Not All Police Are Bad 

Uncategorized

According to the nonprofit organization Mapping Police Violence, 27 percent of the people shot and killed by police officers in 2021 were Black. (Only about 13 percent of the overall United States population is Black.) It seems like we’re not even finished grieving one innocent Black or Brown person killed at the hands of police somewhere, then we’re confronted with another somewhere else. 

 
It would be nice to think that the murder of George Floyd under a Minneapolis police officer’s knee would have changed some of that. But not even Floyd’s death, which galvanized the Black Lives Matter movement, has moved the needle in favor of more justice and peace for anyone.  

 
Experts who’ve tracked officer-involved shootings since 2013 note that 2022 is (so far) the deadliest year on record, with 1,176 people killed by law enforcement nationwide. As in previous years, about one-quarter of the victims of this police violence were Black. 

 
And one-fifth of the total number of killings in 2022 took place against victims who were never alleged to have done anything wrong, or in the course of police conducting a mental health or welfare check. In about one-third of officer-involved killings, the victim was running away from police when shot and killed. 

 
The race of the officers involved doesn’t even matter, as we saw in the case of the five Memphis police charged with second-degree murder for beating Tyre Nichols to a bloody pulp during a traffic stop. The type of “elite” unit to which these officers belonged is common across the country, using often brutal tactics in an effort to suppress crime in “hot spot” urban areas.  

Being the change 

 
Given all this, it’s hard right now to accept that there are good police officers out there. But it’s true. 

 
Police who work a community beat can be very in tune with what their community members want and need—if they make the effort.  

 
In 2022, the Lansing State Journal in Michigan published firsthand guest editorials by some of these public servants—many of whom were men and women of color—who really do care. One wrote about consistently walking up and down streets and through neighborhoods to get to know local residents and business owners, just focusing on people and having conversations. 

Several others discussed participating in programs for youth, where officers share their professional and personal struggles with young people in the community, and listen as the youth express their own struggles, as well. There is frank dialogue about the nature of policing and what it means in these young lives and in their communities.  

 
Another officer spoke of this “Exchange for Change” program in terms of how important it is for police to let themselves be vulnerable in talking with young people. He emphasized that through their discussions, he and the young people he serves have come to see one another as individuals. This officer noted that a young man who never previously would have spoken with him before actually came up after the program to initiate a conversation.  

Taking the time 

 
On night-shift duty in 2019, in a part of Alabama with an unusually high drug use rate, a 20-year veteran officer responded to a call involving an extremely disoriented woman at a gas station. The woman admitted she was a longtime drug user.  

The officer could have slapped the cuffs on her and dragged her off to jail. Instead, he sat down beside the woman and talked with her. He later said it was obvious that what she really needed was help. He ensured that the woman reached a hospital for treatment and connected her with a local organization specializing in helping people overcome addictions.  

Risking everything to help 

 
In 2020, a woman in Ogden, Utah, called 911 to ask for help. Her husband had threatened to kill her. The two responding officers found the man on his front porch, and when they arrived, he barricaded himself inside his home. They tried to get to him, but he fired at them through the door, killing the 24-year-old, second-generation officer who was just trying to keep a member of the public safe. The officer was hailed as a hero in the community. 

Giving a child a chance at life 

 
In 2023, a female officer in Georgia received a departmental award after successfully administering a life-saving maneuver that stopped a four-week-old baby from choking.  

Modeling the right decisions 

 
It’s obvious that officers like these take their responsibility to “protect and serve” seriously, that they genuinely care about the people in their communities, up to putting their own lives at risk on a daily basis.  

It’s important to note that, in each of these cases, the officers were faced with a decision: to arrest or to help. To jump into action or remain passive. To talk or put up a wall of silence. To put themselves on the line or to back away from danger. A different officer’s decision could have led to a very different outcome.  

 
For sure, they’re part of a system that’s often corrupt and in need of vast reforms, but front-line officers like these are dedicated to doing a hard, dangerous job while staying grounded and real. If we want real change, it’s time to leverage these perspectives to help make it happen.  

Celebrating Black Resistance for Black History Month 

Uncategorized

From the very beginnings of American history, we’ve had to push back against systemic oppression to fulfill the mandates of democracy. 

The theme for Black History Month 2023 is Black Resistance. Chosen by Black History Month’s founding organization, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), it could not be timelier.  

In suggesting community-level events around this theme, the ASALH is looking to illuminate the many ways Black people in America have resisted oppression. There’s a particular focus on resistance to lynchings, mass murder motivated by racism, and murders at the hands of police. This resistance has taken on many forms—from marching and peaceful protests, to artistic works and journalism, to physical revolt.   

Marching 

Resistance means refusing to comply with orders from authority figures that could be deadly to people of color. It means stepping up and standing out to challenge—and rework—the system.  

Peaceful resistance to Jim Crow laws in the 1950s and ‘60s involved sit-ins, marches, strikes, and other methods. Black people and their allies refused to stop insisting on equality in education, housing, the justice system, and economic opportunity.  

Art  

Black writers like Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and James Baldwin used lyrical language to capture the spirit and substance of African American resistance. Today, writers like Angie Thomas, author of the popular young adult novel The Hate U Give, are making powerful statements calling out the still deep-rooted sins of racism.  

Painter Jacob Lawrence was among the artists who depicted the Black American experience of escape from bondage, from the days of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass to the Great Migration.  

Musicians like Billie Holiday put their pain into the world in the form of song and saw it transformed into anthems of freedom. For example, Holiday’s song “Strange Fruit” was a bleak but evocative verbal depiction of lynching, so controversial in its day that the FBI targeted her for persecution.  

Revolt 

Physical revolts against the oppression of slavery and injustice included the Haitian revolution against French colonialism from 1791 to 1804, when Haiti became the first independent Black republic in the modern world.  

Revolts also included the times Black communities, refusing to be cowed by white mobs threatening violence, armed themselves and fought back.  

