbat D’Var Torah – Part 3.

This is the final part of the talk I gave, December 12th,  at the Jewish Community of Amherst in honor of Human Rights Shabbat.

The law (Civil Rights Act, 1965) restored the rights the 14th and 15th  Amendments had originally granted to the newly freed slaves. The 1965 Voting Rights Act prohibited literacy tests and required federal oversight of voter registration in areas where less than 50 percent of the non-white population had not registered to vote. The law greatly increased black voting in Southern States. In Mississippi, participation went from 6 percent in 1964 to 59 percent in 1969. The Voting Rights Act provided both the federal courts and the federal government a variety of resources to ensure that there would be no discrimination in voting access.

A 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County vs. Holder ruled section 4b of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional. This section contained a formula to determine which states required federal preclearance before making changes to their voting laws. This ruling led many southern states that had previously required the preclearance to change their voting laws, making them more restrictive. Several states engaged in mass purging of voter rolls, increased identification requirements and reduced the number of polling places. In the last election cycle, we saw many pictures of mostly black and brown people waiting on long lines to vote. One observer has called long voting lines the new poll tax.

As many of you may know there are currently two runoff Senate races in Georgia. The primary and runoff system in that state is itself the product of racist desires to keep black s from voting as a bloc and therefore gaining electoral power.  From 1917 to 1963, George had a county unit system for primaries. This system privileged, in a similar way to the electoral college, rural areas where most black did not live.

In 1963, the Supreme Court ruled this system unconstitutional. A Georgia Congressmen, Denmark Groover, a committed segregationist, stated that he supported the creation of runoff system for elections because it “would again provide protection which … was removed with the death of the county unit system.”

Groover believed the runoff would “prevent the Negro bloc vote from controlling the elections.” Georgia recently announced it was reducing the number of polling places for early voting for the election on Jan. 5. Georgia has never elected an African American Governor, lieutenant governor, senator, or Secretary of State. The first African American Attorney General was elected in 1998. Of course, if the Democrats win, a black man, and a Jew will both become Georgia Senators.  (I know that sounds like the beginning of a joke) Reverend Raphael Warnock would be the first African-American Democratic Senator from the South.

When I read the Joseph story, I wondered why it is in the Torah?  What purpose does his story serve? Joseph’s story gets us to Exodus and places the Israelites in Egypt where the legacy of his accomplishments has disappeared. The sense of fragility that the story conveys has greatly increased among American Jews in the past four years. Although, as an aggregate, wildly successful, American Jews have wondered if that success could be taken away. Could the rise of white nationalism lead to more anti-Semitism and an increase in hate crimes? The short answer is yes.

One of the goals of both the Tikkun Olam Committee and the Tzedek Initiative is to join learning and study with action. The action I am proposing in connection with Human Rights Shabbat is for the JCA to give its support to Fair Fight, one of Stacy Abrams’ voting rights organizations. According to their website, Fair Fight promotes “fair elections in Georgia and around the country, encourages voter participation in elections, and educates voters about elections and their voting rights. Fair Fight brings awareness to the public on election reform, advocates for election reform at all levels, and engages in other voter education programs and communications.”

I recently made calls with Fair Fight. They strictly enforce their non-partisan status and neither of the candidates are mentioned in the call script. We can support them through donations and by helping in their efforts to expand voting access in Georgia and across the county.

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There are  six days left before the Jan 5th election in Georgia. if you have time, please try to make some calls to get out the vote.

Next week, I will provide a review of 2020. Happy New Year!

 

Human Rights Shabbat D’Var Torah – Part2

This is the second part of the talk I gave on Dec. 12 for Human Rights Shabbat. Lunch and Learn is a weekly group at the synagogue where I lead discussions, based on texts, centered around relationships between African Americans and Jews. We focus on ways for us, as Jewish Americans, to become more actively  and consciously anti-Racist.

In Lunch and Learn, we often discuss the gradual process by which Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants and their descendants became white. In the area of citizenship and voting, the process was more immediate. Once any immigrant naturalized, they could vote. Before 1920, this meant fathers and sons. After passage of the 19th Amendment naturalized female immigrants could vote, making them more fully citizens. An untold story of the suffragist fight for the franchise was the role of black women. Their involvement in expanding American freedom continues to this day. In 2020, the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, I believe black women saved our democracy.

Southern whites, in enacting Jim Crow, to replace slavery as a means of enforcing racial separation and hierarchy, used a variety of methods to prevent African Americans from voting. Southern legislators placed the poll tax at a high enough rate that it was effectively out of reach for all poor people, black and white. The rigidly hierarchical nature of post-Civil War Southern society meant most blacks and many poor whites did not own property which was another Jim Crow requirement for voting. Southern states also had literacy requirements which were difficult for poorly educated blacks and many poor whites to pass.  Again, naturalized Jews, living in mostly Northern urban areas faced none of these hurdles when going to vote.

