Tag Archives: Race and Ethnic Relations

An Excuse for Bigotry

Our community learned a long time that Anti-Semitism can surface even where there are no Jews. In fact, the absence of a local Jewish community has often fueled such hatred, since those who might be inclined to such thinking do not have any personal experience with “real live Jews” to offset the popularly-received stereotypes.

So I guess it’s not a surprise than anti-Muslim animus is flourishing in the United States, especially, it seems, in places with almost no Muslims. As Roger Cohn reports from Perry, Oklahoma in this great New York Times op-ed, “You might not expect Shariah, a broad term encompassing Islamic religious precepts, to be a priority topic at the Kumback [diner] given that there’s not a Muslim in Perry and perhaps 30,000, or less than one percent of the population, in all Oklahoma. And you’d be wrong.”

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Tolerance, Pluralism for the New Year

Micaela Hellman-Tincher is a former Legislative Assistant for the RAC and is currently spending the year at Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village as an American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee Jewish Service Corps member.

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I’m pretty stressed about what’s happening with regards to religious tolerance in the U.S. these days.  While I’m not there to feel the tension, all the way over in Rwanda I read about the fury over the Islamic Center in NYC and the Qu’ran burning and I am embarrassed and angry.  How could a country founded on principles of liberty be so intolerant and oppressive?


I’m currently in Rwanda, a country that was not founded on the concept of liberty and a country where ethnic differences are supposed to be unspoken, lest they rival the unified country that is trying to be formed.

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Free to Be You and Me

Aaron Pratt is a graduate of HUC’s School of Jewish Communal Service, Class of 2007.  

As a child I used to fall asleep to the music and lyrics of Marlo Thomas’ Free to Be You and Me, a ground breaking record project for children released in the late 70s.  I had completely forgotten about my nighttime ritual of loading the tape into my bedside radio until I recently saw a new Target commercial that uses the title song from this famous album.

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The Fair Sentencing Act is on its Way to the President!

The Fair Sentencing Act passed in the House today, and since it already passed in the Senate back in March, it will now go to President Obama for his signature. This historic legislation will reduce the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentencing, and also direct federal resources toward large-scale drug traffickers. The 100-to-1 sentencing ratio was instituted in 1986, in large part to combat the scourge of violence accompanied by crack cocaine usage in some of our nation’s largest cities, and instead has unduly targeted low-level crack offenders: before today’s changes, a person with five grams of crack received a mandatory sentence of five years in prison, while that same person would have to possess 500 grams of powder cocaine to earn the same penalty. The 100-to-1 ratio perpetuated racial disparities as well, as more than 80% of crack offenders serving prison sentences are African American.

Ultimately we would like to eliminate the disparity entirely, but a bipartisan compromise to reduce the ratio to 18-to-1 and eliminate the five year mandatory minimum sentence for possession of five grams of cocaine (about two sugar cubes worth) was struck. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, overall, the bill is expected to reduce the federal prison population by 3,800 in 10 years and save an estimated $42 million in criminal justice system spending over the first five years. It is clear that passage of the Fair Sentencing Act is an enormous victory in the realm of civil rights, criminal justice and drug policy reform, and I for one cannot wait for it to bear Obama’s signature.

Breaking the Color Barrier

In this month’s Reform Judaism magazine, Rabbi Susan Talve of Central Reform Congregation in St. Louis writes about her congregation’s efforts to include, embrace, and celebrate Jews of all colors. Rabbi Talve writes that, as with welcoming gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgenders Jews, “We soon learned that welcoming wasn’t enough; we had to listen and respond.”

Here’s my favorite excerpt:

1997 was a transformative year in our congregation: The beautiful
Josephine was born to a white Jewish mother and a non-Jewish African
American father. There was no question that her parents would raise her
to be a Jew. And when I held her at her naming ceremony, I promised
her: By the time you begin to notice how you fit into your
surroundings, we will have a community that includes others who look
like you. You will see yourself reflected in the diversity of our
temple. Your parents’ good intentions [to stay active in the synagogue]
and our own [to treat you with respect] are not enough.

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Martin Luther King, Jr. Shabbat

Rabbi William Kuhn serves as senior rabbi of Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia. This post originally appeared at BlogRS and is republished with permission.
rabbi-kuhn3.jpgThis evening, Congregation Rodeph Shalom will celebrate the national holiday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. In what has become an annual event at our synagogue, we will share one of the most meaningful interfaith services of our calendar year as we welcome Reverend Kevin Johnson and the Bright Hope Baptist Church. Reverend Johnson will give the sermon that evening as we also welcome many members of his congregation and his choir. Those of you who have heard him speak and have heard their magnificent choir know what an unforgettable experience this is.

Why should Jews celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday? Why should we devote one of our Shabbat services to such a theme? I believe Jews, especially Reform Jews, can and must identify with the struggles of the African-American experience. One of the most profound lessons of Judaism is that we must learn to understand the pain of others, “for we were slaves in the land of Egypt.” The lesson of the Exodus from Egypt is that we Jews were given our freedom for a purpose: to use our freedom wisely and responsibly and to help other people attain freedom too.

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New Cases

courtdaylogo.pngIt’s an exciting week in Washington.  People are starting to arrive for President-elect Obama’s Inauguration, Congress is back in full swing, passing legislation and confirming Cabinet nominees, and the Supreme Court granted cert to three interesting cases (I bet you weren’t expecting that one to be on the list!)  With everything else that is going on, you might not be following the happenings of the Supreme Court.  So, I’m happy to provide an update on the three cases that the Court agreed to hear, all of which relate to race and pluralism in our country. 

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