Category Archives: Social Issues

Social causes, activism, and projects

For International Holocaust Remembrance Day – Poem by Marilyn Kallet

My Holocaust research started with SW Germany, where my relatives were rounded up. My great-aunt, Hedwig Schwarz, was the only Jew to escape deportation in Horb/Rexingen. She was handicapped before the Holocaust, fell off the transport car, and was rescued by a nameless person who took her to Marienhopital in Stuttgart, where the nuns cared for her. My sister, daughter and I visited the hospital to thank the current generation of sisters for taking care of Hedwig. They told us that Hedwig was the only Jew in the hospital, though there were some Resistance members; and they treated her with silence, because they thought that was the best medicine. Can you imagine!

Here’s a poem I wrote about echoes in Horb and a photo of Hedwig in her hospital bed, surrounded by photos of all the others who were taken. The poem was first published in Prism: An Interdisciplinary Journal for Holocaust Educators, and in Packing Light: New and Selected Poems, Black Widow Press. 2009.

Holocaust

Mezuzah
  In Memory, Hedwig Schwarz

In the doorpost of her house, a hollow
where the mezuzah used to hang.
I press my hand against the indentation,
my way of speaking to the past.

Touch the hollow where the mezuzah
used to hang.  In Horb, Nazis renamed her street
Hitlerstrasse.  My way of speaking to the past
is to listen, press the old men for answers.

1941, Jews were packed into Hitlerstrasse.
Now it’s a winding picture postcard road,
Jew-free, pleasant as it seemed
before Nazis pressed my family into Judenhausen.

I press my hand against the indentation.
Over Horb, a hundred doorposts echo, hollow.

I teach a poetry workshop in SW France for the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. The moment I stepped out of the car, an elderly neighbor started to talk to me about the Jews who had lived there. That part of France was a hotbed for the Jewish Resistance. Dr. Hirsch, radiologist, was taken my Mengele to work on medical experiments (he testified against Mengele at Nuremburg). His wife Berthe was taken to Auschwitz and gassed; the two children were hidden by the villagers. I met one of them, Nicole Hirsch, who is still traumatized though she’s over 80. We think we know about the Holocaust, but the individual stories still want to be told.

Welcome to the Apocalypse – by Marc Brenman

I have doubted the Zombie Apocalypse meme for some time, lumping it in the same category as vampires, werewolves, and romance novels. But lately, I’ve started to doubt myself. I developed the idea of the Rule of Stupids and the Epidemic of Stupidity long before Trump was elected President. I could not, however, explain why the American people were becoming so stupid. For several years I have suffered being called all sorts of vile names on social media because I obsessively believe in logic, reason, evidence, and facts. Most recently those names include “sealioning,” I kid you not. Look it up.

Continue reading Welcome to the Apocalypse – by Marc Brenman

#MeToo, Three, Four, and Five: A Thought Leadership Moment – by Deborah Levine

Why have women waited so long to tell their stories of sexual harassment, discrimination, pedophilia, abuse, and discrimination? How do we as individuals and as a nation process this tidal wave of information as people come forward? I’ve hesitated to tell my stories of sexual harassment because I’ve never been able to comprehend and digest them. The first time I experienced my feminine vulnerability, I was only four years old. I was playing outside in the garden of our home in Bermuda, when a teen-age neighbor squatted down next to me as I was playing with my favorite marbles in the garden. Smiling at me, he reached under my skirt and stroked my privates through my underpants. Before he walked away, he made me promise not to tell my father, silencing me.

Continue reading #MeToo, Three, Four, and Five: A Thought Leadership Moment – by Deborah Levine

To Kneel or Not to Kneel? – by Terry Howard

“The Robert E. Lee High School Fighting Leeman!”

There’s a cultural tug of war raging across the nation and it has seeped down into “small town USA,” my little hometown in Virginia notwithstanding. And seemingly there’s no end in sight.

On one side the argument is to remove the name of Robert E. Lee, a Confederate general, from the name of the local high school. No new news there. For those on the other the side, this is about heritage, not slavery, so leave things the hell alone. No new news there either. So the finger pointing rages on.

Continue reading To Kneel or Not to Kneel? – by Terry Howard

Faces of the Future: Generation Z

 What does the future of the US look like? The next generation is the focus of an NBC News special which features stories of their lives and expectations. The American Diversity Report is eager to share excerpts from that special on TODAY.COM
 
TO COME OF AGE IN 2017 in America is to enter adulthood in a time of often overwhelming turbulence. The country is deeply divided, technology is reshaping the world at a breakneck pace, and the future seems filled with uncertainty. As each day appears to bring with it another crisis, from unprecedented natural disasters to horrific mass killings to violent and vehement ideological clashes, questions lurk in the background: Who will inherit this world? And what will they do with it?