This happened in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1892. Three Black men armed themselves inside the People’s Grocery, a popular store owned by one of them, in response to menacing behavior from a white rival proprietor. In the resulting gunfight, three of the white storekeeper’s supporters were injured. Neither local police nor white-owned newspapers would support Thomas Moss, the Black storeowner, and his employees. Conspiracy theories proliferated suggesting Memphis’ Black community was planning a “race war,” but this was a lie. 

With white mobs calling for their blood, Moss and his employees turned themselves in to prevent bloodshed in their community. A few days later, about 75 white men stormed the Shelby County Jail, kidnapped the three men, and brutally lynched them. Months afterward, the white grocer who had instigated the murders purchased the People’s Grocery for pennies on every dollar it was worth.  

But the story doesn’t end there.  

Documenting 

Memphis was journalist Ida B. Wells’ hometown. She knew Thomas Moss and his family, and the murders galvanized her to devote more time to documenting racist attacks on Black people across the country. She became a pioneer in investigative journalism, vividly evoking the horrors and injustices of the Jim Crow era and the need for resistance. Her autobiography, Crusade for Justice, details how she sought to create substantive change through her investigative work.  

Reckoning 

Another case of Black resistance that deserves to be remembered took place in the town of Rosewood, Florida, in 1923. It began, as so many assaults on entire Black communities have, with an accusation that a local Black man had attacked a white woman. A white mob descended on the Black town of Rosewood while residents concealed themselves in swamps, along with a few in the house of an empathetic white businessman.  

One Black man, Sylvester Carrier, decided he had no choice but to arm himself in self-defense. He ended up killing two of the white men who had attacked him in a shootout. When the news got out, white residents from nearby towns swelled the mob’s numbers into the hundreds, and a days-long spree of killing and destruction followed.  

Estimates of the number of dead vary, with many historians today citing six African Americans murdered. Some chroniclers say there were hundreds. But the entire population was displaced, since Rosewood had been burned to the ground by the attackers. One month later, a grand jury found insufficient evidence to bring a prosecution, and no one was ever charged.  

It wasn’t until the 1980s that survivors told their stories to a reporter at the St. Petersburg Times. In 1994, the Florida state legislature approved compensation in the amount of $150,000 to the handful of former Rosewood residents then still alive.  

Descendants of the survivors spoke at centenary events in early 2023, and historians noted that the generational trauma they carry: Families were devastated, emotionally and financially, after the Rosewood massacre. Against their pain, the $150,000 doled out by the legislature seemed like a joke.  

In 1997, director John Singleton premiered his movie Rosewood based on these events. The film offers a searing portrait of the racism and hatred inflicted on that Black community. But, as with all the late director’s work, Rosewood also raises the flag of proud defiance and resistance that has characterized the African American community since its beginnings. 

American Support for Ukraine Continues to Grow

Ukraine

President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke before the United States Congress on December 21, 2022. He brought with him the thanks—and the stories—of a people traumatized and exhausted from defending themselves against Russia’s brutal assaults. At the same time, he highlighted the confidence and determination of Ukrainians to win the fight for their democracy.  

Dressed in Army green and camo, Zelensky had just come from the battlefield near Bakhmut, where Ukrainian defenders had suffered heavy losses but continued in the fight. Ukraine, Zelensky told the members of Congress, is “alive and kicking.” He was greeted with a standing ovation. 

Evoking shared struggles for freedom 

Zelensky’s speech, delivered in English, incorporated references to great times that tried the souls of Americans in generations past.  

He spoke of the Battle of Saratoga, a turning point that halted the British advance and helped the US gain much-needed foreign support. He also spoke of the Battle of the Bulge in 1944 when battle-weary American troops held off what had seemed an overwhelming German advance in the Ardennes Forest. He spoke of Ukraine in the present, as his citizens faced Christmas by candlelight because the Russians had cut their electricity. 

Ukrainians rising to the moment 

Ukrainians will never forget February 24, 2022. This date marks the first day of the Russian invasion, and at the time, most of the world assumed Ukraine would not have the resources, the skill, or the will to sustain a long fight.  

Ukraine has since proved them wrong.  

For months, the rest of the world has seen harrowing footage showing brutal Russian attacks on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure—down to ruined and looted homes and villages—and received documentation of the atrocities inflicted on Ukrainian soldiers and civilians. But we’ve also been inspired by the courage and the will of the Ukrainian people in defending themselves and surviving, from a grandmother throwing a jar of pickled tomatoes to bring down a drone to the endurance of men and women risking and losing their lives on the front lines.   

Investing in security and democracy 

Zelensky noted that Ukraine’s struggle for its freedom from a tyrannical foreign government will be a key turning point in the global history of democracy. He said, “Your money is not charity. It is an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way.”   

Zelensky arrived in the US, his only known foreign trip during the year-long war, not only to meet with Congress but to request additional aid. Ukraine, he said, is grateful to the US for the significant support it has received so far, but more remains to be done if his country is to conclude the war decisively and contain its neighbor’s aggression. 

“Ukraine fatigue” is mostly a myth 

One of the reasons Zelensky traveled to the US was to bolster the American public’s support for his beleaguered country. A poll taken in early January showed that, contrary to the opinions of some pundits, Americans’ support for Ukraine remains generally high.  

Some earlier polls showed support for military and financial aid to Ukraine waning, particularly among Republicans. But overall, more than half of the American public has consistently expressed confidence in backing Ukraine since the beginning of the war.  

Experts point out that divisions on issues of US participation in international conflicts have always skewed partisan, with the Vietnam War being a notable example. But, as Foreign Policy magazine noted in January 2023, overall support for Ukraine among the public and elected officials remains surprisingly bipartisan.  

In May 2022, the US Congress passed bipartisan legislation providing more than $40 billion to Ukraine in the form of both dollars and weapons. The Fiscal Year omnibus spending legislation for 2023 added another $47 billion, bringing the total committed across four pieces of legislation in the past year to $113 billion in economic, humanitarian, and military assistance.  

That sounds like a lot, but in reality, it’s a small part of the defense budget. 

So while members of both the far-left pundit class—supporters of peace at any price—and the radical-right fringe of the Republican Party have been notably anti-Ukraine, evidence for “Ukraine fatigue” among the broad range of the American public is pretty weak. The fact remains that Ukraine is doing all the fighting, and to date has backed up Zelensky’s statement that America’s “investment” is likely to pay off over the long term by strengthening democracy in a global sense.  

