Shanah tovah, everybody. It is powerful to be with you in this way at this season. I feel that I should give you a little bit of context as to how we have gotten here for this moment. For the first time in now these 5 High Holiday seasons that I have served as rabbi for Kadima, we do not have a theme or focus for these holidays. We are letting these Days - their liturgy, their torah and haftarah readings, their rituals, discussions, and their food - speak for themselves. Acknowledging that it has been awkward at times, to force the mapping of current events or trends onto our ancient teachings, and noting that you have not really had a say in what in the past we have chosen to focus on during the holidays, we have paused for now from that practice. One possible outcome of this decision is that you, the community member, might feel more agency in choosing what these holidays are about for you. Please, take whatever added permission this change allows for, and do make these holidays - as they might be every year - for your own personal re-alignment work that is teshuvah. For I believe that is ultimately what this season is about: re-alignment. To remind ourselves of our goals, our vision, and our purpose - personally and collectively - and to take stock of the gaps - and even the chasms - between our collective and personal words and actions as they are, and our words and actions as we wish them to be. Or, as they might need to be now. Thus, the Days of Awe beg the question: where are you?
The threat of the climate crisis and the challenge of climate justice has seeped more and more into my psyche of late. With that in mind, I have been struck this year, while preparing for these supposed highest of holidays, by how very human centric they are.
On one level, we honor today as a birthday celebration. Tomorrow, or Jewishly, later today after we wake up, when we blow the shofar, we will recite: “Hayom Harat Olam. Today the world is born. Today all creatures everywhere are present.” And we might think, today is the anniversary of creation! The day in which the universe and all its life was created! Let us honor the beauty, resilience, diversity, and amazement in all of the natural world! And yes, let’s please do that. We do not roll and stroll in nature to throw bread and rocks in a natural body of water for nothing.
And, according to at least one stream of our tradition, Rosh HaShanah - the birthday of the world, actually falls on the anniversary of the 6th day of creation. According to a midrash in Vayikra Rabbah, the 25th of Elul, a day of nonconsequence on the modern Jewish calendar, or, this past Wednesday, was the anniversary of the beginning of the 7 days of creation. This would make today, Rosh HaShanah, the anniversary of the day humans were created - the 6th day of creation. The birthday honey cake is for you and me, in particular.
And I ask: humans - where are you? Or, put differently, where is our humanness, our humanity? Where are we?
This question - where are you? - was first asked a Jewish 5780 years ago today in the garden of Eden. And perhaps it bears repeating today. Those first humans, created in the divine image, were almost given it all. Genesis 2:9 recalls the abundance: “and from the ground Adonai caused to grow every tree that was pleasing to the sight and good for food.” We know that the tree of life and the tree of knowledge were among these trees, yet, G-d told them, these were the only two off-limits. If you want to be here and benefit from what has been created for the thriving of your life, there are rules to follow. But on the same day humans were created, so too was missing the mark. So too was rebelliousness. So too was deception. So too was exile. Those first humans defied G-d’s only ask and ate from the tree of knowledge, despite G-d’s warning that, if so, they would die. But the humans received a second opinion. The serpent - haNakhash - tells them “you are not going to die, but [when] you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like divine beings who know good and bad.” The humans had two conflicting opinions and made a choice. Thus agency was born. On this day, 5780 Jewish-conception-of-years ago, agency was born.
When confronted with the decision to eat from the tree of knowledge, God asked them: ayeka? Where are you? For upon hearing the sounds of God in the garden, the humans, in all their freshly born dignity, hid.
And of course this is why today is not just the Day the World was born, but also, the Day of Judgement. The day all beings pass before the creator and our fate for the year ahead is judged. For today, 5780 years ago, just as agency was born, so was missing the mark. So was responsibility. So was accountability. The first humans, or at least this story about them, laid the groundwork for teshuvah. Our actions have consequences now, and for time to come.
It is in these Days of Awe that our trajectory for the entire year ahead can be aligned. How we communicate with friends, family, and strangers; how we care for our body, mind, and soul; how we relate to the children and the elders in our lives; how we show up, when, where, and why.
