Saturday, September 6, 2014

Jews and Social Justice

Pre-eminent among Jewish values in his mind, he said, is the call to do justice...Reform Judaism, which is the largest denomination in American Judaism, has a long tradition of social justice and activism, but it can be a challenge to convince many liberal, modern Jews of the need to live out those values in a Jewish context.... NY Times: A Rabbi’s Departure Manifests a Challenge for Jews in America
An interesting article a few weeks ago on Rabbi Andy Bachman of Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope. Given some of the attacks on the concept of social justice, especially as related to unionism and the roles both the UFT leadership and MORE are playing, I thought it time to remind people of this tradition.

Some think Jews should only do SJ work for other Jews. I remember in my early years of activism in support of the Black and Latino communities in Williamsburg that were being shut out of power in education due to alliances between the Hasidic and Polish/Italian political forces I was hanging out with my Assistant Principal, the guidance counselor and an orthodox teacher who taught 6th grade across the hall from me. This guy had been my Hebrew school teacher when I was 10 and he was so mean and brutal to us I went home sick after every class. Finally I told my mother I would not go back to Hebrew school. And I didn't, prepping for my Bar Mitzvah with a private rabbi who lived across the street (who died a month before my Bar Mitzvah - I had an alibi.)

Whenever he talked Judaism to me I reminded him of his role in driving me out of religion. On this occasion, the 3 of them were ganging up on me for my activism in support of the Black and Latino community. "You should worry about your own people," they were telling me instead of the "shvartsas." They were, as were many of my colleagues, concerned - this was a few years after the '68 strike and wounds were still raw. My afro was growing out, as was my beard, so I looked the part and constituted a threat on the school and district level.

Not soon after, the Dist. Supt and the UFT District Rep paid a visit to my AP, suggesting he find a way to give me a U rating. He refused - and never became a principal. He always joked that in standing up for me his career was killed.


Now there was a mensh - he performed an act of social justice - for another Jew of course, but SJ just the same.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! What a story and what a brave man your AP was. This is what I mean about pitting teacher against teacher. And how sad it was, even then, people were willing to destroy careers based solely on ideology. It's one thing to voice your opinion, it's another when you are attacked for doing so. Teachers attacking teachers is only going to lead to a horrible ending. I see so many bloggers attacking teachers who supported the NYPD by wearing T-shirts by implying or out right saying they are racists. We don't know that to be a fact. We just know they don't agree with the UFT on this issue. We are living in a world where if you don't agree with us, you are against us. And that's scary. Mulgrew and Randi opened up a can of worms allying themselves and our union with Sharpton, and that alliance is growing deeper every day. People forget how he rose to power. MORE tried to rise above it but allowing their members to follow their own heart. But obviously this wasn't good enough. It's either my way or the highway.....very much the Mulgrew call to arms. Social justice takes many forms and the foremost should be allowing people to voice their opinions and then reaching the best compromise possible. Otherwise we should just join the Tea Party.

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