Join Congregation Or Ha Lev (Jewish Renewal) for the Next Episode of the Racial Justice Learning Circle

Congregation Or Ha Lev (a Jewish Renewal community) will hold its next Racial Justice Learning Circle (RJLC) discussion will be Sunday, July 11, at 10:30 a.m.

The topic will be the 1921 Tulsa Oklahoma Race Massacre.

To prepare for this discussion, please see the resources below:

VIDEO – 6 minutes – The Origins of Greenwood / “Negro Wall Street” (History Channel)

VIDEO – 44 minutes – Story of Tulsa Massacre (CBS)

ARTICLE – New York Times interactive article on what the Tulsa Race Massacre destroyed.…/us/tulsa-race-massacre.html…

PODCAST 38 minutes – Story of the Newspaper owner in Greenwood. The New Yorker Radio Hour.

Looking Ahead

The next RJLC discussion dates (Sundays, 10:30 a.m.) are:

July 11: Discuss the Tulsa Race Massacre

August 1: Hear from two black college age students: their challenges and hopes for the future. 

September and October: dates to be announced. We will be discussing Isabel Wilkerson’s book Caste.  

For those of you who will not be reading the book, we will send out videos shortly, to watch as preparation. Sections to be covered during these two months:

September: Sections 2 and 3

October: Sections 3 and 4

A Scholar and a Rabbi Explore the Season of Our Discontent

Two portraits show Doctor Isabel Wilkerson and Rabbi Angela Buchdahl. Doctor Wilkerson is young Black woman with long, dark hair. She wears a black dress and a white pearl necklace. Rabbi Buchdahl is a middle-aged Asian American woman. She has short dark hair parted at the right. She wears a white tallit, prayer shawl, with purple trim. Both women smile.

The year 2111. On that year, the U.S. will have experienced as many years as a nation without slavery as it did with “the peculiar institution.” That is just one of the astonishing facts Dr. Isabel Wilkerson revealed in a recent conversation with Rabbi Angela Buchdahl of the Central Synagogue, New York City. The Museum of Jewish Heritage sponsored the conversation as part of its excellent lecture series..

Drawing on her scholarship in her book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, Dr. Wilkerson explained how structural racism in the U.S. is an “American caste system—a rigid hierarchy of human divisions.” She does not use the term lightly; it bears resemblances to the caste systems of India and, most frighteningly, Nazi Germany. In fact, Jim Crow laws and the eugenics movement provided a great deal of inspiration for the German Nuremberg Laws of Nazi Germany. In her talk, Dr. Wilkerson “points forward to ways that we can move beyond artificial and destructive separations towards a common humanity”

Isabel Wilkerson is the author of Caste and, previously, The Warmth of Other Suns, a Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the Great Migration that draws on the power of narrative history. Both books have garnered acclaim from top organizations, including the New York Times and National Public Radio.

Rabbi Angela Buchdahl is Senior Rabbi at New York’s Central Synagogue and the first Asian-American person to be ordained as cantor or rabbi in North America. In her outstanding 2020 Yom Kippur sermon, “We Are Family,” Rabbi said, suggesting that it is time to stop thinking of Jewish Peoplehood as a race. Instead, think of Jewish Peoplehood as a family.”

This breathtaking conversation has been recorded and can be seen on YouTube here. If you like the video, please consider a donation of $10 (or as much as you can afford) to the Museum of Jewish Heritage, so they can continue to bring outstanding and thought-provoking programs such as this.

You can purchase Caste from an independent bookseller at

For additional study, the Museum of Jewish Heritage recommends James Q. Whitman’s book Hitler’s American Model and Alex Ross’s 2018 New Yorker essay “How American Racism Influenced Hitler.”

I am grateful for the Museum and its sponsors for making this much-needed dialogue possible. It deserves our support. It has certainly earned mine.

Jewish Women Reclaim Their Voice

A metal sculpture depicts boys and girls standing on a hollow globe.
“Hatikvah” (Hope) by sculptor Ruth Rogier, at Sheba Medical Center

Kol isha is Hebrew for “woman’s voice.” Much of the Orthodox community cites passages in the Torah and especially the Talmud (such as Brachot 24a) as declaring that a woman’s voice is arousing. Her voice is considered ervah, nakedness, sexual or sensual expression. Therefore, it is forbidden. A Talmudic scholar disagrees, as does a women’s prayer group, Women of the Wall. The latter say that the term is open to interpretation. “As a women’s prayer group our focus is on fostering a community—a community of women who will stand united if a member says Kaddish in mourning and united if a member is in celebration. It has always been our spiritual intent to sing out loud.”