“We stand, we fight, and we will win” 

When he concluded his speech to Congress, Zelensky unfolded a Ukrainian battle flag given to him by the defenders of Bakhmut, the frontline of the battle against Russia. He handed the flag to then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who had personally visited Ukraine half a year before. On that visit, amid a tragic and traumatic evacuation of the captured city of Mariupol, Pelosi pledged unwavering American support.  

Zelensky said his troops specifically asked him to take the flag, bearing their signatures, to the US as a show of gratitude for the military aid they had received. 

“We stand, we fight, and we will win,” said Zelensky, “because we are united.” And by that, he meant not only Ukrainians but their allies around the world.  

What You Need to Know about the Amazing Life of Journalist Barbara Walters 

Career

Barbara Walters lived one of the fullest, richest, most interesting lives anyone could imagine. She died in New York at age 93 on December 30, 2022. Over her long career, she became an icon of journalism. She made her mark as the first woman to co-anchor a major network evening news broadcast and conducted insightful interviews with many of the world’s most powerful and influential people. Here’s what you need to know about her amazing life: 

Host of ABC Evening News and The View 

In 1974, when Walters debuted as Harry Reasoner’s co-anchor on the ABC Evening News, it was a very different time. Conventional wisdom said that a woman couldn’t cover “serious” subjects like politics, the economy, or war. Women, in this view, were too “emotional” or too ignorant of the complexities of these issues. Thanks in large part to Barbara Walters, today these views are almost universally ridiculed as the limiting nonsense they are. 

Walters spent 17 years as lead panelist on ABC’s The View, working with often much-younger co-hosts. That was deliberate. The idea for The View came to Walters in a conversation with her then-late-20s daughter. It struck Walters how different her daughter’s worldview was from her own, and she realized that an inter-generational talk show, featuring women of differing backgrounds, could bring out important angles on an issue.  

Walters, as a veteran of evening news broadcasts, seemed an unlikely person to launch a talk show like The View, but it continues to be one of daytime’s most popular series. It’s become a cultural force unto itself, offering millions of viewers opinions outside their own social bubbles.  

Early Life and Career 

Barbara Walters was born in Boston in 1931, to a Jewish family. Her father owned a nightclub, so she grew used to being around celebrities at an early age. Her family’s financial success ebbed soon after she graduated Sarah Lawrence College in 1953, and she had to earn her own living.  

She worked in an ad agency and then as an assistant in the New York City NBC affiliate’s publicity department, learning how to write for television. The year she turned 30, she was working as a writer and occasional on-air journalist for the Today Show. As the “Today Girl” beginning in 1964, she turned what had been a segment focused on light, “women’s” topics into one in which she participated as a serious newsreader on the show.  

In 1974, she received the promotion that made her co-host of the Today Show. And in 1976, she took her seat beside Harry Reasoner, one of the most respected newscasters in a decidedly all-male club, as co-host of the ABC Evening News. Her $1 million salary made her the highest-paid journalist of that time. In 1979, she became a correspondent on 20/20, transitioning to co-host in 1984. She would stay with the program until 2004.  

Accomplished Interviewer 

Early in her career, Walters pursued one-on-one interviews with celebrities and world leaders and became highly accomplished in the form. On Today in the 1960s, she interviewed Grace Kelly, Judy Garland, and Jacqueline Kennedy. By the mid-70s, she had begun to produce the series of Barbara Walters Specials that kept her front-and-center of international conversations and won her an Emmy Award.  

Walters interviewed every sitting president and first lady from the Nixons to the Obamas. She also interviewed both Donald Trump and Joe Biden, just not while either was president. President Jimmy Carter was among her favorite conversationalists. During the presidential campaign of 1976, she found him to be a deeply serious thinker despite his modest, folksy manner.  

Her interview subjects ranged from Lucille Ball to Fidel Castro, Monica Lewinsky to Vladimir Putin. She interviewed John Wayne, Katharine Hepburn, Muhammad Ali and his wife and then-toddler daughters, and Elizabeth Taylor and her then-husband, Senator John Warner. She interviewed Yasser Arafat, Muammar Gaddafi, Hugo Chavez, and the Shah of Iran only two years before that country’s revolution. Walters confirmed that the Shah did not think of women as equals, and then he said, “We can always have some exceptions.” 

In a major journalistic coup, she conducted a joint interview with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1977, during talks that would lead to the historic Camp David Accords the following year. This was the sit-down that Walters once called the “most important” interview of her career. She had already interviewed both men separately. Finally, Begin asked Sadat, why couldn’t “our friend Barbara” interview them together? 

Secrets to a Compelling Interview  

Walters sometimes shared her secrets for conducting her legendarily revealing interviews: 

Do your homework. She once said that by the time she had prepared for an interview, she knew more about the person than they did themselves. 

Write down questions in advance, as many as you can. She would typically work with dozens of index cards with questions. She would add and subtract as she prepared, and then she would arrange them in priority order. 

Know your questions, so you can discard them as needed. The writing and organization were for Walters more of a memory aid than a script.  

Ask about family, love, and early memories. Walters was famous – at the height of her fame, some would have said infamous – for quietly but relentlessly zeroing in on emotional moments.  

Ask broad, open-ended questions. Ask about a person’s philosophy of life, and about why they think they might be misunderstood. These can be extremely revealing. 

Keep the toughest questions in reserve until the end. Speaking with Nixon, Walters famously concluded with some fire: She asked whether he regretted not burning the tapes that incriminated him.  

An interviewer’s interviewer, a shatterer of newsroom glass ceilings, and an irreplaceable presence in our daily lives, Barbara Walters will truly never be forgotten.   

The Bonds of Black-Jewish History and Empathy Run Deep

History, Jewish History

“Go Down, Moses, way down in Egypt land…” 

The words of that African American spiritual from the days of enslavement still hold immense power to move anyone who empathizes with oppressed people.  

The theme, of course, is anchored in the words of the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament to most Christians. There’s a reason so many of the most resonant spirituals are based on those stories—the shared history of oppression experienced by both Jews and African Americans.  

