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

 

Shelton Brothers

Earlier this month, the big news in craft brewing was the closing of beer importers, Shelton Bros. The company existed for twenty-four years and were early importers of craft beers. They introduced America to different beer styles, such as sour beer. The company’s bank pushed them into liquidation; a victim of COVID-19 and the recession. You can read more about the closing of Shelton Bros. here.

I found this news interesting  because of a personal  connection to the firm. One of the Shelton brothers is Will. He is the dad of Zach and Max who are among my son Alan’s best friends. I have  known Will for over twenty years.

For a while he owned a brewery in Western Massachusetts, High and Mighty, which made great beer. I gave a book talk about Brewing Battles at the Jones Library and we served Will’s beer.  The brewery only lasted a few years and then Will moved to California. There, for a while,  he worked with Pete Slosberg from Pete’s Wicked Ale.  He then started a new brewery, Concrete Jungle. Will is now back in Massachusetts.

The demise of Shelton Bros. reflect changes in the brewing industry. The country has over 7,000 breweries. Many of them are very local and supply farm to table restaurants. American brewers now make many of the unusual and exotic styles that Shelton Bros imported, making them less competitive. You can read more about Shelton Bros, in an article from 2017 by Andy Crouch.

 

Victory

On Saturday, MSNBC and other news networks declared Joe Biden the new president-elect. Hearing that news, I felt more joy than I have experienced in a long time. We had planned to go to a Protect the Vote demonstration in Northampton. We went and it turned into a celebration.

Watching the people in the street and listening to all the cars honking, brought to mind scenes of liberation from other countries and other times. 75 million Americans voted, defeating fascism, and defending democracy. That is an awesome accomplishment.

Because we live in a 24/7 news cycle, cable stations still need things to talk about. Besides continuing to chronicle the insane behavior of Trump and his Republican minions, the other topic of news is supposed divisions among different parts of the Democratic Party.

My wish is that we all take a deep breath, work in Georgia to create a Democratic Senate, and give Joe Biden a chance. Before we vehemently deride him as hopelessly moderate, let’s remember that Franklin D. Roosevelt was not inherently radical. If the Biden-Harris administration gives us a 21st century New Deal, shoring up and expanding the safety net, I will be really happy.

Here is a video of the celebration in Northampton.

Don’t Mourn, Organize

I did not get a good night’s sleep as I was watching the election returns. Most of the things I worked on did not come to fruition. Susan Collins, Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell all retained their seats. It will be a stretch for the Democrats to gain control of the Senate. I do think Joe Biden will probably get elected but Trump may try to create havoc with multiple lawsuits. I am trying to see something positive in all this, but it is difficult.

This morning the phrase, “Don’t Mourn, Organize” was running through my head. This is what Joe Hill, an Industrial Workers of the World organizer wrote in a telegram to Bill Haywood, prior to being executed in Utah.

“Goodbye Bill: I die like a true rebel. Do not waste any time mourning — organize! It is a hundred miles from here to Wyoming. Could you arrange to have my body hauled to the state line to be buried? I don’t want to be found dead in Utah.”

After Trump’s election in 2106, many new groups emerged to provide resistance to Trump. Swing Left, Indivisible and other groups need to stay active, even if Biden is elected. The only way to get change and move closer to a more equitable and just society is by grassroots organizing. Although I need some time to process what has happened, I  am planning to participate in a Count Every Vote demonstration in Northampton today at 5 pm. You can find a similar event where you live by clicking here.

Don’t Mourn, Organize.

Here is Pete Seeger singing about Joe Hill:

 

Schaefer Beer

Pabst, which does not brew any beer but owns the rights to many iconic brands from the 1950’s and 60’s, is bringing back Schaefer Beer. Schaefer is associated with Brooklyn, but it is not being brewed there. F.X. Matt in Utica, N.Y. is producing the beer. You can read more about it here.

This is an excerpt from Brewing Battles, about Rudy Schaefer and Schaefer beer during World War II.

