There is no Other

This morning, I was proud to join my Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman, as President of Congregation Shaarei Shamayim, at the public announcement of the formation of the Dane Sanctuary Coalition. Together with First Unitarian Society, Advent Lutheran Church ELCA, Community of Hope United Church of Christ, and Orchard Ridge United Church of Christ, with support from First Congregational United Church of Christ, First Baptist Church, James Reeb Unitarian Universalist Congregation  and Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, our faith communities have joined together to provide sanctuary to immigrants and refugees who are under threat of deportation due to, “immoral immigration policies that threaten families, instill fear in our communities and violate the most basic ethical standards of our faith traditions,” as so eloquently stated by Rabbi Bonnie Margulis.

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When Kelly Crocker, Minister at the First Unitarian Society, with whom my synagogue shares space and thus joins us in offering sanctuary, gave her remarks, she offered a profound way of viewing the world.

There is no other, just a neighbor you haven’t met yet.

Her simple statement resonated with me as I stood behind her this morning. It is among many reasons why my synagogue joined this coalition and why we offer sanctuary in a public manner. We join together in order to build community, not destroy families and the communities in which they live.

Last week, the Dane Sanctuary Coalition wrote letters to local Mayors, the County Executive and law enforcement officials, to let them know that we are publicly offering sanctuary to immigrants and refugees under threat of deportation. We do so at some risk to ourselves and our faith communities. But we are willing to take that risk to help protect our vulnerable immigrant and refugee neighbors from oppression. After all, we are a nation of immigrants and virtually all of us are here because either we or one of our ancestors immigrated here.  We sincerely appreciate that Madison Police Chief Mike Koval responded by stating:

I am always appreciative when constituents step up to make Madison a more inclusive and accessible community for all.

In our congregation’s recent newsletter, which informed our community that our Board of Directors had voted to join the Dane Sanctuary Coalition, our Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman wrote:

As a Jewish community we are called to welcome the stranger and protect the oppressed. Out of a deep sense of social justice, we are responding to the urgent needs of Dane County’s immigrant communities, and we will stand with them in this act of solidarity.

Sanctuary can provide a deterrent to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), thus giving the individual an opportunity to plead his or her case in court rather than being summarily deported. Providing sanctuary is a humanitarian act for an individual, as well as an opportunity to raise public awareness of deportations in our community. We are not hiding an individual; rather we are publicizing our action in the media and to ICE. This makes a powerful public statement that we will not stand idly by.

Offering sanctuary is a centuries old method which faith communities have offered to protect vulnerable people from oppression. I am thrilled that in my leadership role as President of my synagogue, we are now part of the growing New Sanctuary Movement which includes over 1,000 congregations nationwide offering sanctuary to immigrants and refugees under threat of deportation.

Providing sanctuary to people under threat of deportation will take a huge community effort, but I am confident that our faith communities will succeed in this effort and I look forward to the day when immigrants and refugees are welcomed in our nation and offering sanctuary is no longer necessary.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

The Need to Connect

A few days ago, I was reading an interesting article entitled Separated at Birth in which the author seeks out adults who were born on the same day in the same hospital as he was in 1949. He describes a variety of common themes that he has with his fellow baby boom generation members, but one particular quote from one of his birth mates struck a chord. He suggested that the reason the author, Daniel Asa Rose, was on this quest was that,

You’re interested in what connects Homo sapiens. You grasp the plain, astronomical truth that we’re on a microscopic pebble hurtling through space at sixty-seven thousand miles an hour–and in a very real sense, connecting with one another is the only thing that matters.

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Since November’s election, I have received daily inquiries about how to respond. My usual quick response is to advise people to act locally and give hugs. While this may seem simple, what I am really suggesting is that the more we connect with each other, the harder it will be for those who seek to divide and conquer us to succeed.

Ever since he started his campaign, and throughout his first few months in office, the President has utilized classic demagoguery to disconnect us from each other. He and his allies actively encourage hatred, arrest and deportation of those who do not look like him. That is why so many of us have such an unsettled feeling. Since a healthy society requires that people connect with each other, living under the leadership of an administration that seeks to destroy that state of connection raises our anxiety level to unprecedented societal heights.

While I support those who seek to change the leadership in Washington, this task truly starts by digging deep community building roots at the local level. For me, it includes;

  • making eye contact as I walk down the street, thereby acknowledging the humanity of every stranger I encounter;
  • living in a neighborhood with sidewalks where neighbors and strangers regularly encounter each other on a daily basis;
  • mentoring youth who face daily struggles with poverty and discrimination;
  • supporting those released from incarceration to succeed upon entering our community;
  • leading my religious community in a manner that helps our community connect with disenfranchised communities in order to combat racism and xenophobia;
  • providing support to friends and family both near and far to maintain connections and offer help when needed;
  • leading a local lake district to work together to protect the environment;
  • engaging in genuine dialogue to build consensus to solve problems rather than sow divisiveness; and
  • providing unique legal and consulting services to disenfranchised clients who likely would not find the help they need elsewhere.