Many of the current requirements in various states around voting which we probably take for granted and assume they have always existed include voter registration which often ends as early as a month before election day and identification requirements. Most of these were enacted in the Progressive Era of the late 19th and early 20th century by both white Jim Crow Southerners and white northern reformers to limit voting access for blacks, immigrants including Jews and Italians and poor whites.

In 1948, when the UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, President Truman, a Democrat, proposed a suite of legislation that would have made a significant dent in the Jim Crow edifice. He advocated the creation of a permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission, an anti-lynching law, anti-poll tax legislation and the prohibition of discrimination in inter-state transportation facilities.

Today’s parsha ends with Joseph in jail. He has been falsely accused of attempting to sleep with his master’s wife. In the Jim Crow South black men were routinely accused of trespassing with white women and were frequently lynched for this supposed crime. Lynching was the underpinning of a system of ongoing and daily intimidation by whites of black people. This continuous intimidation served as another barrier to voting.

Truman’s Civil Rights program went nowhere because southern senators and congressmen, overwhelmingly Democratic, vehemently opposed it. Progress towards dismantling Jim Crow would have to wait for almost 20 more years. One of the first cracks in Jim Crow disenfranchisement of African Americans came, in 1964 when the 24th Amendment, prohibiting poll taxes in federal election was ratified.

On August 6, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson, with Martin Luther King, Jr. by his side, signed the Voting Rights Act. This deeply significant piece of legislation was enacted after the longest filibuster in American history. People, marching from Selma to Montgomery endured great violence and sometime death to help secure passage of the Act. Demonstrations in other places, such as St. Augustine, Florida also convinced the nation that it was time to make the Jim Crow system of segregation illegal.

Next week, I will post the final  part of the D’Var. Happy Holidays!

Human Rights Shabbat D’Var Torah – Part 1

This is the first of three parts of the talk I gave on Saturday at the Jewish Community of Amherst.

Shabbat Shalom,

Today is Human Rights Shabbat. Every year, Tru’ah, which used to be called Rabbis for Human Rights invites congregations to celebrate the 1948 UN signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This year Tru’ah is focusing on Article 21 which states, unfortunately in patriarchal language, :

(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.

(2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.

(3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

In 1948, when these very inspiring words were adopted, African Americans living in Jim Crow South did not have access to any of these rights.  In 1920, almost 2,000 blacks lived in Charlottesville, Virginia. Only 30 voted in the 1920 presidential election.

Today’s parsha begins the Joseph story. In preparing for this D’Var, I read the whole tale which spans four Shabbats. Looking at the arc of the story, it can be read as Joseph’s journey from Slave to Citizen. Co-incidentally, that is the title of a book by Frank Tannenbaum which Branch Rickey read when he was contemplating choosing Jackie Robinson to break the color line in professional baseball.

More broadly, Joseph’s life was also the story of a foreigner and his descendants achieving great success in a foreign land. This immigrant story, read on its own as a novella, is resonant with the success of Jews in America. Joseph was able to move from having been bought and sold to becoming the chief economic advisor to the Pharaoh. The number of Jews in President-elect Biden’s cabinet reminds us of Joseph’s success.

For Joseph, slavery was not a permanent status or mark. For African Americans, brought in chains to this land, beginning in 1619, slavery was a permanent condition. The Civil War ended this inhumane institution and the brief equalitarian period of Reconstruction brought constitutional amendments which enshrined citizenship for all people and voting rights for all men, black and white.

The 13th amendment abolished slavery and the 14th and 15th established birthright citizenship and granted black men the right to vote. The 15th Amendment was ratified in 1870; at that time Federal troop still occupied wide swaths of the former Confederate States. Once federal troops were withdrawn, following the 1876 election, jurisdiction over voting returned to the individual states. By the late 19th century, most Southern blacks had effectively lost their voting rights. Since citizenship and voting, in a democracy, are inextricably linked, the disenfranchisement of blacks was complete.

Next week I will post the second of the three parts of this talk.

Coming Attractions

This Saturday, December 12th, I will be giving the D’Var Torah at my synagogue, the Jewish Community of Amherst. I am giving the talk in honor of Human Rights Shabbat.  December 10th is Human Rights Day. Every year, the United Nations commemorates the day in 1948 when the UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The UN, in its description of Human Rights Day describes this years  observance as “an opportunity to reaffirm the importance of human rights in re-building the world we want, the need for global solidarity as well as our interconnectedness and shared humanity.”

The town of Amherst, Massachusetts celebrates Human Rights Day every year. This year they will be having a socially distanced ceremony. You can read the proclamation here.

I encourage everyone to read  the full Declaration. My talk concerns Article 21 and voting rights. I will post, at least part of, the talk next week.

Stay tuned. Happy Hanukkah