Rudy Schaefer, the owner of Schaefer Brewing, had become president of the USBA in 1941. Schaefer Brewing had begun in 1842 and was one of the country’s first lager brewers. Frederick and Maximilian Schaefer emigrated from Russia and eventually operated a brewery near Grand Central Station. Rudolph, Maximilian’s son, took over the brewery in 1912 and moved it to Brooklyn in 1915. During Prohibition, Rudolph Schaefer died, and his two sons, Frederick and Rudolph, Jr. took over. In 1927 Rudy, a Princeton graduate, gained sole control of the brewery. Having survived Prohibition, the company expanded with additional plants in Baltimore and Albany. In 1938 the brewery produced one million barrels and was consistently one of the nation’s top ten breweries. Rudy Schaefer was a long time participant in the USBA.[1]

At the beginning of 1942, Schaefer, in his capacity as president of the USBA, offered his assessment of the state of the brewing industry and its planned participation in the war effort. The good news was that “public acceptance of beer as an essential food” had increased. Tax increases were a less positive development. Schaefer maintained that the industry could not withstand any additional taxes, and that an increase would have a diminishing effect on federal revenue. After all, the industry paid over four hundred million dollars in state and federal taxes in 1941, making beer brewing the fourth most heavily taxed industry in the country. Despite this strong participation in the country’s economy, Schaefer wanted the industry to make a specific contribution to the war effort, and pledged sales of defense bonds to all of the over 60,000 employees in the industry. On a personal level, Schaefer became vice-chairman of the carbonated and fermented beverage committee of the Red Cross War Fund of Greater New York.[2]

[1] Jos. Dubin, “The War’s Effect,” Modern Brewery Age, December 1941, 8-9.; Downard, Dictionary of the History of the American Brewing and Distilling Industries (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press., 1980), 166; F. & M. Schaefer Brewing Company, To commemorate our 100th year : the F. & M. Schaefer brewing co. : America’s oldest lager beer (Brooklyn, N.Y. : The Company, 1942); Will Anderson, The Breweries of Brooklyn: An Informal History of a Great Industry in a Great City (New York,: Anderson, 1976), 6, 7.

[2] Modern Brewery Age, January 1942, 18, 82, 85; “Beer is Accorded Wider Acceptance as a Food, Says President of Brewers,” New York Times, January 2, 1942, 39.

© Amy Mittelman October 7, 2020.

Here is Louis Armstrong singing the Schaefer Jingle, from MjayzToonz:

Kamala Harris and Black Sororities

Kamala Harris is the presumptive Democratic vice presidential nominee[. The first African American and South Asian American nominee of a major political party, Harris is a graduate of Howard University, a historically black university, and a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, the oldest African American sorority in the country.

Here is an article about AKA today and Kamala Harris.

In one of one chapters of my book on faculty wives, I discussed the founding of AKA, at Howard in 1908.

Here is an excerpt:

Lucy Diggs Slowe was the first Dean of Women at Howard University from 1922 to 1937. Although she was not a faculty wife, Slowe’s involvement in national organizations connected her to that first generation of nationally involved African- American wives. Slowe was a graduate of Howard and in 1908 one of the founders of the first national Black sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha.

Norma Boyd, a 1910 graduate of Howard was also a founding member of AKA. Boyd, a native of Washington, D.C. attended Armstrong High School and then went on to attend college at Howard in 1906. She described Washington as “the intellectual center for Negroes in the United States. Mrs. Mary Church Terrell was on the Board of Education. When I was a child about ten years old, I decided I wanted to be like Mary Church Terrell.”

Boyd was a sophomore when the senior students including Lucy Slowe founded the sorority. She described how she became involved. “You see, this the oldest colored sorority. … The very first. So, they decided to have a sorority but who was going to carry it on after they left. There were seven girls in my class – six or seven – and they asked us to come in. Now you were expected to have scholarship and the idea of service to be a member. So, they asked us to come in and we did. They called us founders because, although it was not our idea, we were in on the ground floor. It was not incorporated until 1913 and then I was one of the incorporators”

Although Alpha Kappa Alpha was a sorority based at Howard, it was unusual because it had graduate members. Because many of the African American sororities had adult members, they functioned more like the national club associations. Like NACW, the Tuskegee Woman’s Club and the Atlanta Union, AKA also had a social activist agenda. The organization pursued projects in health care and sponsored fellowships.

