Category Archives: Make a Difference

Projects that are making a difference, improving lives, and building communities.

Bridging the Choice Chasm – by Dr. Shalini Nag and Surya Guduru

A path to a sustainable future

As we get look ahead to 2023, sustainability takes center stage, yet again. Can we really achieve a sustainable future? Today, we posit that we can, if we are able to apply the equity and inclusion lens to the problem and bridge the Choice Chasm – the seemingly unbridgeable gap between the haves and the have-nots, between developed and developing nations, between incumbent practices and emerging norms.

Aftershocks from the Covid19 pandemic exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, combined with climate chaos made 2022 a chronicle of global challenges. These include the intermittent resurgence of Covid variants, the mental health epidemic, continued supply chain disruptions, internal displacement in Ukraine, worsening food crisis in the world’s most vulnerable regions, and a global energy crisis. By October 2022, weather disasters alone cost nearly 20,000 lives and 30 billion dollars, refocusing governments and organizations alike on sustainability. 

Continue reading Bridging the Choice Chasm – by Dr. Shalini Nag and Surya Guduru

Technology Trends and Diversity – by Sridhar Rangaswamy

Technology is a dynamic and an ever-changing arena. There are always changes taking place in the field of technology due to new inventions and discoveries and to keep up with the expanding demands of the consumers.

In the earlier days we just had the landlines.  The first cellular was discovered in April, 1973 by Martin Cooper, a Motorola Engineer, while walking and thinking about contacting someone on the streets of New York.

Continue reading Technology Trends and Diversity – by Sridhar Rangaswamy

Increased Youth Engagement and Educational Productivity – by Ainesh Dey

Abstract

Education is a passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those, who prepare for it today”, as proclaimed by eminent civil rights activist, Malcolm X, bears a deeper intellectual connotation. It brings out the very holistic foundation of education as an instrument of social awareness and development,  with a subtle mention of its contemporary beneficiaries, “the Youth”. Yes, it is the young people who through their rational interpretation of core educational principles, harness the progressive socio-political development of the world. 

The recent phenomenon of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent shift to the digital mode of learning, have accentuated the need for increased efforts towards larger educational accessibility, quality and affordability, central to the role of global development in complete coherence with the recently initiated in the “Education for All” under the broader purview of the “Millennium  Development Goals”, laid out by the United Nations, thereby demanding more nuanced responsibility of the young blood in spearheading a meaningful atmosphere of social inclusion , cohesion and stability.

Continue reading Increased Youth Engagement and Educational Productivity – by Ainesh Dey

EHLI: Inclusive or Elitism – by Dr. Deborah Ashton

 Stanford University’s Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative (EHLI)

Stanford University in December of 2022 issued the Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative (EHLI) to eliminate potentially harmful terms used in the United States within the technology community. Most of the recommendations are trying to avoid trivializing people’s experiences and avoid devaluing others. Other recommendations, from this reader’s experience, are a stretch and assume that we are not able to distinguish the context in which a word or phrase is used. 

The EHLI is a courageous and noble endeavor. I would also argue it is US-centric, Anglophilia, and elitist! And may or may not be transferrable to the larger society.

The following is a sampling of the terms/phrases in the EHLI’s thirteen pages of terms and my reaction to them. 

Continue reading EHLI: Inclusive or Elitism – by Dr. Deborah Ashton

UNTOLD Stories of a World War II Liberator

American Diversity ReportAward-winning Documentary

 

CHATTANOOGA, TN: (scroll down for link) As antisemitism and Holocaust denial grow world-wide, it’s vital to hear these first-hand stories of WW II and the Holocaust. Deborah Levine, daughter of a World War II military intelligence officer, has created this documentary as a tool for counteracting hate and for Holocaust education. Her father, Aaron Levine was a ” Ritchie Boy” trained at Fort Ritchie, the U.S. secret military intelligence camp focused on training men, often Jewish immigrants who spoke German, to interrogate Nazi prisoners of war.

Hear the wartime perspective of Aaron Levine as he liberated death camps, served as a spy, and wrote letters about his experience. Be inspired by the love letters of Estelle Swig Malloy, a Special Education pioneer whom Aaron married after they graduated from Harvard. Then hear the memoirs of Polish Holocaust Survivor, Leon Weisband who documented the Nazi invasion of his hometown.

“No student of history can come away from this without a deeper understanding of the sacrifices that were made to end the Holocaust and of the power of storytelling to heal the human heart.”
~ Dylan Kussman, Hollywood actor/producer

From her roots in the only Jewish family to have lived in Bermuda for 4 generations, to her role as a Forbes Diversity & Inclusion Trailblazer, Deborah has been dedicated to “Tikkun olam”, Hebrew for “repair of the world”. This latest project is decades in the making, has won awards in 7 film festivals and will be broadcast by Jewish Life TV on ROKU in 2023. Take advantage of this link to see the documentary today and make plans to share it widely.