In many places, moreover, a growing number of Jewish women, see this prohibition as another decree by men to declare their superior power and literally silence them. They are also reclaiming the phrase kol isha, that their voices are meant to be heard.

Yeshivat Kol Isha is a women’s yeshiva in Jerusalem, that “celebrates feminist spirituality and promotes women’s leadership within the context of deeply honoring the earth and all its inhabitants.” Also in Jerusalem is Kol Ha’Isha, “peace movement to strengthen feminism and women’s activism.”

At the Joshman Family Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto, California, members have formed Kol Isha an “intensive leadership program” for study and social justice programs. They reclaimed the name as “a way of demonstrating our understanding that Jewish women’s voices are being, and always have been, heard. We intend only to amplify.”

Congregation Temple Israel in Westport, Connecticut, has a study group, which believes that “women’s voices have … shaped Judaism as we know it.”

The Union for Reform Judaism includes a teen feminist group that offers members the chance to “learn from each other, increase their feminist knowledge, develop skills to communicate their beliefs to others, and create tangible change through community-oriented projects within a Jewish social justice framework.” Says Imogene Winkleman, “Kol Isha was created in response to our teens’ desire to change and a core belief that young people are key to creating gender equality and significant social change.”

On this, International Women’s Day, what inspired this column is a remarkable young woman who celebrates her Jewish heritage in song. She goes by the name Alex Kol Eisha. “I am resisting the patriarchy by singing Jewish music (GASP!),” she says. “I felt the need to use my voice for good. My voice is not a sexual organ. It is a tool for change, for liberation, and for increasing the joy in our lives.” In May 2020, Alex created Ohr Zarua Latzadik, a memorial to the Black victims of police violence. It’s one of the most haunting, tragic, beautiful pieces I have heard.


Revisited: What Do We Tell the Children – and Immigrants (as Well as Refugees)

Playful boy in the expansive courtyard of the Great Umayyad Mosque of Damascus, Syria

Photo by James Gordon, Los Angeles, California, USA: “Playful boy in the expansive courtyard of the Great Umayyad Mosque of Damascus, Syria” Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. This mosque, the fourth holiest place in Islam, is now in ruins.

It’s time to revisit two themes: “What do we tell the children?” and “What do we teach the children?”  In other words, v’ahavta l’reacha kamocha, “Love your neighbor (or stranger) as yourself.”
On Saturday, January 27, Trump issued his now-famous executive order banning residents of seven designated predominantly Muslim nations from entering the United States. Noteworthy is the fact that the order contains the phrase “foreign terrorist” but not “refugees.” Among these foreign terrorists detained was a four-month-old infant in need of open-heart surgery, and a one-year-old with cancer. In fact, world wide, children, already among the most vulnerable, are suffering in disproportionate numbers.
What do we mean by “extreme vetting”? A Homeland Security official explains that refugees have been been vetted thoroughly all along.

Teaching and Supporting the Children

Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, offers a comprehensive guide for educators and school support staff in dealing with the many complex issues of immigrants and refugees. Says the report,
“Schools should be safe havens that embrace all students and families, regardless of citizenship and national origin, and that includes unaccompanied and refugee children. The 1982 U.S. Supreme Court case Plyler v. Doe ruled that undocumented children have a constitutional right to receive a free public K–12 education, which provides the means to becoming a “self-reliant and self-sufficient participant in society,” the court wrote, and instills the “fundamental values necessary to the maintenance of a democratic political system.” However, today’s increased enforcement measures by the Department of Homeland Security and campaign promises made by the incoming administration threaten that right for thousands of undocumented youth and the 4.1 million U.S.-born children who live in mixed-status households with at least one parent or family member who is undocumented.”
The report offers facts about undocumented students, immigration raids, what school communities can do, and taking action beyond the classroom.
A companion piece, “What Do I Say to Students about Immigration Orders?” offers clear, honest tips for helping undocumented students and children of undocumented parents. This thoughtful essay offers ten additional steps of constructive action teachers and other adult role models can take.

Out Beyond the School

 On Wednesday, February 1, Trump cut a call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull short, refusing to honor America’s earlier pledge to take in 1,200 refugees. These are the refugees who had been relocated to the Papua New Guinea island of Nauru. The refugees consist mainly of families, many children among them. Witnesses – both the children themselves and the human rights group Amnesty International – describe the conditions there as inhumane.
Meanwhile, Samantha Bee had to put aside her humor in her scathing segment that night. Then, again, so was Trevor Noah, using the same c-bomb.