More than the year ahead, we might choose to put some stock in the concept of a decade - 10 not being an unimportant number in Jewish tradition nor for the mathematical patterns of the universe, nor, at this point, for climate scientists. For as today is the Head of the Year, it is also the first day of the 5780s. For some of us, the other 80s, the 1980s, can be remembered for many things, among the most benign, synthesized music and big hair. But it was also a time that deeply intensified and ingrained mass incarceration, income and wealth inequality, and climate degradation, again, to only name a few.
The 5780s offer us renewal. Offer us vision. What will these 10 years bring? Some of what offers, no doubt, will be what they will be. Kacha ze, goes the Hebrew expression - translated roughly as “it is what it is.” Some of what it offers, meanwhile, will be made so because of our agency today.
On the precipice of this destined to be monumental 10 years, I ask: where are you? Where are you hiding? What did you do for which you are avoiding responsibility? And I suggest, that Rosh HaShanah and these 10 days leading us into Yom Kippur are inviting us out of hiding. To take ownership and fess up. To practice acting differently. For as this year that has just begun comes to its end, and we stand here, please G-d, a year from now together, I pray none of us are asking ourselves when it counted: where was I?
Antisemitism in the News & Our Lives: A Time for Reflection & Action
Antisemitism is not what I particularly wanted to be talking about right now, but the week's events have forced it back into the fore, and our reflection and action is now needed. While you won't be hearing stances about antisemitism from the bima during the holidays, let us not ignore this issue either. Not while a Community Statement from the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle claiming to be a "consensus statement" was released this week. An effort to block such claims of consensus and speak out with a different perspective has been circulated as an Open Letter to the Federation in response, and the authors are inviting individual signatories. Grappling with these developments may be unwanted, and yet, a feeling of obligation stirs in me. And, I ask you to grapple with these developments as well - consider joining me in signing the open letter.
We see that antisemitism is being debated all over the world right now. This week alone, the United Nations General Assembly released a report linking critique of Israel to antisemitism without even mentioning the rise of white nationalism in the US. The president of the United States was accused of using antisemitic tropes during his speech to the GA. And, while Bari Weiss released her book How to Fight Anti-Semitism earlier this month, this week Jewish Currents published a review of it from Judith Butler. Meanwhile, this summer, in locales from Vancouver to DC to London, public debates rage about how to define and legislate antisemitism.
It has been a lot to process while baking honey cake.
With local and global news on the topic pulling our gaze, Kadima has chosen to not endorse the Federation’s "Community Statement," and was not alone in making that choice. Fighting antisemitism is core to Kadima's founding principles and current actions, but for many reasons, the board officers could not support the Federation's Statement. Amidst my own hair pulling about this situation, I have chosen to wholeheartedly sign the open letter and reach out personally to my valued colleagues at the Federation. I encourage you to do the same.
Whatever your thoughts and feelings connected to these two local public articulations of antisemitism this week, more connection, relationship building, and analysis sharpening could go a long way in 5780. We will be working to provide and support spaces to connect and to sharpen our collective analysis at Kadima after the holidays and beyond.
Finally, as we enter the High Holidays, we may be reminded that antisemitism is both pervasive and very personal. As school, work, and most else around us fails to acknowledge these important days for our community, we are reminded that being Jewish (or non-Christian in any way) inside Christian hegemony takes a toll on so many of us. And, our physical safety and access is paramount and being addressed at Kadima for events and services in this season. Know that we face this all together, and may our collective resilience shine. Our ancestors, and the children of our children, are daring us.
On with the holidays.
L'shanah tovah u'metukah & tizku l'shanim rabot, ne'imot v'tovot,
PS -- We want to encourage inclusive community dialogue in a way that the Federation's process did not. Would you consider sharing your voice on antisemitism in the weeks ahead? Write an op ed, send me your thoughts, talk to your neighbors. While the Open Letter mentioned above is one such example of community engagement, we value all those articulations that already exist and those that continue to emerge aiming to fight antisemitism in the name of collective liberation. Let us keep the conversations going!
 I am particularly humbled by the words of Greta Thunberg at the U.N. Climate Action Summit this week. Speaking of the climate crisis, she closed her moving speech with "The eyes of all future generations are upon you...Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not." Clearly not speaking about antisemitism, her words have reverberated with me throughout the week and feel applicable to instances such as this where we find ourselves at existential crossroads. Read/watch in full.