CLICK for UNTOLD, Stories  of a WW II LIBERATOR

Director:  Dennis Parker.
Narrator: Deborah Levine, author.
Actors/Readers:
Aaron Levine is played by actor/director/producer Dylan Kussman
Estelle Levine by Charlene Hong White
Aunt Polly by Trish Ross
Leon Weisband by Joel Scribner
Secretary of State Cordell Hull by Greg Glover
Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter by George Hoctor
Reporter by Chase Parker (no relation)
Music by Aaron’s nephew, Hollywood composer Michael Levine

CLICK for the memoir series: The Liberator’s Daughter

Hey Nancy, got a sec? – by Terry Howard

Here’s my question to the men who are about to read this piece: 

Based on what you know for sure, or have been fed by the media about her, if you were to find yourself seated next to Nancy Pelosi on a five-hour cross country plane ride and initiated the conversation, what would you talk about, avoid talking about and why?

So how about I give you, say, one minute to absorb and craft your answer to that question. Go ahead. No, wait, on second thought hold off on your answer until the end of this narrative.

Continue reading Hey Nancy, got a sec? – by Terry Howard

Hate enablers should not prevail – by Deborah Levine

Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

Have you heard that Kanye West might buy the self-styled free speech platform called Parler? Supposedly “conservative”, the app was used to organize and recruit for the Capitol siege. Parler continually enables hate with accounts that use swastikas as their profile pictures along with posts with Holocaust denial, antisemitism, and racism. Proud Boys, QAnon conspiracy theorists, anti-government extremists and white supremacists have all promoted their views on Parler.

Continue reading Hate enablers should not prevail – by Deborah Levine

Diversity and Speech Part 32: Language Tensions of Speech and Social Justice  – by Carlos E. Cortés

Most public surveys about free speech and the First Amendment go something like this.

  • “Do you believe in the idea of free speech?” Overwhelmingly yes.
  • “Should group slurs be allowed?” Overwhelmingly no..
  • “Do you support the First Amendment?” Overwhelmingly yes.
  • “Should hate speech be permitted?” Overwhelmingly no.

What gives? Aren’t these positions inconsistent? Yes, in the abstract or in the arcane world of constitutional interpretation. No, in the walk-around world where most people reside. Turns out most people like the idea of being protected from government interference with their use of speech. But they also like it when governments and private entities step in to mute certain categories of speech, categories that they might consider harmful, divisive, offensive, or misleading. The problem is that people do not agree on which speech categories should be banned. One person’s sense of truth telling is another person’s sense of disinformation.

Continue reading Diversity and Speech Part 32: Language Tensions of Speech and Social Justice  – by Carlos E. Cortés

Antisemitic Rhetoric on Chattanooga Campus – by Rabbi Craig Lewis

Of all the times to learn that about antisemitic literature circulating in my city, the news reached me during the intermission of “Fiddler on the Roof.” It is a great show that captures a moment in time, combining the folklore of Sholom Aleichem, the imagery of Marc Chagall, and great music by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick to tell a story from the collective Jewish memory. As with true Jewish history, it includes the good and the bad parts of being Jewish. We love “Tradition,” but much of our tradition has been built under the weight of oppression. “Fiddler” does not ignore this as the Russian constable’s promise of a pogrom, a violent attack against Jewish communities, mostly in the Russian Empire. Like Chekov’s gun, the mention of a pogrom comes to fruition and disrupts the joyous wedding scene. Being that this is still musical comedy, the pogrom is sanitized: a few goose pillows are torn up, a table flipped over, and one wedding guest is beaten. There is just enough to suggest what really would have happened. An informed viewer of the show knows it more likely looked like the description from Chayim Nachman Bialik’s poem, “The City of Slaughter,” written about the 1903 pogrom in Kishinev. Here are a few excerpts:

Behold on tree, on stone, on fence, on mural clay,
The spattered blood and dried brains of the dead….

A tale unfold horrific to the ear of man:
A tale of cloven belly, feather-filled;
Of nostrils nailed, of skull-bones bashed and spilled;
Of murdered men who from the beams were hung,
And of a babe beside its mother flung,…

And when thou shalt arise upon the morrow
And go upon the highway,
Thou shalt then meet these men destroyed by sorrow.

These are the images brought to mind by the word pogrom, which marks the end of the show’s first act. Walking to the lobby, I opened my phone to discover a text message from a Jewish student at UTC (University of Tennessee- Chattanooga) who had discovered the antisemitic flier. 

As if it were fact, the flier stated:

“At the height of American slavery, 78% of slave owners were ethnic Jews.” It also asserted that “40% of the Jewish population were slave owners, while only 0.35% of white Americans owned slaves.”

