When I was a sophomore in high school, my history teacher showed us a film during Hitler’s reign. The graphic film gave me nightmares for over a week. In great detail the atrocities of the Jewish people were in front of my eyes. Bodies of loved ones were dumped into a pile as the families were forced to watch in the cold, emaciated and near death themselves. The scene of women standing naked outside, holding their hands over their private areas was appalling. Not long ago I read that some women would cut their skin and use the blood to give them coloring. That was what Hitler had done. It didn’t matter that some were German, his own people, it mattered that they were Jewish. I can’t fathom a person having done such harm. In an article it said that he loathed the Jewish population because they took away jobs. We’ll never fully understand or know what was behind his madness.
I was excited to return to Cincinnati where my father had been the CFO of the American Jewish Archives. I was on the road, speaking on Religious Diversity in our Schools and at Work at the invitation of a Women of Faith event sponsored by American Jewish Committee, Xavier University & the Brueggeman Center for Dialogue, Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati, and the Jewish Community Relations Council.
Now that so much of our work is done online and out teams communicate through cyberspace, it’s vital that cultural awareness, sensitivity, and competence in the area of religious diversity be part of the leadership tool box. Lessons learned from in-person presentations like this one should be reviewed and updated for a new world of long-distance work.
I hail from the family of Priests and Pastors in India. My tryst with “Om” and its significance in my life is immense. From early childhood, I was taught how to chant it with correct diction and feel so that it would bring my mind, soul, and body in unison with the vibrations of the chant.
I used to be an over active child and would never sit in one place to study or do anything with concentration and single-minded focus. The chanting of Om made my mind calm, it helped me focus on my studies and made me aware of my surroundings.
As a child, on Easter Sunday, my mother had my clothes neatly pressed laid on the bed. My wardrobe consisted of a light knee length dress, normally sky blue or ivory, with white socks, and white patten leather shoes. She’d tie a light blue ribbon in my hair and hand me rosary beads to place in my tiny white purse. Then my parents, brother and I went to church. I had been too young to understand the importance of the day. All I cared about was getting home to my basket of chocolate and toys. After mass we’d go to my grandmother’s house for pasta with simmering tomato sauce cooking on the stove and a rack of lamb with fresh garlic hot in the oven. It filled the room with a delectable aroma. Year after year we continue the same food tradition, not the wardrobe, and spend it with family. But this year may be different…
I’ve seen movies about it and even wondered if it could happen, but to live it, is surreal. Easter is April 12th. Will we be with family? Will anyone be able to spend it with their family or go to church? With Covid-19 aka Corona Virus across the world, who knows?
D&I – Intentionality
It’s exciting to start a new year and a new century with the hopes that this year will be better and offer many opportunities. The work in Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) must be intentional and not a one-time activity to check-off the box. Successful organizations in the field tend to have D&I as part of their organizational DNA just like safety. Some trends for this year include: intentionality and understanding for the business case for D&I, increase in unconscious bias awareness, and the expanding of the Muslim ban on its impact in the workplace.
I drove through town on the way to, I forget where, when I observed scores of places of worship of varying sizes – megacomplexes to storefronts – doting the landscape. Along the way, I wondered what it was like inside each of the ones I never sat foot in; how their services are conducted, and would I be welcomed in them.
Now when I reached my destination – ah, now I remember, a newly-opened bookstore – and browsed the shelves, I came across an eye-catching book, “How to Become a Perfect Stranger- The Essential Religious Etiquette Handbook.” So, just like that my “prayers” were answered.
In one of the most memorable forewarnings in social history, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere!”
Hold that premonition in the front of your mind now and in the days, weeks and months ahead. If you remember nothing else about this narrative, I urge you to remember that line.
“Donna” is a writer. She’s also Jewish, does podcasts and publishes a newspaper column. She takes risks with the topics she takes on which has, on an occasion, drawn the ire of hate groups in the US and from abroad. Yet “Donna” just keeps on writing.