 UN releases ‘unprecedented’ report linking anti-Semitism to BDS movement
 Trump accused of using antisemitic trope during UN speech
 Bari Weiss’s Unasked Questions
 What is Christian Hegemony?
 Many articulations of antisemitism from a collective liberation framework already exist. Here are just a few of note that have affected my current analysis: Jews for Racial and Economic Justice’s Understanding Antisemitism, The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere, by April Rosenblum, Why the Origins of Antisemitism Matters audio from “The Others” on WNYC radio, Why Criticism of Israel isn’t Antisemitism video from Al Jazeera+, Latin@s, Israel and Palestine: Understanding Anti-Semitism by Aurora Levins Morale, Treyf Podcast’s many episodes on antisemitism, and so so many more.
It is events like this past weekend, with the horrific mass-shootings in Dayton and El Paso, that could lead to feelings of deep despair. Frozenness and numbness are two tropes I have seen receive airtime in their wake - especially as these types of tragedies are not uncommon. And yet, the season we are in teaches us, from our ancient tradition, that in the face of tragedy, continuing to feel is part of our liberation. This weekend, for Tisha B’Av, we read Eicha - Lamentations - with numerous references and models of weeping, and we are reminded and invited to lean into and experience fully the weight of what has occurred.
The Three Weeks that lead to Tisha B’Av began at a rally to support detained immigrant Jose Robles in Tacoma. Dina Burstein, event organizer, Kadima member, and leader in the Jewish Coalition for Immigration Justice Northwest, began the rally with the Jewish call for showing up: Hineini (pronounced hee-NAY-nee) - here I am.
Hineini is what Judaism's earliest prophets and ancestors said when called for service by a higher power. The Source of Life, called Adonai (ah-doe-NIGH) or nicknamed HaShem (hah-SHEM) meaning "the name," spoke directly to humans, the stories go. And we would know the human was serious in their listening and their response when they would recite this keyword: Hineini. Here I am.
Showing up can be underestimated. Does it really matter if I am there? Would it really matter if I go? I received a good lesson and reminder about the importance of presence again this week. In this era of protesting the separation of families by ICE, I was asked by a friend and colleague to attend the arraignment of a 14 year old at the Youth Detention Center in Seattle's Central District.
At first look, I did not think I could attend. I was scheduled to be with both my kids after picking one of them up from camp. It was short notice. I attempted to find someone else to go instead. And then I thought about it a little more. I prayed about it. I asked for my partner's thinking. And through these acts, I realized how doable it could be to be present myself. To be able to be serious in my listening and my response. To be able to say hineini.
After packing a bag of snacks, water, and activities for my kids, we rushed from camp pick-up to the detention center where I had spent many protests and prayer services over the past few years in support of the No New Youth Jail movement. As we pulled up, my oldest daughter remembered that she had been there before, not just at a protest or two with me in the past, but with her Seattle Public School field trip there to celebrate Juneteenth. Huh.
We walked inside to a throng of people assembled in support of this young man and his family. Each person that entered got an enthusiastic greeting from the crowd. Each person that came lifted the spirits of everyone else. After some waiting, and people greeting old friends and making new ones, it was time to enter the courtroom...but there was only room for 16 of us inside, we were being told.
I assumed to be support on the outside. Besides, I did not know the young man, and was not central to his family or their community. But there is something important about showing up for one another. My daughters and I were told we should be part of the 16, and together, a diverse network of people went into the courtroom to be present and supportive.
After hearing the defense and the prosecution, the judge ruled with the defense and mentioned the import of seeing a supportive community presence, and a commitment to taking responsibility for the defendant, in his ruling.
Our presence mattered. Kadima board president Jonathan Rosenblum said as we walked away from the community victory: "showing up is 90% of life." And our presence, this day, added up to at least that. Hineini.
The Three Weeks conclude this weekend and there are two more opportunities to show up. TODAY, at ICE headquarters, and again at the same location on Sunday, hosted by Kol HaNeshama, to commemorate Tisha B’Av.
It is my hope that I, and each of us, can show up in all the ways we can. For many, “never again is now,” while for others never again seems continual. Dr. King’s adage that “it is always the right time to do what right” reminds us that the need for our presence is constant. May we be blessed in our showing up and let us not shy away.