Then there were three footnotes, one presumably to The Historical Encyclopedia of World Slavery by Junis Rodriguez, and the other two to census data posted on websites of legitimate Jewish organizations. There is so much that is wrong with this flier, my head spins trying to unpack it. First, we start with the statistics and the footnotes. The footnotes do not even come close to supporting the figure it claims. Following the first footnote brings you to a statement that Jews comprised about 1.25 percent of all the slaveowners in the antebellum South,” a far cry from the statistic the flier wanted to prove. Then from the census data linked to the other two footnotes, I tried to determine how the 78% figure was contrived, but it is impossible. Secondly, in addition to making unsupported statistical claims, the flier also sets in opposition “ethnic Jews” versus “white Americans,” as if the Jews in America were not true Americans. Thirdly, and this, in my opinion, is the most important consideration, we have to ask what motivates someone to plaster such misinformation around a college campus, which sits within walking distance of three synagogues and a Jewish cemetery?

Forced to rebut falsehoods, we allow everyone to miss the point. There are nefarious forces trying to sow distrust of Jewish people. They advance a conspiracy theory that there is a hidden truth the Jews do not want you to know. They pit “ethnic Jews” against the pure “white Americans,” and they invite African-Americans to believe the Jewish people are singularly responsible for their oppression. It is damaging and painful, in part because of the historical bond between Blacks and Jews during the Civil Rights movement and beyond, and also because it makes the Jewish community, as a vulnerable minority, hounded by outrageous conspiracy theories since the Middle Ages, fearful that words will lead to action. Labeled as “Christ Killers” during the Crusades, Jewish villages were attacked by religious zealots as they made their way toward the Holy Land. Victims of the “Blood Libel,” a false claim that Jews kidnapped and tortured Christian children to use their blood in the making of Passover matzah, many Jews were wrongfully imprisoned and murdered. Viewed as being untrustworthy and greedy, Jews were expelled from Spain, France, and England. And as the subject of a fictional work, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” which was sold as a historical document, allegations of a Jewish plot to control all the world’s wealth and government led to acts of violence against Jews, first across the Russian Empire and eventually around the world. The accumulation false claims about Jewish people motivated attacks, like the fictional pogrom represented in “Fiddler on the Roof,” or the very real Kishinev pogrom described in “The City of Slaughter,” and ultimately the Holocaust which leveraged baseless hate and propaganda to justify the systematic murder of 6 million Jews.

The real kicker is, even though those who posted the insidious flier want to pin responsibility for American slavery on the Jewish people, and even though a preponderance of Jewish Americans at the time lived in the North supporting and fighting for the Union, the vast majority of the world’s Jewish population prior to and during the Civil war was still in Eastern Europe, living under the oppressive rule of the Czar, fleeing from Cossacks, and enduring vicious attacks. Half a world away, America stood as a beacon of freedom, and waves of immigrants fled burning villages for the promise of equality and security. In 1880, there were roughly 250 thousand Jews living in America. Over the next 50 years, nearly 3 million Jews would cross the ocean to settle in the United States. Therefore, the experience of most current American Jews’ ancestors, at the time of the Civil War, was as an oppressed people. Still, those who posted fliers on the UTC campus, would have you believe a false view of history, motivated by the very same lies and bigotry that led to persecution, pogroms, and to the Holocaust.

All of this weighed on my mind as I returned to my theatre seat for the second act of “Fiddler.” I struggled to focus and enjoy the performance as I realized, in 2022 America, the very same lies and beliefs that led to the oppression of my ancestors in Europe, were very much alive. It is part of a larger pattern that is growing in plain sight. Amid the proliferation of antisemitic rhetoric and the permissive silence from those who know better, Jewish people in Chattanooga and around the world are rightly worried, and becoming increasingly afraid that history is about to repeat itself.

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1Pogrom is a Russian word meaning ‘to wreak havoc, to demolish violently.’ Historically, the term refers to violent attacks by local non-Jewish populations on Jews in the Russian Empire and in other countries.” (From the website of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum).

2https://faculty.history.umd.edu/BCooperman/NewCity/Slaughter.html

3 Gross overstatement of the Jewish role in the slave trade is a common trope shared by White Supremacist groups as well as the Black Hebrew Israelites (as in the film recently promoted by basketball player Kyrie Irving) and the Nation of Islam. Rather than factual statements about Jewish slave owners in the South, who comprised a small fraction, they attribute blame and responsibility for slavery to the Jewish people as whole. 

4 The flier just says “Rodriquez, p. 385.”

5 “The Jew in the Modern World,” Paul Medes-Flohr and Jehuda Reinharz, eds., Oxford University Press, 1980, p. 528.

6 “The Jew in the Modern World,” Paul Medes-Flohr and Jehuda Reinharz, eds., Oxford University Press, 1980, p. 529.