By the time Slowe became Dean of Women Students at Howard, there were three sororities, AKA, Delta Sigma Theta, and Zeta Phi Beta. Delta Sigma Theta grew out of AKA due to a desire for some members in the early years to expand beyond Howard. Five female students founded Zeta Phi Beta in 1920. These organizations still exist. Most of the prominent Afro-American women of the mid and late twentieth century belonged to one of these sororities.

©AmyMittelman 2020

 

Black is Beautiful

Since George Floyd’s murder and the ensuing demonstrations, industry has responded with statements of support, many stating Black Lives Matter. The craft beer industry, at least its trade organization, the Brewers Association, has been an exception.

The BA’s website has no formal statement about police brutality and systemic racism. It does have a link to a project, Black is Beautiful, that Weathered Souls Brewery initiated. The black-owned brewery created a stout base and is encouraging other brewers to produce a beer from it.

Over 800 breweries are participating, from all fifty states and fifteen countries. According to the BA, there are over eight thousand brewers in the United States. Weathered Souls Brewery is asking the brewers who participate in the Black is Beautiful initiative to do three things:

  • Donate 100% of the beer’s proceeds to local foundations that support police brutality reform and legal defenses for those who have been wronged
  • Choose their own entity to donate to local organizations that support equality and inclusion
  • Commit to the long-term work of equality

The brewery, as part of its fundraising efforts, is also sponsoring a virtual 5k.

The craft beer industry is overwhelmingly white and male. Lees than one percent of brewers are black. Craft brewers market their product as authentic, local, and having roots in the community. The lack of diversity in the industry belies that claim.

Black is Beautiful is a project worth supporting. I plan to drink one of the beers produced if I can find it.  I can’t run a 5k, but I can walk three miles and Weathered Souls gets the $35 either way.

For more information on this topic, you can read this and this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Memories

A few weeks ago, in my writing group, Nerissa, the group leader, read, as a prompt, a portion of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, where she talked about the execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, in 1953. Being a red diaper baby, I grew up believing that the couple killed could have just as easily been my parents. Of course, the Rosenbergs were innocent; for my parents and their friends there was no other truth.

March 6, 2020 was the fiftieth anniversary of a townhouse in Greenwich Village, New York City, blowing up, killing three members of the Weather Underground. I knew one of the people killed – Ted Gold. I grew up with him. He was the youngest son of one of my mother’s closest friends.

The chapter of my book on faculty wives that I am currently working is about activism in the 1950s and 60s. I focus on two women – Sarah Patton Boyle and Anne Bennett. Boyle was an early white supporter of civil rights in Virginia while Bennett worked to end the Vietnam War.

My mother was a part of this activist history. As a baby, I was wheeled to Ban the Bomb demonstrations. She was a member of Women Strike for Peace. In the chapter, I describe a demonstration in Washington, DC that WSP organized. It is very possible that my mother was there.

The arc of history from the Rosenbergs to the Weather Underground is, in a simple way, the story of the Old Left morphing into the New Left; a generational shift that I was a part of. I have often wondered what my politics would have been if I had grown up in a different household. In my house, noisy discussion about politics were an everyday occurrence. Most of my parent’s friends had also been in the Communist Party. Whenever they came over, it got even louder. Being on the left is probably in my DNA.

 

 

The Fierce Urgency of Now

Since the murder of George Floyd, I have been obsessed with exploring how I can more actively confront systemic racism. If you are not actively confronting racial injustice you become complicit.

Although I have been committed to civil rights all of my life, I have been questioning how strong that commitment is. In my comfortable life in Amherst, Massachusetts, how do I confront racism and combat it on a daily basis? The answer is I don’t.

On Sunday, I went to an inter-faith vigil on the Amherst common. Although it felt courageous; that was because of the pandemic and not because attending would threaten my physical safety.

The phrase, “the urgency of now,” which I knew was something Martin Luther King had said, has been rumbling around in my head this last week. Yesterday I googled it. Here is the full quote:

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

I can never know what it feels like to be a black person, but I can learn how to be a white ally in their struggle for equality and racial justice. It is imperative that I start the learning process immediately.