Note to Families from Mollie, Youth & Family Organizer, after the Shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, 10/27/18
Below is a note written by Mollie, Kadima's Youth & Family Organizer, after the shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in October of 2018. This week, 6 months after Pittsburgh, the Jewish community is again grieving after the shooting at Chabad of Poway in California. These words are still painfully relevant, and just as true as they ever were.
Hello, dear precious humans,
The only way I can think to start this email is just with a reminder that we've got each other, and that we get to keep having each other. It was so life-giving to get to be with those of you who came to the Havdallah Open Mic on Saturday (circus acts and toddler singer-songwriters and free form dancing and soul piano and so much more!) and also at the powerful and connecting community-wide potluck and service on Sunday night. And for those of you who have been tending to your souls in other ways, you also make this community, and your presence is felt. Please don't hesitate to reach out to me, Rabbi David, our brilliant teachers, each other -- let's stay connected as we settle into this week of continued collective grief.
And as we keep on, we will continue recognizing and naming the numerous and profound ways that this past Shabbat's violence in Pittsburgh is deeply tied to violence against so many other communities, we will continue to move through our own processes in only the ways each of us can, and we will also go to work, and to school, and to keep our days full and alive. And we will continue to hold each other, and all the precious young people in our community, with so much love and tenderness.
We will have Tuesday School as usual tonight, Shabbat School as usual on Saturday, a concurrent Shabbat Morning Service where you and anyone you want to bring is welcome, and will love on your kids unconditionally through it all. We are working hard to support teachers in supporting students in age-appropriate and young people-centered ways, and welcome any particular desires you'd like to share. Please remind your young people of the many adults here at Kadima who are available to them should they want to talk, hug, play, etc. For me personally, it is a true honor to be able to love each and every one of your kids as fully and openly as possible.
This article, Helping Children Exposed to Shocking Events, from Hand in Hand Parenting, may provide some useful framework about what your kids might be needing at this point, and tools to support them as they move through their own feelings. We also were sent this list of resources from Reform Judaism, Jewish Resources for Coping with Acts of Terror. If you find something in there, or somewhere else, that particularly speaks to you, please do share!
I also want to add a special plug for Community Signing tonight if you want to move some things through you with song. It will be in the sanctuary while Tuesday School is happening. Come and go as needed -- you are welcome at any point!
We are holding each of you, and each of your precious children, with so much love this week. Thank you for being in community.
Rabbi David shared these words on 3/18/19 at the Muslim Association of Puget Sound at their invitation during a Vigil and Anti-Islamophobia Teach-In responding to the horrid attack in Christchurch, NZ.
Yitgadal v'yitkadash, sh'may raba. (Amen)
May the name of the holy blessed One be made great and holy.
Asalaam aleikum, family.
With ahava rabah - a deep love and a caring spirit, today I am here to convey the Jewish community’s embrace and love for our Muslim siblings here in the Salish Sea region and throughout the world. We see you, and we are with you. We are you.
We know that violence can have different forms and particular targets. But I stand here today to tell you, my Muslim siblings, that we are one, and none of these hanieous violent acts of racism and Xenophobia will keep us from pursuing a we that includes us all.
I am here in these most mournful of circumstances, reliving the deep heartbreak of the attack on us all at the Tree of Life Synagogue by a white supremacist with aims similar to this past Friday's murderer.
Let us all rise up boldly together against the sacrilegious vile of white nationalism recognizing our own sins and complicity in feeding the growth of their movement. Let us continue to reach to one another as we have in synagogues and masjids, in the streets and at the coffee shop, in churches and neighborhood associations, in our workplaces and with our families of origin.
Let us not doubt that history is being written at this moment. Now it is more important than ever for the Jewish and Muslim communities to unite, and join our Black and Brown advocates for justice, in combating the forces that threaten all of us!
The Rabbi Joachim Prinz said at the March on Washington: “Neighbor is not a geographic term. It is a moral concept.” Together as neighbors, let us find our innate courage and our human resilience, our depth of compassion and our solidarity of protection, let our ancestors guide and our grandchildren demand, that while we mourn, we connect, and then we act, and we celebrate, even.
Years from now, we will have to answer what, if anything, we did to defeat the scourge of white nationalism and the plight of white supremacy. Let our answers be based in our actions of today. Let us keep trying. I believe in what we can do together.