While the two peoples’ stories are very different in details, that common thread has bound them together before, during, and after the Civil Rights movement. It continues to inspire people in today’s Black and Jewish communities to try to build a more compassionate world.  

As one scholar has put it, the Hebrew Bible—the Old Testament to most Christians – is filled with examples of both “pious submission” and ringingly “defiant protest” at the history of injustices meted out to the Jewish people. It was all too easy for the enslaved people of the United States of America—bent over their enforced labor from before sunrise until after sunset, sold like animals, abused—to see themselves in the experiences of the ancient Israelites: “oppressed so hard they could not stand.” 

And around many a Passover Seder table today, Jewish families sing “Go Down, Moses,” while noting its poignant double meaning, honoring and linking the historical experiences of the enslaved Black people who first sang it to their own ancestors’ escape from slavery in Egypt. Ask a rabbi, and you’ll find out that many Jewish holidays, including Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, emerged from the experience of bondage and freedom.  

Songs of freedom 


The treasure trove of Black spirituals that reference the Hebrew Bible is seemingly inexhaustible: “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” is laden with such symbolism. This spiritual references a chariot that evokes the chariot of Elijah, ready to transport weary souls to heaven or to freedom. It speaks of looking out over the River Jordan to see a “band of angels” coming to take the singer to a place of peace. There are several theories about the origin of this particular song, one of them maintaining that it is a coded reference to the Underground Railroad, “comin’ for to carry me home” to freedom in the North. 

“Go Down, Moses” is also sometimes said to refer to Harriet Tubman, widely spoken of as the “Moses” of her time.  

The spiritual “We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder” references the Biblical patriarch Jacob’s dream in the wilderness that he saw angels ascending and descending a ladder that connected Heaven and Earth. 
 
Traditional Jewish sages found meaning in this theme of connection between worlds, and also interpreted the ladder as a symbol for ascending Mount Sinai. The spiritual uses the framework of the ladder and adds Christian themes. The message of the song includes “Ev’ry round goes higher, higher,” and it closes with, “Rise, shine, give God glory.” 

Black Americans called out Nazi hate 

As this history of African American spirituals shows, cultural exchange and awareness of shared histories of bondage and oppression have always characterized the Black-Jewish relationship in the U.S., regardless of the clashes that periodically occur between the communities.  

If there was any group who didn’t need to have explained to them what laws enforcing segregation, “racial purity,” and state-supported lynching are about, it’s Black Americans. It was, in fact, the Black press and Black organizations that first widely recognized and reported on the anti-Jewish racism in Nazi Germany.  

In 1935, Hitler promulgated the Nuremberg Laws, which officially classified Jews as an inferior “race” and stripped them of their civil rights. While mainstream white American newspapers, government agencies, and organizations typically ignored or minimized the danger, the NAACP spoke out early and unequivocally against the Nazi persecution of Jews and the growth of anti-Semitism in the U.S. In a November 1935 declaration, the NAACP called attention to the peril facing Germany’s Jews, helping to launch a campaign to fight anti-Semitism over the turbulent decade from 1935 until 1945.  

In the 1930s and ‘40s, the thriving network of Black newspapers did extensive reporting on the anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust, and on the Holocaust itself. One cartoon, showing Hitler holding up a swastika next to a shadowy hooded figure with a flaming torch, was captioned, “Another Klansman.”  

This same Black press had reported on the lynching of Leo Frank, a Jewish factory supervisor wrongly accused of murdering a young woman in 1913, and on other instances of hatred against Jews. Just as was the case with so many African Americans innocent of the crimes of which they stood accused, a white mob broke into the jail holding Frank and murdered him. And according to historical records, Frank wasn’t the only Jew lynched in the segregated South.  

Living Jewish values through the Civil Rights struggle 

The Civil Rights movement galvanized the American Jewish community, who supported it out of all proportion to their small numbers in the population. An estimated 30 percent of the white volunteers actively marching, registering Black voters, and serving as Freedom Riders were Jewish.  

American Jewish support for equality and civil rights goes way back. It’s enshrined in numerous verses in the Hebrew Bible, including the poetic, “Let justice roll down like waters” from the Book of Amos, famously quoted by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  

Even back in the 19th century, Jewish storekeepers in the South were almost the only white people to address their Black customers as “Mr.” and “Mrs.” and to allow them to try on the clothing for sale. Although speaking out against segregation in the South could be fatal, several prominent Southern Jews spoke publicly against white supremacy. Louis Isaac Jaffe received a Pulitzer Prize for his editorial in the Norfolk Virginia-Pilot in which he called out the evils of lynching.  

Sears Roebuck chairman Julius Rosenwald gave more money to causes benefiting Black people in the South than any other American philanthropist in history. His daughter, Edith Stern, continued his dedication to the cause of equality. She donated large sums to support Civil Rights workers in the South.  

Even when they felt it was too dangerous to be too public with their support, Southern Jews often quietly gave of their time, and through financial contributions, to the Civil Rights cause. 

And, without the activism and determination of the many Northern Jewish Civil Rights workers who poured into the South, the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s would probably not have flourished as it did.  

These connections between African Americans and American Jews, forged from their respective histories as objects of bigotry and oppression, in many ways have been forgotten. But with enough will and focus, we can bring back that solidarity that, at its best, has given ordinary human beings the strength to move mountains. 

The Black-Jewish Alliance – As Strong and Real As We Want It to Be

Uncategorized

A famous photograph of the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, on March 21, 1965, shows a conspicuously white-maned, bespectacled, white man walking arm-in-arm with the great Black Civil Rights leaders Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and Ralph Bunche, on the other side of whom marched Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (It’s worth noting that a young John Lewis also made up part of that row of heroes.) 

Many don’t remember that white man today, but they should. He was Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the foremost American Jewish Leaders to put their faith—and indeed their lives—on the line for the cause of racial justice at King’s side.  

In describing his support for the movement to foster complete equality for Black Americans, Heschel once said that when he marched with King, he was “praying with my feet.” 