These paths of connection are simply the ones that I choose. Everyone can choose their own path to connect with friends, family, neighbors and strangers, but connect we must. Through a web of connection, we can build hope. Failure to do so will allow demagoguery to prevail.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Responding to Hate

As a civil rights attorney, I have spent over 3 decades using the tools of my trade to respond to hate that has been unleashed upon my clients. However, until recently, society has generally supported victims of hate and vilified the hate mongers. Sadly, the campaign and subsequent election of our president-elect has resulted in something I had hoped I would never see in my lifetime-the legitimization of hate.

Even a casual news observer cannot help but notice the daily occurrences of swastika graffiti, beatings and even killings of Muslims, and shaming of schoolchildren of color. On the Saturday night before this past Halloween, I went to see friends who perform in a local band at a nearby neighborhood club. Many were dressed up in a wide variety of costumes. Before the show, a complete stranger sitting next to me wearing a long Pinocchio nose, apparently thought it was completely ok to tell me a vile anti-semitic joke. Whether he knew I was Jewish does not matter. What was most disturbing was that he felt completely free to spew his hate in public to a total stranger.

Though I consider myself a strong advocate, I was so stunned when that stranger shared his anti-semitism with me that I failed to respond. I have been thinking about this incident ever since to try to understand my failure to respond. Beyond just being in shock, I also did not want to cause a scene at an otherwise festive public affair. But after I posted this incident on Facebook and a number of friends said they would have responded strongly, I realized 2 important things:

  • Never judge how someone responds to a crisis because you never know how you will respond if confronted with the very same crisis; and
  • It is often easier to respond on behalf of someone else than to actually defend yourself.

Sadly, once the election was over, the president-elect moved quickly to make sure the world understood that he would continue to legitimize hate when he appointed a purveyor of hateful prejudice, Steve Bannon, as his Chief Strategist, a position in the White House that has never previously existed. For those who are unaware, Bannon was the editor of Breitbart.com before joining the president-elect’s campaign. In that capacity, he regularly denigrated Jews, Muslims, homosexuals, people of color and women, and he did so in vile and hateful language. Until recently, such a man would not be accepted in civil society, but since the president-elect has normalized hate and prejudice, he has now welcomed it, through Bannon’s appointment, to the highest level of his White House.

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Fortunately, yesterday, I was given a chance to respond belatedly to the anti-semitism I experienced, when a local TV news reporter called me in my role as President of my synagogue, Shaarei Shamayim, to ask if I would be willing to publicly respond to my Congressman Mark Pocan’s call that the president-elect withdraw Bannon’s appointment. I gladly agreed to do so and you can watch my interview at this link.

During this interview, I was able to convey the following in response to Bannon’s appointment and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s acceptance of it:

“Our president-elect has chosen to legitimize hate within his own administration. We had a big Bat Mitzvah this past weekend (and) people are worried. They’re very worried. He has an opportunity – Speaker Ryan – to say directly to the President of the United States – hate does not belong in the White House. I understand that he was just renominated as Speaker of the House, but that’s not leadership to duck a question like that.”

This TV news story not only provide me with the opportunity to delegitimize hate, but as the story has been shared widely, local leaders have approached me to work with them to strategize on an organized local response. I look forward to doing so in the days and weeks to come. Unfortunately, given the results of our recent election, this will just be the first of many battles which good people simply cannot shy away from. The timing and manner of each of our responses to hate will vary, but respond we must.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

 

Building Community: Now more than ever

Like many people around the world, the election of an American President who has actively engaged in and encouraged racism, sexism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia, frightens me. It reminds me of why I never bank on electoral politics to provide the solutions to our nation’s and our world’s problems. Of course, I vote, but in the end of the day, I only have one vote, and in this particular instance, even when the candidate I favored won a majority of the popular vote, our political system nevertheless gave the Presidency to her opponent.

I have spent my entire professional career working for progressive systems change. This election does not alter that. In fact, it will only cause me to work harder on behalf of the disenfranchised people I represent. A former colleague once called me a “good loser.” At first I did not understand that she was giving me a compliment. Then, she explained, that I never give up even after losing a hard fought battle. I simply examine the new situation for the best way forward and get back to working on making our world a better place. That is what we all must do right now.

Starting last night, many people have asked me what they can do in response to America electing perhaps the scariest President in its history. My sister-in-law just called me in tears. The vast majority of our nation was targeted by our President-elect, including women, people of color, Muslims, Jews, Mexicans, and people with disabilities, as somehow less worthy. But we know better. We also know that, now more than ever, we need each other, and together we can still accomplish great things.

So, here are a few suggestions (with underlined links to prior posts for more detail):

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So, today, give hugs to friends and family. Tomorrow, start looking for local projects that you can dive into to make your local community a better place. Together we can build community and create a better world for everyone.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive, effective systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

We are all Muslims

While many have weighed in on the racist xenophobia spewed by Donald Trump’s call for registering American Muslims and keeping Muslim visitors and refugees out of our country we know as the land of the free and the home of the brave, we must also face the very scary question of what each and every American would do if this very dangerous fascist actually became the President of the United States.