And then. And then. And then we will have realized the prayer of the mourner's kaddish and have made great and holy the name of our oneness.
The ancient rabbis called used the named Yom HaKippurim for what today we call Yom Kippur. That holy day, a full half-year ago and just over a half-year away (because of the leap year), could be seen as the full reflection of the holiday now upon us - Purim.
Yom HaKippurim, literally, the day of the (multiple) atonements, has been drashed over and again as the day that is like Purim: yom (day) ha'k' (the likes) purim (of Purim).
But what does Yom Kippur and Purim have in common? For one, they are both days well beyond the ordinary. On one, we express this by abstaining from any food or drink, while on the other by excessive eating and drinking. Both Purim and Yom Kippur draw upon our relationship to uncertainty - one acknowledges the ways in which our enemies might strike arbitrarily (cursed be Haman) and the other acknowledges that we are lacking control in our lives in the refrain who shall live and who shall die. In each, we have a reluctant s/hero - Jonah who at first avoids prophecy and runs away from his calling, and Esther/Hadassah who does not want to hear Mordechai's ask of confronting the King.
Yet perhaps the most striking is the possibility in each of these holidays for reconciliation. Yom Kippur perhaps sets this up slightly more obviously: we are told that Yom Kippur atones for our relationship with G-d, but for relationships with other people, we must do the work of making things right. Similarly on Purim: we are told to go out and deliver treats to our neighbors and friends - mishlo'ach manot. In the days ahead, perhaps let us use this mitzvah of going out of our way to bring treats to others to notice who we feel hesitance to approach. For whom bringing a treat might be a confrontation of our own broken relationships. Perhaps this time can be used, should we choose, to reach out beyond the comfortable and bridge these two seemingly disparate holidays on opposite sides of the year - and in doing so, bridge a divide between ourselves and another human. May it be a season of increased joy uncovered through the repair of our relationships. Hag Purim simcha!
PS- Passover is coming! Check out this link for a preview of events, mutual aid, host-guest pairing, and more.
This is a letter written by Rabbi David in 2018 as we led up to the 2nd Seattle Womxn's March. The logistics and links are last year's, but the sentiment remains true!
Dear Kadima School Families,
When we marched together last year for the historic Seattle Womxn's March, it was evocative of "my legs were praying," as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said of his marching with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from Selma to Montgomery nearly 43 years ago.
In 2017, Kadima was able to organize a Shabbat meet-up, sing, make signs that called to our Jewish ancestors who fought for justice, have a dvar torah, motzi, and kiddush, and join the streets with 174,942 other local humans. That day, we taught our children what righteous indignation looks like. What showing up as Jews to resist oppression looks like. What joining together to celebrate womxn looks like.
Now in 2018, another Womxn's March is scheduled for the third Saturday of January, followed on Sunday by Womxn Act on Seattle: a day of action, network building, and learning on Sunday. As Kadima, we have chosen to still have Kadima School on Shabbat morning and encourage our people to attend the day of events on Sunday - particularly join Kadima teacher Ariel Zaslav at Casa Latina on Sunday at 10am for a panel on Intersectional Feminism featuring Kadima member Diana Falchuk and others. Find your local hub here and behold the opportunities for learning and community building!
We fully support the Womxn's March and have in no way decided to run our regular Shabbat programming as a protest to the march. We encourage our folks to join us at Kadima this Shabbat because this year has taught us about the many ways to resist.
When we as Jews are ourselves, make Shabbat, speak Ladino or Yiddish, interrupt silence, tell a joke to ease the tension, cook for 40 when there's only 4, or show up however we show up visibly as Jews doing our Jewish thing, we resist. Our existence and our remembrance of our ancestors is an everyday resistance that we celebrate each time we come together in Jewish community. This is our heritage.
And so, this weekend, we have some choices to make. Kadima School will happen at its regular time and place with the beginning of a very exciting chug session, an adult session focused on being Jewish at home from 10-11am over bagels and coffee, and catered lunch, as always. All with the continued joy and wrestle of doing our Jewish thing in a not-so-Jewish surrounding. And we persist.
What will we teach our children? That sometimes we march, and sometimes we study and play together, and sometimes we rest. That there are many ways to resist, and Shabbat is part of the long game. That being together as Jews is a priority in a world with many and sometimes competing priorities.