Jewish moral passion lit up the Civil Rights movement 

It’s well-documented that Jews were overrepresented among Civil Rights workers who marched, signed up Black voters, and fought for justice throughout the segregated South, all based on their community’s deeply held ethical and cultural values. Among all the groups of white Americans who became involved, the percentage of Jews in the movement soared far above their small percentage in the overall population. 

Rabbi Joachim Prinz, a refugee from Nazi Germany, was among the prominent speakers at the 1963 March on Washington. Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, young Freedom Summer workers murdered by white supremacists in Mississippi in 1964, alongside their African American colleague James Chaney, were Jewish. The list goes on and on. 

Martin Luther King, Jr., said of anti-Semitism: “It’s wrong, it’s unjust, and it’s evil.” King’s insights drawn from his deep study of history and human nature gave him the ability to easily see through the lies told about Jews through the centuries, even into his own time. And his unsurpassed empathy enabled him to relate to people outwardly unlike himself with whom he nevertheless found moral common ground.  

The same was true for Abraham Heschel. In a speech delivered at the 1963 event where he first met King, Heschel said, “Let us yield no inch to bigotry…Racism is worse than idolatry.” It is, the rabbi said, “unmitigated evil.”  

Evolution and divergence 

So what ever happened to that great Black-Jewish Civil Rights era alliance, based on common histories of persecution, and anchored in common moral values? 

Conventional wisdom often tells us that Black and Jewish Americans grew apart as Black nationalism took center stage in the late 1960s and Jews felt marginalized from the movement. In truth, the reasons are complex. 

Historian Marc Dollinger, in his book Black Power, Jewish Politics: Reinventing the Alliance in the 1960s, points out new angles to the relationship. He shows how, as a more outspoken Black leadership came to the fore of the host of civil rights groups in the late ‘60s, many Jewish activists turned to activism on behalf of Jewish causes, including the emergent State of Israel. And indeed Jews learned from the Black Power movement to reinvigorate the Jewish community as one willing to more vocally champion its own civil rights and freedom. In this view, we might look at the eventual divergence as not so much alienation as mutual education toward self-advocacy and empowerment.  

Today, though, what with a few ill-informed African American celebrities throwing their weight around spreading anti-Semitic garbage in the community, we could sorely use some of that Heschel-King energy. 

Blind spots and bigotry  

As Black sports columnist Mike Freeman pointed out in a thoughtful November 2 USA Today editorial, the Black community does have a “terrible blind spot” toward Jews. Freeman recounts talking to Black Americans who have told him they’re sure Jews control the media, are out to oppress Black people, are conspiring in some way or another against someone, and worse. 

And yes, some white Jews—especially among older folks, or those in tight-knit traditional religious communities—harbor personal feelings of disdain or animus toward African Americans. Even though the best estimates point to about 15 percent of today’s American Jews being Jews of Color, with their numbers growing. 

The irony of stereotyping an entire fellow group of wronged and oppressed people apparently hasn’t impressed itself enough on some in our country. 

Bringing out the best in one another 

But the legendary Black-Jewish moral partnership is still around. You just have to know where to look. 

In 2020, a coalition of 600 American Jewish organizations—representing more than half the Jews in the country—took out a full-page New York Times ad saying: “Unequivocally: Black Lives Matter.”  

Sherilynn Ifill, former president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, is among numerous Black Americans to publicly repudiate anti-Semitism and call ill-informed Black influencers to account. Incoming House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York issued a statement against anti-Semitism with fellow Democratic leaders, calling it “unacceptable and unconscionable.”  

Synagogue and Jewish community groups across the nation continue to work for racial and social justice, often in partnership with Black churches. 

One example: In Boca Raton, Florida, Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church and Congregation B’nai Israel jointly host an annual Thanksgiving season Feed the Community initiative. In January, the congregations come together to observe Martin Luther King, Jr., Day with Shabbat services on Friday night and church services Sunday morning.  

Are there fair numbers of both Jews and African Americans who, either through ignorance or lack of empathy, view the other group with hostility? Of course. Orneriness, clannishness, and fear of “the other” are unfortunately universal human traits. Keep in mind that members of both groups have been on the receiving end of centuries of some of the worst hatred and violence the world has ever produced. It can be so easy to submerge yourself in individual and generational trauma that it’s hard to see when you’re safe enough to come back up for air.  

But for every racist white Jewish person, for every African American addicted to anti-Semitic stereotypes, for every well-publicized incident involving Black-Jewish tensions in Crown Heights or other cultural flashpoints, there are numerous Black and Jewish people with open minds and open hearts working together to heal our broken world. And there are many more who may just need to learn a little more about each other to see how much we have in common—and how overcoming our own prejudices can make both communities safer and stronger. 

This Is How Brittney Griner’s Homecoming Is Being Celebrated 

Uncategorized

“She’s on the ground.” With those words, President Joe Biden told Cherelle Griner that her wife, WNBA star Brittney Griner, was on her way home after a prisoner exchange in Abu Dhabi on December 9. Griner spent more than nine months being held prisoner in Russia. In moments of sheer joy captured on video, Cherelle Griner embraced the President and First Lady Jill Biden in what should go down in history as one of the most emotionally moving moments of 2022. 

“It’s just such a good day,” Cherelle Griner said, beaming as she sat beside Biden, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Vice President Kamala Harris standing nearby.  

About the Exchange 

On December 8, the Biden Administration orchestrated the prisoner swap. In return for Griner, it gave the Russian government charge of Viktor Bout, the notorious arms dealer and ex-Soviet army lieutenant with the sobriquet the “Merchant of Death.” The United States spent months negotiating for Griner’s release, always with Bout, who was about halfway through serving a 25-year sentence, as her likely counterpart.  

Announcing Griner’s release in an address to the American people on December 8, Biden noted that she was safe and in “good spirits” after the months of “needless trauma” inflicted on her by the Russian government. Her wife and family, and certainly her millions of fans and supporters, had worked toward and hoped for her release after her arrest on February 17. 