Continue reading Faces of the Future: Generation Z

Appalachia Burning: White Supremacists in Tennessee – by Rev. Jeannie Alexander

I’ve been wrestling with how to write about  white supremacists and modern day self-proclaimed Nazis descending upon my beloved home in Middle Tennessee where I stood with a small band of inter-faith women clergy, determined to push back hard – literally – against hate.  It was exhausting, heartbreaking, took weeks in planning, and ultimately was successful. But what the hell does success mean when you’re talking about shutting down white supremacists and Nazis?

It began as a plan, an absurd “dangerous” plan. A small collective of women clergy, and women of faith, came together and decided that we simply were not going to allow a torch march in Middle Tennessee. Some of our collective had been part of the counter demonstration in Charlottesville and bore witness to what was a very calculated, pointed message in an action seen far too many times in the history of this country. A mob of angry white men, with torches, marching through the countryside, with the end result of death, accentuated these days by the echoing chant of “blood and soil!”

And so the decision was made that we would track their movements through the weekend, and should the Nazis and white supremacists assemble for their terror march, this band of women was going to block them with our bodies, in clergy garb. The angry mob was going to be forced to show the world that they were willing to assault female clergy in their frenzy of hate.

In the early planning stage there were men involved with our little collective. When a decision was reached that the direct action was going to be to stop the torch march, they pulled out, called us crazy, and insisted that people were going to get killed.

But you see, that’s just it; people have already been killed. A torch march historically has a specific purpose, and that is to strike fear and terror into the hearts of the targeted population/individuals, with the end result being death; typically the torture and deaths of black bodies by lynching, or Jewish bodies, queer bodies, Communist, Anarchist, or the bodies of race traitors and sympathizers. Really, anyone who the “master race” identifies as “inferior.”

As anyone else knows who was tracking the racist chatter, a torch march was off and on again throughout the planning of the White Lives Matter event, and certainly throughout last Friday.
We spent Friday in small collective worship and preparation to basically have the shit kicked out of us. Some folks will say this is pointless, and what good does it serve? But our thinking was this – someone has got to say “No!” and for too many centuries it’s been black and brown bodies paying the price of fear and hate.

It was cold and windy as we walked through the historic neighborhood of Murfreesboro’s downtown toward the square. It was almost Halloween, and all I could think was that the scariest thing was actually happening, that we were walking through the night in this beautiful quiet neighborhood, toward an interfaith service, because we had credible information that there was a plan to disrupt the service with a torch march. It is 2017, and we had literally spent our day planning and preparing to disrupt self-identified Nazis. What world are we living in? The 1850’s, 1930’s? Have we become so numb, deaf, and blind to history?

Businesses on the square appeared ready for a disaster with boarded up windows and doors. A local pastor who had joined us explained that the windows were boarded up out of fear of counter demonstrators, not the white supremacists and Nazis.
Let that sink in and tell me please, why in the hell aren’t we all Antifa? Given the hard bloody lessons of history, why are we not all anti-fascist? What the hell have we sold our souls for when politicians can flippantly assert that people stridently opposed to Nazis and fascists are the same as Nazis and fascists?

And so, we spent Friday night on the move, and there was no torch march.

We proceeded Saturday to Shelbyville with not enough sleep. As everyone knows, the overwhelming counter demonstration drown out the hate rally pretty effectively.  Amidst all of the chanting, screaming, and playing of La Bamba from our side, I listened carefully to the speeches from the other side of the bridge.

I listened to the horrific sick screams of “Black Lives don’t matter!” and “I am a fascist! I am a Nazi!” and taunts of “Hey guys, where’s Heather Heyer, I don’t see Heather Heyer over there, do you?” And I also heard fear: a fear of the other, an anger expressed in asserting that other people flee from their countries to “avoid their problems,” and a corollary fear asserted in the statement “We don’t have anywhere to run!”

They don’t even know that they don’t have to run. Run from what? From hope? From our oldest richest tradition of offering sanctuary to the tired, sick, hungry and oppressed? In additional speeches some white supremacists claimed not to be Nazis, others proudly claimed to be Nazis; and still, others spoke of low wages, an inability to make ends meet, an abhorrence of private prisons, and a lack of healthcare. This was followed by an extolling of Trump and his promise to drain the swamp.

What we were faced with in low numbers on the other side of the bridge was this: poor whites being led and whipped into a frenzy by out of town urbane racists, a narrative that was utterly contradictory and disjointed resulting in an allegiance to fear and hate, supported by a false cultural and historic narrative that Jewish Communists run the world and integration is impossible, that the rich narcissistic pig in the White House actually identifies with them, and some pissed off little god is on their side.