May this Shabbat be one of a special heightened awareness that “us being us” is a radical and powerful and brave act that we cannot take for granted. And may we laugh, may we resist, and may we eat. See you this Shabbat at Kadima and St. T's for the exciting continuation of the rest of our lives. And on Sunday, should this Shabbat end and we are again obligated to go out to do the work of Tikkun Olam, may we find expansiveness and connection in the networks we grow and learning we do, from a place of being grounded in who we are and how we have each other.
If you choose to head to the march after Shabbat School, we encourage you to self-organize (and take the Kadima banner if you’re up for it!) and find a way to form an organic and spontaneous (or not) Kadima contingent that catches the end of it. As of now, the march says it kicks off from Cal Anderson Park at 11:30am, so leaving Kadima after some lunch at 12:30 or so would mean you would still make a meaningful chunk of it.
Your individual family choice will be celebrated whatever you choose, just know that we want you with us and that, in and of itself, is a radical act.
This is the text of the talk given by Dan Berger to the Kadima community on erev Rosh Hashanah
Thank you for having me. I have to admit, it is strange to be up on stage on Rosh Hashana. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, I am shocked to be part of a congregation that would have me as its High Holidays speaker. Then again, I never thought I would be part of a synagogue whose High Holiday theme was intersectionality.
I have the difficult task of trying to talk with you about intersectionality in ten minutes or less. Intersectionality is an exciting but often misunderstood topic. At its root, intersectionality names the fact that, as the poet and socialist feminist Audre Lorde said, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” The term is often used to name the inseparability of identities and issues: that we do not just live along the axis of race or class or gender (or anything else) but need to account for the ways that they shape, inform, nurture, and determine each other.
The term has become something of a Rorschach test, meaning different things to different people. I want to note, though, that the idea itself came from Black feminist scholars and movements. The term was coined by the legal scholar Kimberle Crenshaw, who used it to describe the particular discrimination Black women faced. She had in mind the employment segregation of General Motors in the 1970s. At the time, African Americans could only work on the shop floor, and women could only work in the office. This was already a problem. But Black women could not get a job in the clerical staff because they were Black, nor could they get a job on the shop floor, because they were women. Intersectionality is how Crenshaw named the convergence of discrimination Black women faced, which both corporations and the legal system participated in. I encourage you to check out Crenshaw’s work with the African American Policy Forum. And if you haven’t done so already, I would encourage you to learn more about the history of Black feminist activism that inspired Crenshaw—particularly the 1978 statement by the Combahee River Collective, a socialist group who articulated the concept even before the term had come into circulation.
I want to use my time today, though, to talk about how intersectionality works in practice by focusing on one of the most important issues of our time: prison. Prison is an example of something a friend of mine once called “bad intersectionality.” Like the General Motors example Kimberle Crenshaw writes about, prisons index inequality. I am sure many of you know that the US has the world’s highest incarceration rate. With 2.2 million people incarcerated on any given day, the country also has more people living in cages than anywhere else on the planet. That number is bounced around a lot, but it is even more shocking when you consider that 10 million people pass through US jails in a given year. 70 million Americans, about one-fifth of the country, has a criminal record. The US is the only Western country with the death penalty, and the only one to put people in solitary confinement for years or even decades (even though the United Nations considers more than 15 days of isolation to be torture).
Of course, the people locked up in prison come from the most marginalized and oppressed sectors of society: Black and Brown people, people with mental or physical disabilities, Indigenous people and undocumented people, queer and trans people, survivors of domestic abuse and people who grew up in foster care, and people who occupy the intersections of many of these identities. And, Paul Manafort notwithstanding, the near totality of people in jails, prisons, and detention centers are poor and working class who couldn’t afford the costs of adequate legal representation. Prison is a form of racism and settler colonialism, a form of sexism and transphobia, a form of ableism and economic injustice.
I have said that prisons are an example of “bad intersectionality,” of the way repressive institutions prey upon people who are already disenfranchised. But my goal here today is not simply to provide a public service announcement on the evils of mass incarceration. Rather, I want to highlight the movement for prison abolition and transformative justice as an example of “good intersectionality.” By that, I mean movements that are grounded in people’s whole selves and that offer both immediate and long-term possibilities for change. To think about prison from an intersectional standpoint means recognizing our stake in ending mass incarceration. 70 million Americans, about one-fifth of the country, has a criminal record, as compared to about 14 million who belong to unions. We are all made through criminalization, in different ways. Many of us in this room likely either have a criminal record or know someone(s) who does.