Forces of Good(ness) in the Twitterverse

 Bana Alabed, thankfully safe, had a poignant question for the president, seeking his empathy. Bana is the brave little Syrian girl who has been using Twitter to alert the world of the plight of these children, now political pawns subject to the political whims of egomaniac adults.
The video can be found here. Please follow her! Bana’s mother, Fatemah, has also set up a Twitter account. Mother and daughter preach love, peace, and understanding. These are the message we need so much more of.

After the Super Bowl

Here’s the full, uncut version of the famous advertisement by 84 Lumber. It’s beautiful!


Progress on the War on Poverty – Marian Wright Edelman Testifies Before Congress

When it comes to children, poverty is not just an economic issue. It’s a moral issue. Citing Mohandas Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Pope Francis, poverty is a form of violence. And violence is immoral, especially when it targets children. Therefore, we must feel tremendous gratitude to what President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty has done to raise children out of destitution and the moral conscience of the nation to a higher level.

The progress it has made in the lives of millions of children is tremendous. Dr. Edelman cites a Columbia University study that shows that LBJ’s legacy has reduced child poverty by more than a third since 1967; the figure for children in extreme poverty, from homes with incomes below the federal poverty line, this figure rises to 40 percent. Among the most successful federal programs are the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps), Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Head Start and Early Head Start, Social Security, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and the Child Tax Credit (CTC). The most recent data show that, in 2012, these programs kept 9 million children, 1 in 9, out of poverty. Childhood mortality is down and graduation rates are up. Most important, these are not short-term programs or solutions; their effects are long lasting. Yet, the same progress highlights the ever-present fact that we need to do more to improve the lives of our most vulnerable children. A lot more. The primary threat is the increasing fire under which government programs are coming. Those who claim that such programs do not work and encourage people not to work are “misguided and/or misinformed.” No, the real poverty trap is that the federal minimum wage is 22 percent lower than what it was in 1964. The poorest children in the nation still live in segregation, with the fewest resources. The real poverty trap is the Cradle-to-Prison Pipeline. And our failure to be willing to make the needed investments to end poverty. Those who talk about people unwilling to work should examine the lives of the working poor, people struggling with multiple jobs and still not able to make ends meet.

“Child poverty is unacceptable in the United States. We are rich enough and have a dynamic enough economy that we should not have the highest child poverty rate among our peer nations. The truth is that despite important progress, the United States is still not a fair playing field for millions of children afflicted by preventable poverty, hunger, homelessness, sickness, poor education and violence in the world’s richest economy with a gross domestic product of $17 trillion.”

Dr. Edelman urges members of Congress, and all Americans, to examine the Children Defense Fund’s 2014 report, State of the World’s Children, 2014. I referred to this very important document in my entry of January 24 and include a link to the full text. “I would like to enter [the report] that you can see for yourselves how poorly our nation, and your individual states support, safeguard and nurture our children,” she says. “They need you to be their champions.”

The first reason that the violence of poverty continues to afflict so many children is because of the choices we as a nation have made—or failed to make. Dr. Edelman recounts Martin Luther King’s last sermon at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. Dr. King cited the parable of Dives and Lazarus. Dives went to Hell—not because he was rich, but because he did not use his wealth to close the gulf between himself and his brother.

The second reason we still have such high levels of poverty is that while the social safety net can help people who fall on hard times, it cannot prevent those hard times from happening. “Over the past three decades, the economy has stopped working for middle-class, low-income, and poor families.”  Productivity increases exponentially while individual income remains stagnant, and the gap between the very rich and the rest of the population has widened to proportions not seen in over a century. “There is no greater threat to our economic and military security” than the fact most of our students do not read or do math at grade level—or even qualify to serve the nation in the military because of poor education, obesity, and our judicial system, which Michelle Alexander has termed the “New Jim Crow.” Says Edelman, “It boggles my mind that some believe that we can afford to cut tax rates for the richest, but when it comes to investing in the needs of our children, the coffers are dry.”

The war on poverty will not be over until we have fixed policies that have fueled income inequality, providing everyone with a job that pays at least a living wage, that every child has access to a quality education in properly funded schools.  We will not end poverty by “cutting the very programs enabling struggling families to stay afloat in a hostile economy …fueling a cycle of poverty that repeats itself through generations.” To end poverty, we must do at least three things: expand the safety net to ensure that “no child is left behind,” invest in research-proven programs for children from birth through age 5; and create an economy that works for everyone. Dr. Edelman calls on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to at least $10.10 an hour. “It goes against all that our country stands for that someone could work full-time and not be able to make ends meet.”