“Donna” is also a friend and, as one can certainly understand, finds the recent spate of violence against Jews more unnerving than maybe for those of us who aren’t Jewish. (For her safety, I’ve chosen not to publish her actual name or location.).
You see, I reached out to her recently after the horrific anti-Semitic attacks on Jews and Jewish establishments which culminated with stabbings of multiple people at a Hanukkah celebration at a rabbi’s home in New York. I wanted assurance, first and foremost, that she and her husband were safe. I also needed advice on what those of us who aren’t Jewish could do beside uttering the usual “thoughts and prayers” before moving on the other things.
“Thank you, Terry. My husband has my back as do many friends and colleagues like yourself. Yes, what is happening is horrifying. These are scary times to put it mildly.”
Vintage “Donna,” she then turned adamant.
“I have no intention of going underground like many Jews do nowadays, and folks who know me know that about me. If my dad was still alive, he’d be proud but would have a bloody fit. “
“Yeah, ‘thoughts & prayers’ don’t really fit what’s happening. I’d say try visiting your local synagogue and ask if you can attend a Sabbath service. Stay after for the “oneg” (fancy word for snacks) and get the flavor of the congregation. Bring some folks with you if they permit. And get to know the people. Maybe you could write an article on what this anti-Semitism craziness looks like from an African-American perspective.”
Now like so many, we’re often left with what else can we do personally before moving on before the next assault grabs our attention. So in addition to the aforementioned advice from “Donna,” I reached out to several colleagues, including long-time friend, “Lisa,” an Asian-American. We shared our collective disgust with what’s been going on and exchanged ideas about what we in the non-Jewish community could do.
“Terry, I do believe strongly in prayer, so I would not discount the power of prayer. However, one addition may be to include more prayers out loud specifically on those facing religious persecution for their beliefs as I hear similar concerns from my Muslim friends and colleagues as well.”
“One thing we can do is to continue to support great venues that promotes shared values of kindness and how to be an upstander for human rights for all by remembering the past but also recognizing the work is still needed around the world today,” shared another colleague who asked to remain anonymous.
Said another, “A unified effort to focus on shared values of peace, harmony, love, respect, and creating a sense of belonging and inclusion for all would be my wish. If we can amplify the light of the world more to drown out the hate speech and those doing evil in the shadows, we can reach more people who are desperately in need of that hope.”
“Stemming the tide of hatred should start in the school where kids at an early age can learn the basics about tolerance, respect for differences, compassion and sharing,” shared author and playwright “Sheila,” who added that we all can speak up forcefully in the face of injustices.
Added “Lisa,” we can support organizations that promote religious understanding with donations or promoting them on social media and following and liking their posts too.”
There’s no doubt that Jews have taken anti-Semitism very seriously. We who aren’t Jewish must do the same.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere! – oops, did I say that already?
A close friend of mine asked what Little Christmas is. I answered that it’s called the “Epiphany,” and celebrated on the sixth of January when the three wisemen followed the star to Bethlehem in search of baby Jesus to worship and present him with gifts. She then asked why the wisemen followed the star and presented offerings to Jesus. I had no answer. I need an answer for my friend, or I’ll seem dense. I wouldn’t expect her to know being of Hindi religion, just like I don’t know anything about her religion, which makes me want to research it now. Getting back to the point–
In 2020, all segments of society must come to an understanding of each other and begin, together, to recognize that we are one humanity, merely many different shades. All the various perspectives of faith, race, gender, and culture must see ourselves as parts of the engine of humanity, parts of a sports team each with a different perspective that, when working in unison, wins championships.
When an anniversary falls on Yom Kippur, the most solemn holy day of the Jewish calendar, thoughts of living and dying take on cosmic proportions. Fortunately, it’s rare for the two milestones to collide given the differences between the secular and Jewish calendars. Both are celebrations, but Yom Kippur which ends the New Year’s ten Days of Awe, is a sacred time when the celebration of life is combined with contemplation its finite nature. This year, I have a double dose of introspection and my mind sought the path separating living from dying and wandered from wonder and gratitude to mourning and humility.