I am especially glad to be speaking today, the final day of a three-week strike that prisoners in at least 17 states (and Canada) have participated in—including people incarcerated at the NW Detention Center. As with much of the history of prisoner organizing, the strike was planned and led by Black people who created a set of demands and coalitions that encompassed a broad, multiracial, multiethnic struggle against state violence. The strike is an example of good intersectionality in practice. The strike has raised specific demands for reforms, including a restoration of educational opportunities, parole, and voting rights for currently and formerly incarcerated people. They also call for an overhaul in prison conditions around the country.
I want to leave you, then, with a call to action for 5779.
What makes the prison strike and the prison abolition movement intersectional is their emphasis that people are not disposable, no matter what they are accused of doing. The humanness of people needs to be preserved and protected, and in fighting to preserve it we become more human ourselves. And we all have a role to play in that process. Much as we all lose when humanity is oppressed and abused, so too do all win when humanity is upheld and affirmed.
I find this idea of intersectionality evident not only in the prison strike but in my understanding of what it means to be Jewish. I’d like to close with one of my favorite poems: Linda Pastan’s “A Short History of Judaic Thought in the Twentieth Century”:
The rabbis wrote:
although it is forbidden
to touch a dying person,
nevertheless, if the house
he must be removed
from the house.
and who may I touch then,
aren’t we all dying?
your old negotiator’s smile
but aren’t all our houses
The horror of the Trump administration reminds us daily that all of our houses are indeed burning. A half-century of mass incarceration reminds us that they have been burning for a very long time. But the courage and bravery of people in jails, prisons, and detention centers reminds us that even if the fire cannot be quelled, the people inside can be provided sanctuary.
This past week presented itself with many reasons to be reminded of the deep gratitude I have for this community. On Thursday, over 40 Kadima members and friends - ranging in age from 20s to 60s with folks in each decade in between - gathered to learn from Cherie Brown about anti-Jewish oppression and the way it hooks with racism, particularly the ways in which when white Ashkenazi Jews operate from a place of fear (caused by thousands of years of anti-Jewish oppression), they/we can commit racism against Jews of Color and People of Color. Thus, healing from anti-Jewish oppression can be, in and of itself, an anti-racist act. Cherie presented us each with the gift of her new pamphlet on anti-Jewish oppression entitled "Anti-Semitism: Why Is It Everyone's Concern?" (co-authored by Amy Loes-Urbel). Copies can be ordered here and there are a few extra in the Kadima office if you'd like to claim one.
Not just Cherie's teachings, but the amazingly honest and resilient presence and words shared by community members in the room, served as amazing grounding for what the next morning would bring. Advertised as "Liberation Morning Shacharit Gathering" on our events, with location "TBA," A group of 60 people that included Kadima members and friends met outside the construction site for a new youth jail in Seattle's Central District. Three people of faith - a Unitarian pastor, a UCC pastor, and a Quaker - had all locked themselves to an I-beam inside the construction site in the hopes of their presence would force the halt of construction as part of the #PeoplesMoratorium, a project of the No New Youth Jail Coalition. I have been building relationships with organizers in the coalition for almost two years. Many of these organizers are Kadima members. Some are on our board of directors.
I have shown up more and more in solidarity with this work of ending mass incarceration and a militarized police department. In fall 2016, I supported Block the Bunker's campaign to remove a city budget increase to build a militarized police "bunker" in North Seattle. In January 2017, I signed on as an individual to the appeal to block the City of Seattle from granting Martin Luther King Jr. County the Master Use Permit to build the jail. This all on the heels of even the Seattle City Council and King County Council Members and Executive Constantine themselves calling for zero youth detention in the City and County respectively.
This past Friday, I had been in on the organizing of various members of King County's clergy to take action against the continued construction. While my three colleagues were locked to the I-beam inside, I was called upon to lead a prayer service - just as the Seattle Police Department had issued a dispersal order to the 60 people who were standing on the sidewalk supporting those inside. I put on my tallit (prayer shawl) and my t'fillin and declared the space one of prayer. I began leading the group, maybe one-third or one-quarter Jewish, in song.