When white supremacists were bemoaning the abuse of workers and low wages, and a lack of healthcare, while in the same breath castigating communists and spewing capitalists rhetoric, I was quite frankly left speechless, a rarity. Why the hell aren’t they communist, I wondered; and have they ever read Grapes of Wrath, because there sure were a lot of upside down twisted Tom Joads across the bridge from us.

I looked across the lines of militarized police, and deputized militia, into the faces of my enemy, and I saw Appalachia burning in their eyes. Standing behind the metal fence barricade with my feet rooted in the earth, I felt Appalachia running through my own veins. Some of those people across the line were my blood people too; and I cannot deny that the same God who created them created me, and what is holy and divine in me has still got to be able to see what is holy and divine in them if there is any hope for resurrection and restoration for any of us. I could feel their fear along with their misplaced anger and rage, but I could feel no sympathy. I can feel no sympathy when the final solution is genocide. I can feel no sympathy when the final solution is black bodies swinging from trees. I can feel no sympathy when the final solution is brown bodies trapped behind a wall – caged in CCA camps – or dying of heat exhaustion trying to cross a desert to find a better home for their children. I have seen the enemy, and if I do nothing then the enemy is me. There is no neutrality in this oldest of wars.

After the showing in Shelbyville, the Murfreesboro Saturday afternoon White Lives event never even occurred; although later in the night a roving band of angry cowardly white supremacists beat a woman in Brentwood.

This weekend we could not have functioned and operated without enormous support behind the scenes from legal observers, medics, and movement chaplains. They were with us Friday night before any crowds appeared, and they gave us the courage to do what we all felt deeply convicted was the right action, but nonetheless was a frightening action.

And after this weekend, what? I am sad. angry, and determined. I am grateful for this beautiful small collective of humans, who have just begun our journey together. I am full of hope, and moreover, I hope that you will join us in future resistance. And because I am an unruly ill-behaved woman, I really love our battle cry of “Shabbat Shalom motherf***ers!”

History, Monuments, and Culture Clash – by Deborah Levine

Any discussion of monuments and cultural symbols tends to be highly emotional, regardless of which side of the controversy you’re on. Here in Chattanooga, the controversy features the statue of General A.P. Stewart at the county court house. For some, Stewart represents post-Civil War bridge building and the creation of the Chickamauga Chattanooga National Military Park. For others, his Confederate uniform and the monument’s funding by the Daughters of the Confederacy symbolizes slavery followed by Jim Crow laws.
My experience with historical monuments began thirty years ago when I was hired as the junior of three assistant directors in the American Jewish Committee’s Chicago office. It was August and when a reporter from The Chicago Tribune called, I was the only staff person not on vacation.

Continue reading History, Monuments, and Culture Clash – by Deborah Levine

Addressing Social Isolation among Men – by Elwood Watson

Despite his material and enviable career success, Don, like many of his mid-20th-century contemporaries and many men today, more than a half a century later, was hampered by a common theme that is prevalent in the lives of many men — a lack of genuine friendships. The old saying that “the more things change, the more they stay the same” rings true in regards to this particular issue.

Men have chosen to become totally consumed with one’s career to the detriment of having any healthy relationships. There have been a number of theories and reasons from experts as to why so many  men have difficulty establishing and maintaining valuable, close relationships with other men. The social awkwardness and a rejection of intimacy with other men are present in fear of being viewed or labeled as gay. Societal mores have historically frowned upon it. Instead, men have chosen to become totally consumed with one’s career to the detriment of having any healthy relationships. Reasons aside, many individuals with the X/Y chromosome have a real deficit in their level of camaraderie with other men.

The undeniable conclusion from many psychologists, psychotherapists, mental health experts as well as testimony from a number of men themselves is that too many men have too few, if any, real male friends.
There has been a plethora of studies providing evidence that men who are largely friendless are living in an unhealthy situation, often resort to alcohol, engage in drug use, suffer from depression, and should reexamine their current predicament. Some things to consider:
Continue reading Addressing Social Isolation among Men – by Elwood Watson

Refugees: Are We Eating our Young? – by Deborah Levine

Islands at Risk

Refugee International reported a few years ago that a Kiribatian man tried to convince a New Zealand court to make him the world’s first climate change refugee. Kiribati is an impoverished group of Pacific islands vulnerable to rising sea levels.  He didn’t succeed, but many experts predict a growing number of displaced people seeking asylum because of global warming. The planet has limited drinkable water, fertile land, clean air, and food. The planet’s current supplies are steadily shrinking.

Continue reading Refugees: Are We Eating our Young? – by Deborah Levine