“To those who claim our nation cannot afford to prevent our children from going hungry and homeless and prepare all our children for school, I say we cannot afford not to.” Please read the full report; it is available online.



It Has Been a Half Century Since the War on Poverty. Have We Made Progress?

A half century after the inauguration of President Lyndon Baines Johnson and the signing of the Civil Rights Act, Marian Wright Edelman, on Thursday, January 23, 2014, issued a report on behalf of the Children’s Defense Fund, State of the World’s Children, 2014.


Launching the War on Poverty in his inaugural address, President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke of replacing despair among the very poor with hope, especially among people of color. “It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won. The richest nation on Earth can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it,” he proclaimed. How far have we come in the 50 years since President Johnson made that urgent appeal? With one in five children in the U.S. living in poverty and one in ten in extreme poverty, “the United States is still not a fair playing field for millions of children afflicted by preventable poverty, homelessness, sickness, poor education, and violence….” Most disturbing is that children are the most affected by poverty; the younger the child, the higher the rate of poverty. African American and Latinx children suffer disproportionately. Continues Ms. Edelman, the greatest threat to our society, our well-being, our security comes not from a foreign enemy, but “from our failure, unique among high-income nations, to invest adequately and fairly in the health, education, and sound development of our young.” In addition to lack of health care and poor nutrition, inadequate education and the extremely high rate of incarceration prevent young people, most of them of color, from finding work or being able to enlist in the military.  “If America is to lead in the 21st century, we must reset our economic and moral compass,” she adds.

As an overview, the numbers are sobering; yet, these are more than numbers—each figure is an individual, a child with hope, or without hope.  In 2014, the following are the facts:

  • For the first time, the majority of children under two – the time of the most rapid brain development&mdah;are children of color.
  • Child poverty has reached record levels:  nearly one in three children of color and one in three children under five were poor.
  • Some 1.2 million public-school children were homeless, a jump of 73 percent since the beginning of the recession.  With no or extremely limited cash, these children and their families had to rely on the meager rations of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and that is being treated with budget cuts.
  • Government safety net programs, such as SNAP, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Child Tax Credit, work. They prevented 9 million children from falling into poverty.
  • Since 1964, the top 1 percent of earners took in more than double their share of the nation’s income. One can only guess about the top one-tenth of one percent highest incomes.
  • Lack of investment in programs such as Head Start meant that programs such as this served only 41 percent of needy children. Drop-out rates continue to climb for children of all ethnic groups.
  • Children are increasingly prone to all kinds of violence:  a child is abused or neglected every 47 seconds. Over 101,000 children are in foster care.  On average, 4,028 children are arrested every day.  More children have been killed by gunfire than have police officers in the line of duty.
  • The mere monetary costs of poverty to society are staggering: child poverty costs the nation some $500 billion a year in extra education, criminal justice, and lost productivity; child abuse and neglect cost the nation nearly $80.3 billion a year in lost productivity and other costs; gun deaths and injuries account for over $174 billion in medical and social costs, and high drop-out rages account for $154 billion in lost income. These costs, the report claims, are entirely preventable.

In a comparison of the well-being of Americans in 1964 and 2014, statistics show that:

  • The income gap between the very wealthy and the poor has widened and includes many families of the working poor.
  • The number of children living in single-parent households has more than doubled over the last 50 years. There has been notable progress in the number of three- and four-year-olds enrolled in preschool and kindergarten, an increase by a factor of five. However, the difference in educational opportunities in elementary and high-school education for Black and white children means that “school segregation by race and income continues to be the norm.”
  • Infant mortality is down but still remains the highest in the U.S. among industrialized nations, especially among people of color.
  • Gun deaths have increased markedly and disproportionately among Black youth and teens.

The next section of the report breaks down “moments in America for children” for all children and by race and ethnicity in the following areas: suspension from public school, high-school drop outs, children arrested, babies born to a teen or an unwed mother, public school students enduring corporal punishment, children confirmed abused or neglected, babies born into poverty and extreme poverty, babies born without health insurance, babies born at low birth weight, children arrested for drug offenses, children arrested for violent offenses, babies dying before their first birthday, children and teens dying in accidents and by suicide, and mothers dying from complications of childbirth or pregnancy. When one looks at the shocking numbers, one must keep in mind that they reflect the population of the wealthiest nation in the world.