The police began to encircle us using their bicycles as barriers creating an area in which, if we remained, we would be arrested. I continued to sing and intersperse the singing with Jewish teachings about liberation, the omer-period, and the liturgy. I stated toward the beginning of the service "never have I been so glad that Jewish services are so long.” It was clear that the chanting, meditative singing and a stance of prayer and connection with the holiness among and beyond us both transformed the space and confused the officers. The police did, though, begin arresting people who did not move beyond their bicycle barriers. Watching these people - mostly young people - make the conscious choice in the moment to stand their ground was deeply emotional, deeply empowering, and wrought with solidarity, sadness, and pride. At one moment, I walked over to one of my fellow pray-ers as they decided to get arrested and offered to put a hand on their shoulder as I kept singing. The officer nearest me told me that would be seen as getting in the way of the arrest, and so I leaned toward the person getting arrested, and we locked eyes as their hands were brought behind their back. The resolution in this movement is clear: no new youth jail - and as organizer Senait Brown has said: "This fight goes beyond the brick-and-mortar building. This is about fighting structural, systemic racism, and it has been about that from the beginning." This is not something to back down from. This is where the anti-racist theory and rhetoric hits the pavement.
The police came for me last and I had no intention of being arrested. Not that day. I walked as slowly as they would allow me - as they pushed my back - to beyond the barrier and continued to lead the service while the police took down the prayer space we had created. Mobile devices drawn, the scene was being filmed and tweeted. Others, meanwhile, had arrived in tallit. A fellow rabbinic colleague joined us. Pastors participated. We continued singing and drawing upon the well of our shared source of strength. We stood and sang until all our colleagues had been ushered to the police van for transport to jail.
Being there as a Jewish man was powerful. I was relishing the visibility of Jews celebrated by those who had gathered to resist the jail's construction. It was a rare occasion when prayer did not equal Christian, or even "interfaith." It was a Jewish prayer service which named the Duwmaish land we were praying on and explicitly carried with it an invitation that people be themselves, pray from their tradition, and add teachings and wisdom they rely on, all inside a Jewish positive and visible space - despite even the antisemitic comments overheard being said by a police officer.
And, then I was a man. I love being a man as much as I love being a Jew. I was a man taking up a lot of space to hold an intentional container in the face of state coercion - mostly masculine expressing (i.e. they looked like men to me) police officers. I had been asked to do this, and this is an important fact. Before the start of my service, a lead organizer said “We need you to take the space and lead….how long can you hold a mic?” I smiled. How long can a male rabbi hold a mic?! Indeed. I was being asked as a man, a Jew, and a white person, to take up space when mostly femme, queer, and womxn, many of color, lead this work. At Kadima, I hold these identities as well, though without the ask to “hold the mic as long as I can.” Understanding where and when and how to use my male, white privilege has been and still is a learning journey. Let those of us with one or both of these identities also ask: when to speak and when to listen? I had the rest of the day and night to think more about this leading into a mincha service back at Kadima - with no dispersal order - focusing on men and masculinity. With 11 Kadima folks present, we discussed gender identity and expression, and raised a topic we have not focused on much yet in our community. There was a diversity of age and gender in the room, and while most participants named their trust levels as decently high, there was a fair amount of caution in the room as well, particularly from transmasculine people in attendance; could a conversation about men and masculinity include them and not be dominated by cis-gender men? We can do and must do better. We read the section of Torah (Leviticus 19) that serves as the anchor text for tochecha - the Jewishly art of giving feedback when one does something wrong. We read excerpts from bell hooks, Penny Rosenwasser, and Mordecai Kaplan about male domination, masculinity, integrity, and personal and communal redemption. We sang, and we mourned. The cis-male people in the room acknowledged the desire to create space for cis-male people to work through their "stuff" and commit to more learning about sex, gender, and gender oppression.
All in all, this last week exemplified the power in this community. The power to stand up as accomplices. The power to hold space as Jews. The power to further conversations that lead to inclusion. I invite us all one step further in. Come out this May and join with one another as our power increases through the bonds we make in relationship.
Kadima members and friends share their personal experiences, insights, and beliefs.