About Griner’s Detention 

It was only a week before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Griner, an all-star center with the Phoenix Mercury and an Olympic gold medalist, was arriving at a Moscow airport, as she often has. Russian officials detained her, alleging that she was smuggling an illegal substance described as cannabis oil contained inside vape cartridges. Griner was in Russia for work. Because WNBA players are compensated at a rate far below that of NBA players, many female players work the European circuit during the off-season. Griner has played off-season with the UMMC Ekaterinburg since 2014.  

At her hearing in July, her attorneys told judges that the cannabis oil had been prescribed by a doctor for chronic pain, and that she had not intended to break any laws. But Griner pleaded guilty to the charges anyway. Experts have said that the guilty plea, and thus her conviction, was likely the only way to move along negotiations toward a prisoner swap.  

Griner’s Transfer to a Penal Colony 

After months of detention under brutal and humiliating conditions, her nine-year sentence led to her transfer to an even more brutal penal colony. For Griner, a non-Russian speaker who stands out for her very identity as a Black, American, gay woman who physically towers above most people, the experience also had to be traumatic because of the isolation she experienced. At one point early in her detention, her jailers transported her on the five-hour round trip to and from the courtroom in a cage so small she had to scrunch up her knees.   

On October 6, Cherelle Griner told news media that, in only the second call Russia had permitted her to have with Brittney, she heard things that deeply worried her. In their first phone conversation, months before, Brittney Griner had told her wife she’d be fine and would get through what she needed to. But that second conversation caused Cherelle to cry for “two, three days straight.”  

“You could hear that she was not okay,” Cherelle said of the “most disturbing” call she’d ever experienced. In that conversation, she said Brittney told her, “‘My life just don’t even matter no more.’”  

About Paul Weeden, the Prisoner Left Behind 

Despite the widely reported mistreatment Griner suffered in Russian captivity, there were of course naysayers upon her release. Republican politicians said the swap of a basketball star for a convicted arms dealer was disproportionate. They argued that Biden should have done more to at least secure the release of another American captive, Paul Whelan.  

Whelan and Griner had often been proposed as a package deal in exchange for Bout. But Biden seized the opportunity to bring one American home, even if it was ultimately unable to bring home two. Whelan, also held under excruciating conditions in a maximum-security penal colony, is accused of espionage, a charge he vehemently denies. That makes his case infinitely more complicated than Griner’s, experts say.  

Biden said that when the chance to free Griner alone emerged, it would have been wrong not to take it. He spoke to Whelan’s family beforehand, to prepare them for the news. David Whelan, Paul Whelan’s brother, spoke for the family when he said they were deeply disappointed, but that they did not fault the Biden Administration for taking “the deal that was possible.” Whelan’s and Griner’s families have expressed mutual support throughout their common ordeal. 

Biden said, “We’ve not forgotten about Paul Whelan,” and that negotiations for his release will continue. 

About Griner’s Homecoming 

For Griner and her family, the pain, the agonizing wait, the terror for her safety, have all come to an end. On Friday night, December 9, she was with her wife in her home state of Texas for a medical evaluation. That’s something that can and should unite Americans and lift spirits across political divides. An American captive has come home. 

How Do We Make Our Country Less Extreme? 

Uncategorized

At this point in the American story, it’s a cliché to say that we as a country are politically polarized. It seems like relatively few of us want to leave our own media echo chambers and our own groups of like-minded voters to discuss genuine differences civilly and productively.  

Moving beyond extremes 

Historians tell us that extremist beliefs, political arguments, and even acts of political violence, are nothing new in the United States. In 1787, James Madison was already warning about the dangers when there is “violence of faction.” 

But it feels to many of us that, thanks to pervasive cynicism and lack of trust in institutions, our increasingly shorter fuses in a time of economic and social upheavals, and the ability of social media to spread misinformation and conspiracy theories, things have never been worse.  

Signs of polarization in a society include suspicion; volatility, in which even casual interactions across divides can erupt into angry confrontations; and the fallacy of over-simplifying complex people and issues into an “us” versus “them” situation. 

Is there a realistic path forward where Americans with opposing views can come together in peaceful dialogue, reach workable compromises, leave some of our collective emotional baggage behind, and create a better future for the next generation? The most viable solution centers on building understanding and educating for democracy. 

Right-wing extremism takes center stage 

We should first take note that, at least in today’s political climate, right-wing extremism has become far more violent and dangerous than the left-of-center variety. While individuals or groups espousing virtually any cause are capable of spewing violent rhetoric, and may even commit acts of violence, recent studies show that the weight of the most violent extremism in the U.S. today leans heavily to the right.  

A 2022 poll conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that extremist right-wing beliefs are becoming more prevalent through the general population. An increasing number of respondents actually said that violence toward political opponents is acceptable, and that LGBTQ people and other persecuted minority groups present a danger to others.  

The survey additionally revealed a growing number of people on the right who support the conspiracy theory belief in the “great replacement theory.” This is the unfounded white supremacist concept that there exists a deliberate policy of encouraging immigration and demographic change in order to reduce the white, conservative-voting population in the U.S. Almost 7 out of every 10 Republicans who took the survey said they agree to some extent with this idea. This dangerous notion has fueled recent mass shootings in the U.S. and abroad. 

Extremism on the right typically attacks more vulnerable groups, notably including LGBTQ people simply trying to live their lives in peace. Right-wing individuals and groups have also targeted numerous poll workers and elections officials with violent threats merely for doing their jobs.  

But also startling and disturbing to liberals will be the survey’s finding that Democratic-leaning men under age 50 were the most likely of any group to accept the idea of political assassination of a person “threatening” the nation or democracy. So none of us is immune from the dangerous human tendency to allow anger and distrust to overcome basic decency. 

Turning down the heat 

Some experts point out that it isn’t polarization per se that’s destroying us, but rather “affective polarization,” in which negative feelings toward perceived enemies become so strong that they make it impossible to work together to solve common problems. Affective polarization also makes it more likely that people with extreme sentiments will flout laws designed to preserve the common good, as we saw in the horrific spectacle of January 6, 2021.  

We can’t go on this way. But what can we do to turn down the heat on extremism and potential violence? 

Political scientists have noted several important long-term solutions. 