The report cites the statistics in child poverty. Thanks to the Earned Income Tax Credit, 5.3 million children were lifted out of poverty. As Ms. Edelman said in her introduction, although the numbers are staggering, these costs were all preventable; likewise, with sufficient investment, such costs could be preventable in the future. In family structure and income, Black, Latino, and Native American children were in a family situation that greatly affected family income; homelessness is prevalent among the very poor, with steady increases every year from 2006. And one in nine children lives in “food-insecure” conditions. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) was instrumental in preventing this figure becoming much higher (as were subsidized school lunches). Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program have meant that many children have gained health coverage, though the programs have yet to reach 69 percent of eligible children. Children who do not receive proper medical and dental treatment are much more likely to die before their first birthday or suffer from behavioral or developmental delays. The story of Head Start is even more astonishing: some 96 percent of eligible infants and toddlers are not served by this program because of a lack of funding. The costs in poor school performance are readily apparent as these children grow older, leading to sharply lower graduation rates, as the tables in the appendix clearly show.  Perhaps one should not ask whether we can afford these social programs, but rather whether we can afford not to provide them.

Finally, there is the insidious problem of juvenile justice—injustice would be more apt, as 4,028 children are arrested every day, that is, one every 21 seconds. Incarceration is extremely destructive. Much more humane alternatives, such as preventative programs in the schools, are suggested. The appendix cites the statistics of this serious social—and racial—ill. Finally, gun violence is claiming more and more children, most of whom do not make national coverage in the press. Statistics for children affected by gun violence are given in the appendix.

As a nation, a society, and a people, we can do better. We must do better.

International Literacy Day, 2013 – Literacy Is a Fundamental Human Right!

According to UNESCO, “Literacy is a right and a foundation for lifelong learning, better well-being and livelihoods. As such, it is a driver for sustainable and inclusive development.” The right to an education was espoused by Dr. Korczak and enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. UNESCO’s 2013 statement continues, “Literacy is a human right, a tool of personal empowerment and a means for social and human development. Educational opportunities depend on literacy.”

The general Web site with links is here.
With another article
And an informative infographic.

The latter shows that the literacy rates in nations around the world. While there has been progress, 57 million children out of school face a life of illiteracy and poverty. This would have been a major concern to Janusz Korczak and will continue to be in the minds of dedicated educators and child advocates everywhere.



How I Met My Hero, Dr. Janusz Korczak

GTF Silver Medal

My career as a writer and an educator has taken me to many special places; however, it was working with children with special needs that has enabled me to best put my love of children into practice. My supervisor at a school for children with emotional and cognitive needs recommended two excellent books by Larry Brentro, president of Reclaiming Youth International. While reading these books, No Disposable Kids and Reclaiming Youth At Risk: Our Hope for the Future, I kept coming across an unfamiliar name: Janusz Korczak. Who? I did not even know how to pronounce the name! My curiosity led me to the story that most people associate with Korczak, how he refused to abandon the children he cared for in the Warsaw Ghetto and the eyewitness accounts of his final march, leading his charges in a procession of quiet dignity to the Umschlagplatz, to board a train to Treblinka. This act of spiritual resistance, a story of indescribable sadness, had me in tears. From that moment, I became determined to find out everything I could about this wonderful man.

After reading his works, When I Am Little Again, The Child’s Right to Respect, The Ghetto Diary, and King Matt, along with several biographies, most notably Betty Jean Lifton’s The King of Children, I discovered a remarkable man. More than anyone else, he embodied the love of children and the disenfranchised. Here was a man who not only wrote about social justice, he lived it, giving a voice to those who had none—or at best were not listened to. I learned how his teachings became the inspiration for the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and that the 1979 UN Year of the Child was created in honor of the centenary of his birth.

On a more personal level, I could readily identify with Korczak’s ability to relate to children on their terms, a trait that seemed to elude many people I met in the field of education and an aspect of my personality that too often became the butt of jokes among people who saw education as just another career and others who considered a grown man working with children an aberration, either unmanly or just plain weird. In that context, Janusz Korczak became a source of comfort and inspiration, a kindred voice out there, someone with whom I desperately wanted to connect. This intense feeling led me on a quest to research and collect whatever I could find related to Korczak. Thanks to the ability of the internet to search the globe, I have been able to locate and acquire every book by and about Pan Doctor, including some that are extremely rare. Likewise, I have accumulated a collection of medals, coins, pins, and stamps that honor Korczak or are related to his life and work. My appeals on the Internet have enabled me to meet many wonderful people from all over the world who shared my admiration for Korczak. And so, Korczak remains my guiding star, an important source of my personal and ethical values.