Russian President Putin got my attention when he suggested that Jews with Russian citizenship might have interfered in the 2016 US presidential election. “Maybe they’re not even Russians,” said Putin. “Maybe they’re Ukrainians, Tatars, Jews, just with Russian citizenship – even that needs to be checked.” Putin reminded me why my great grandparents made the harrowing journey from Russia and the Ukraine to the United States. My ancestors weren’t the only ones. Between 1881 and 1924, over 2.5 million East European Jews sought to escape the relentless persecution and ghettoization. The slice of history was captured in the movie Fiddler on the Roof, but while Hollywood entertained, it didn’t fully show the history of anti-Semitism in Russia and Eastern Europe, or its ongoing ripple effect.
Thanksgiving isn’t just food, family, football, and Black Friday. Not that there’s anything wrong with stuffing yourselves and your loved ones and then heading for the couch and TV or the shopping mall. All are fine American traditions celebrating the abundance in our lives, topped off with delicious left overs. But they seem more removed than ever from the holiday’s intended purpose.
That purpose was demonstrated at the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service held at Pilgrim Congregational Church. We sat in the pews listening to the harmonies of a choir made up of talented congregants from faith groups across the city. The graceful music surrounded and filled us as religious leaders representing Baha’i, Catholic, Humanist, Jewish, Muslim, and Protestant communities offered prayers and poems of gratitude and compassion.
When I heard that Holocaust Survivor Eva Schloss was speaking in Chattanooga, I seriously considered staying home. I know Holocaust stories all too well from my work in Holocaust education, the hand-typed memoirs of survivors sent to me, and my father’s World War II letters. Dad was a US military intelligence officer assigned to interrogate Nazi prisoners of war. His letters described their education into fascism and its authoritarian ultranationalism, dehumanizing minorities and suppressing opposition.
The Kavanuagh hearing featuring his accuser, Dr. Blasey Ford, was an emotional roller coaster for both “witnesses”, a term that implies a trial and jury although it was more of a job interview. Yet, this was an opportunity for the accuser of sexual violence to be heard and for the accused to rebut. The GOP senators chose a woman district attorney to question Dr. Ford, making it look like a trial where “innocent until proven guilty” applied. But this was a job interview, not a trial, and it focused on demeanor rather than legal jurisdiction.
Birthdays that end in zero are milestones to be celebrated, or completely ignored, depending on your point of view. I choose to celebrate my milestone by writing about the beauty and value of older women. Too often, the presence of older women can be used to delegitimize a good cause. There were several editorials about Women’s Marches calling them irrelevant because so many of the women involved were old, limping, and decrepit.
Maybe I should be used to this dismissive language, I’ve heard it often enough. I’m reminded of the time I gave a presentation at a national interfaith workshop in Huntsville. Wrapping up, I asked for comments from an audience of woman chaplains and pastors. The first question had everyone nodding their heads, “How do you get people to listen to you? Once I turned sixty nobody cared what I thought or said.”
Who doesn’t know about the cops being called on two black men at Starbucks? Don’t we all know that Starbucks closed its stores around the country to do unconscious bias training? But what would you answer if asked for a description of “Unconscious Bias”? Most folks will ramble, hem and haw, or just say, “I have no idea.” When asked to describe training to prevent unconscious bias from becoming outright prejudice and discrimination, the response may be a profound, dumbfounded silence.
According to immigration lawyers, children at the border as young as five will be in court going through the legal process. They’ll have to prove to a judge why they should not be deported. Separated from family and lacking legal counsel, the cruelty of their situation is magnified by anti-immigration comments: “They brought it on themselves” and “they had it coming”.
The education I received getting my Master’s urban planning degree at UIC decades ago had less to do with the classroom and more to do with developing the Windy City. That’s the nickname given Chicago more than a century ago, not for its weather, but for its gusts of political hot air. The hot issue of my time was planning the city’s high rise developments and rapid growth into nearby neighborhoods. A major land parcels under debate was home to inner city housing projects. The projects were built with the intent to alleviate poverty but had become African American islands battered by desperation over the lack of good schools, public transportation, decent jobs, and grocery stores.
There’s a spotlight today on the women attempting to transform longtime invisibility into success, money, and power. How’s that working for us? There’s been a disappointing 25% decrease in the number of women CEOs in the Fortune 500 in the past year. Several corporate women CEOs earn as much, and sometimes more, than their male counterparts including Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo, Debra Cafaro, CEO of real estate investment trust Ventas, and Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors. Unfortunately, women make up only 5% of CEOs in the Fortune 500. Astonishingly, only one Fortune 500 company has both a woman CEO and a woman chair of its Board of Directors. Just one.
On what would have been Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday the world will revisit his extraordinary leadership after his 1990 release from twenty-seven years in prison. Yet, Mandela’s influence was far-ranging long before the 1990s when he pulled together the South Africa that we know today, negotiated a rainbow nation, and became its first black president. I want to honor Mandela’s early impact and emphasize the global involvement in South Africa’s apartheid government and in its demise. The role of international financial institutions in the Mandela story is key for me both historical and personal. Lobbying the banks to divest in South Africa was the catalyst for my involvement not only in the anti-apartheid movement, but in the advocacy of civil rights over a life time.