One insight encourages us to understand the power of influence. Studies show that people’s opinions can be strongly influenced by others whom they view as being part of their own culture, with enough in common to merit emulation even if they differ on some issues. On the other hand, if people view others as diametrically opposed to themselves in terms of culture, they are more likely to completely reject the possibility of learning from these “others.” Keep this in mind when well-meaning commentators encourage exchanges of opposing views among groups who already view one another with hostility or distrust. 

A recent Brookings Institution study found that, when people are “stubbornly intolerant,” greater exposure to views they find offensive can actually increase polarization.  

One way to decrease polarization might therefore involve educating moderate members of particular communities on the practical value of tolerance, dialogue, and compromise in a democracy, allowing them to serve as influencers and stabilizing forces among people in their own social networks. In its efforts to combat polarization locally, the City of Albuquerque recommends supporting the “non-polarized middle,” people who can serve as voices of reason and moderation, who can help build connections. 

The vital role of education 

Education is of the utmost importance in minimizing polarization. An overhaul of our civics curricula is obviously in order. And, since the 2016 election of the supremely polarizing Donald Trump as president, some social teachers have stepped out of carefully cultivated “neutral” roles in order to avoid the facile “both-sidesing” of issues that affect our ability to continue to function as a democracy. For example, they are countering misinformation, disinformation, and racism head-on in the classroom.  

Teachers who choose this path believe it’s important to develop students’ critical thinking skills. And the only way to do that is to teach a healthy respect for the facts of history and current events, regardless of whether those facts show existing power structures in a less-than-rosy light.  

A 2019 paper published by the University at Albany, State University of New York, describes how high school students in an enhanced government studies class requiring them to research, debate, then vote on controversial issues became more open-minded politically when encouraged to explore a diversity of viewpoints. Students who received more encouragement to be partisan were less likely to adopt an attitude of political open-mindedness. 

Part of the hard work of educating people of every age for democracy, other experts report, involves learning—often with the help of neutral facilitators—to talk across differences and recalibrate distorted opinions about people on the “opposite” side. It involves becoming more in tune with our own biases in order to question and modify them. And it includes developing the wisdom to realize that narratives about extreme polarization can in themselves become self-fulfilling prophecies.  

There will always be some people who choose to live—and, tragically, to die or to harm others—in service to their extremist views. It’s up to the rest of us to move the needle back toward tolerance by living and modeling it—and by not backing away from a frank discussion of both our polarization and our common humanity. 

How Do We Make Our Country Less Extreme?

anxiety, politics

At this point in the American story, it’s a cliché to say that we as a country are politically polarized. It seems like relatively few of us want to leave our own media echo chambers and our own groups of like-minded voters to discuss genuine differences civilly and productively.  

Moving beyond extremes 

Historians tell us that extremist beliefs, political arguments, and even acts of political violence, are nothing new in the United States. In 1787, James Madison was already warning about the dangers when there is “violence of faction.” 

But it feels to many of us that, thanks to pervasive cynicism and lack of trust in institutions, our increasingly shorter fuses in a time of economic and social upheavals, and the ability of social media to spread misinformation and conspiracy theories, things have never been worse.  

Signs of polarization in a society include suspicion; volatility, in which even casual interactions across divides can erupt into angry confrontations; and the fallacy of over-simplifying complex people and issues into an “us” versus “them” situation. 

Is there a realistic path forward where Americans with opposing views can come together in peaceful dialogue, reach workable compromises, leave some of our collective emotional baggage behind, and create a better future for the next generation? The most viable solution centers on building understanding and educating for democracy. 

Right-wing extremism takes center stage 

We should first take note that, at least in today’s political climate, right-wing extremism has become far more violent and dangerous than the left-of-center variety. While individuals or groups espousing virtually any cause are capable of spewing violent rhetoric, and may even commit acts of violence, recent studies show that the weight of the most violent extremism in the U.S. today leans heavily to the right.  

A 2022 poll conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that extremist right-wing beliefs are becoming more prevalent through the general population. An increasing number of respondents actually said that violence toward political opponents is acceptable, and that LGBTQ people and other persecuted minority groups present a danger to others.  

The survey additionally revealed a growing number of people on the right who support the conspiracy theory belief in the “great replacement theory.” This is the unfounded white supremacist concept that there exists a deliberate policy of encouraging immigration and demographic change in order to reduce the white, conservative-voting population in the U.S. Almost 7 out of every 10 Republicans who took the survey said they agree to some extent with this idea. This dangerous notion has fueled recent mass shootings in the U.S. and abroad. 

Extremism on the right typically attacks more vulnerable groups, notably including LGBTQ people simply trying to live their lives in peace. Right-wing individuals and groups have also targeted numerous poll workers and elections officials with violent threats merely for doing their jobs.  

But also startling and disturbing to liberals will be the survey’s finding that Democratic-leaning men under age 50 were the most likely of any group to accept the idea of political assassination of a person “threatening” the nation or democracy. So none of us is immune from the dangerous human tendency to allow anger and distrust to overcome basic decency. 

Turning down the heat 

Some experts point out that it isn’t polarization per se that’s destroying us, but rather “affective polarization,” in which negative feelings toward perceived enemies become so strong that they make it impossible to work together to solve common problems. Affective polarization also makes it more likely that people with extreme sentiments will flout laws designed to preserve the common good, as we saw in the horrific spectacle of January 6, 2021.  

We can’t go on this way. But what can we do to turn down the heat on extremism and potential violence? 

Political scientists have noted several important long-term solutions. 

One insight encourages us to understand the power of influence. Studies show that people’s opinions can be strongly influenced by others whom they view as being part of their own culture, with enough in common to merit emulation even if they differ on some issues. On the other hand, if people view others as diametrically opposed to themselves in terms of culture, they are more likely to completely reject the possibility of learning from these “others.” Keep this in mind when well-meaning commentators encourage exchanges of opposing views among groups who already view one another with hostility or distrust. 

A recent Brookings Institution study found that, when people are “stubbornly intolerant,” greater exposure to views they find offensive can actually increase polarization.  