At times like these, each of us must decide whether we will allow racism and xenophobia to divide friends, neighbors and fellow citizens, or whether we will choose to fight back and unite against fascism.

Recently, Israel honored a non-Jewish American soldier for his bravery in saving other Jewish prisoners during World War 2. As reported by the Jerusalem Post:

An American non-commissioned officer who defied the Nazis while in captivity by refusing to identify Jewish POWs was posthumously honored with the title of Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem on Wednesday.

The title, granted after extensive research and corroboration, is intended to honor those who risked their own lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust.

Captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge, Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds of the US 422nd Infantry Regiment was the senior officer in the American section of the Stalag IXA prisoner of war camp.

When Nazi guards demanded all Jewish prisoners report the following morning, in a move reminiscent of the movie Spartacus, Edmonds instructed all soldier inmates in the camp to show up alongside their Jewish comrades.

When camp commandant Major Siegmann saw the entire American contingent standing and identifying as Jews he exclaimed, “they cannot all be Jews,” and Edmonds replied, “we are all Jews.”

Siegmann then drew his pistol on Edmonds, who coolly responded that “according to the Geneva Convention, we only have to give our name, rank and serial number. If you shoot me, you will have to shoot all of us, and after the war you will be tried for war crimes.”

Outfaced by Edmonds, the commandant turned and walked away.

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Edmonds was not Jewish. But to combat the Nazi persecution of the Jewish people, he declared himself and all of his fellow soldiers Jewish.

I am not Muslim, but if Trump is elected as the next President of the United States and he starts registering American Muslims, I will do as Sgt. Edmonds did. I will stand with my Muslim friends, neighbors and fellow Americans, and declare myself to be Muslim.

Our country will not become safer through hate and xenophobia. It will become safer by expanding the compassion footprint  as the wise Muslim author Dahlia Mogahed co-author of, Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think, speaks about. When I heard her speak in Madison some time ago, she explained that just like global warming cannot be stopped merely by each of us taking small actions, but indeed, requires systemic reform of the way we produce power and energy in our world, the social ills of our world, cannot be completely solved by small individual acts of compassion. However, this does not render those acts of compassion useless or unnecessary. Rather, those individual acts of compassion can help build a movement to demand systemic change in the way our society approaches social ills such as poverty, inadequate education and discrimination.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

 

Donald Trump: a 21st Century Charles Lindbergh?

As the nation suffers through Donald Trump’s bombastic racist xenophobic campaign for President, and wonders whether his campaign will have enough staying power to carry him into the White House, I was reminded of Philip Roth’s fictional account of Charles Lindbergh’s defeat of Franklin Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential campaign, entitled The Plot Against America.

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While Lindbergh is best remembered for his valiant trans-Atlantic flight, during the 1930s, he revealed himself to be a known anti-semitic Nazi sympathizer. Nazi military leader Herman Göring presented him with the Commander Cross of the Order of the German Eagle, on behalf of Adolf Hitler, in 1938, the same award the Nazis presented to another famous American anti-Semite, Henry Ford earlier that year.

Lindbergh actively opposed entry into World War 2, which was not that uncommon prior to Pearl Harbor. What was more disturbing about Lindbergh’s opposition to the war was his clear sympathy for the so-called racial purity theories espoused by the Nazis. He spoke at America First rallies and in 1939, published an article entitled Aviation, Geography, and Race in Reader’s Digest in which he stated,

We can have peace and security only so long as we band together to preserve that most priceless possession, our inheritance of European blood, only so long as we guard ourselves against attack by foreign armies and dilution by foreign races.

In his diaries, Lindbergh wrote,

We must limit to a reasonable amount the Jewish influence … Whenever the Jewish percentage of total population becomes too high, a reaction seems to invariably occur. It is too bad because a few Jews of the right type are, I believe, an asset to any country.

While Lindbergh did not run for President, he had an avid following which makes Roth’s book both realistic and frightening. I highly recommend it, and for those who have not read it, I will not reveal the ending.

I doubt that Roth had Trump in mind when he wrote The Plot Against America, but the lessons in that book which reveal how racist xenophobia can quickly catch fire in our nation and potentially elect a candidate who spews vile hate to the most powerful job in the world are well worth heeding. Recently, some have compared Trump to the infamous red-baiting Senator Joe McCarthy, and like McCarthyism, the media has some responsibility in fueling Trump’s rise.

Hopefully, Trump will not rise as far as McCarthy, but will fall as hard as he did when he was finally discredited. Whether you prefer the McCarthy comparison or the Lindbergh comparison, Trump’s vile racism does not belong in the White House. Our nation has a long way to go in defeating racism, but we turned a corner in electing Barack Obama twice, and we must not allow the pendulum to swing so far back we end up with a xenophobic racist in the White House.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.