One way to decrease polarization might therefore involve educating moderate members of particular communities on the practical value of tolerance, dialogue, and compromise in a democracy, allowing them to serve as influencers and stabilizing forces among people in their own social networks. In its efforts to combat polarization locally, the City of Albuquerque recommends supporting the “non-polarized middle,” people who can serve as voices of reason and moderation, who can help build connections. 

The vital role of education 

Education is of the utmost importance in minimizing polarization. An overhaul of our civics curricula is obviously in order. And, since the 2016 election of the supremely polarizing Donald Trump as president, some social teachers have stepped out of carefully cultivated “neutral” roles in order to avoid the facile “both-sidesing” of issues that affect our ability to continue to function as a democracy. For example, they are countering misinformation, disinformation, and racism head-on in the classroom.  

Teachers who choose this path believe it’s important to develop students’ critical thinking skills. And the only way to do that is to teach a healthy respect for the facts of history and current events, regardless of whether those facts show existing power structures in a less-than-rosy light.  

A 2019 paper published by the University at Albany, State University of New York, describes how high school students in an enhanced government studies class requiring them to research, debate, then vote on controversial issues became more open-minded politically when encouraged to explore a diversity of viewpoints. Students who received more encouragement to be partisan were less likely to adopt an attitude of political open-mindedness. 

Part of the hard work of educating people of every age for democracy, other experts report, involves learning—often with the help of neutral facilitators—to talk across differences and recalibrate distorted opinions about people on the “opposite” side. It involves becoming more in tune with our own biases in order to question and modify them. And it includes developing the wisdom to realize that narratives about extreme polarization can in themselves become self-fulfilling prophecies.  

There will always be some people who choose to live—and, tragically, to die or to harm others—in service to their extremist views. It’s up to the rest of us to move the needle back toward tolerance by living and modeling it—and by not backing away from a frank discussion of both our polarization and our common humanity. 

Warnock vs Walker – What’s at Stake in the December 6 Runoff 

Election

Georgia residents are still the target of Senate campaign ads long after November 8, 2022 midterms. Neither the Democratic incumbent, Reverend Raphael Warnock, nor his controversial Republican challenger, Herschel Walker, got more than 50 percent of the vote. So get ready for the runoff. The two Black men on the ballot could not be more different. Here’s what you need to know about them—and how the ramifications of this election go beyond the Peach State’s borders. 

Herschel Walker (Republican) 

Like a number of other candidates endorsed by former president Donald Trump, Walker had never before interacted with everyday voters as a candidate for political office. He has no political or formal leadership experience although he possesses name recognition as a storied football player and Heisman Trophy winner. What many have regarded as nonsensical, inflammatory statements have provided fodder for derisive memes at his expense. Critics also point to the apparent contradictions between his political positions and his personal choices over many years.  

Walker’s many public deviations from the factual record include statements that he graduated from the University of Georgia in the top 1 percent of his class. In reality, he left without graduating to play professional football. He later denied ever having made the claim. He once said he supports Georgia’s ban on abortion at 6 weeks, without an exception for the life of the mother. However, he has since made a number of conflicting statements on the issue. He has even opposed passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Amendment Act. 

Raphael Warnock (Democrat) 

Reverend Warnock served for 16 years as senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, the same Atlanta congregation once served by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Warnock’s father was a junk car salvage entrepreneur and a preacher. His mother spent her teenage summers in the 1950s picking other people’s cotton. Warnock is one of 12 children and grew up in public housing in Savannah. In 2021, Warnock made history when he won a special runoff election to the Senate, becoming the state’s first Black senator.  

On the campaign trail, he became a firm friend and political ally of Georgia’s first Jewish senator, Jon Ossoff. The ground-breaking duo has often appeared together at rallies, and Ossoff has campaigned heavily for Warnock. Because the contest in which he beat former Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler was a runoff, Warnock’s original term ends on January 3, 2023. A win in the 2022 campaign would give him a standard six-year term.  

An advocate for women’s right to choose abortion, Warnock has excoriated the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson striking down the right to an abortion and leaving the issue to the states. In an October campaign stop in Savannah, Warnock made it clear that he also stands with the front-line workers of the United States. During the pandemic, these workers were deemed “essential.” Shouldn’t they, he argues, be given “an essential wage” with “essential benefits?”  

His vote was instrumental in passing a major federal tax cut for working class and middle-class Americans, as well as legislation lowering the cost of medical prescriptions for Medicare recipients and seniors. Warnock also made it clear he stands against the gathering forces of ethnic hatred in the country. And the reverend was part of the Democratic voting bloc that delivered on President Joe Biden’s comprehensive bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which will bring new roads, bridges, and broadband internet to Georgia.  

Warnock even partnered with right-wing Republican Senator Ted Cruz to sponsor an amendment to the infrastructure bill that they, as members of the Commerce Committee, both argued was essential. Thanks to the Warnock-Cruz Amendment, the Interstate 14 corridor, running from Texas to Georgia, will soon be built out to connect major emerging high-tech markets, military base communities, and underserved municipalities. The amendment was key to securing the bipartisan votes needed to pass the overall infrastructure legislation. 

51 Is Better Than 50 – Much Better 

After Nevada’s senate race was called in favor of Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto, Democrats were assured of the 50 seats needed—along with Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote—to retain control of the chamber. Some voters, after breathing a sigh of relief, thought the tight race in Georgia then didn’t matter.  

But it does. A lot.  

An outright majority in the Senate would allow the Democrats to speed up the judicial approval process and fill the more than 100 current key federal court vacancies. As with the Supreme Court, federal district and circuit judges are appointed for life. A new generation of Biden judges would provide a bulwark protecting voting rights and other civil liberties for future generations of Americans. An outright majority would also give Senate Democrats more power to select which bills go to the floor for discussion, and to send back bills approved by a Republican-dominated House of Representatives.  

And, given two contrarian Democratic senators in the persons of West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema, a 51-Democrat Senate can even afford to lose one of these two votes. For example, the push-and-pull other Democrats have had to go through in negotiating with Manchin over major legislation would have been moderated. In order to get Manchin and Sinema to vote for Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, Democrats had to abandon funding for free, universal pre-kindergarten education.  

Georgia has a clear choice on December 6 that will affect the lives of people across the United States.