Anti-Racist Action, If Not Now, Change Link

A Reflection on my Moral and Spiritual Life

I want to talk about the importance and meaning of reflection to ethical living. Think about the basic meaning of a reflection. Consider what you see when you look at a reflection -- what Michael Jackson referred to as "The Man in the Mirror." The first and most important figure to whom we must apply a spiritual vision and a moral interrogation is ourselves. To me, some of the most vital moral and spiritual work we can do is in self-examination and self-criticism, identifying, learning from and overcoming our own transgressions, weaknesses and failures.

I was raised Orthodox Jewish in an immigrant working class family in Brooklyn. My father came to the US from Poland as a teenager in the early 1930s. My parents met on a picket line when my mother was fired for joining a union. I lived a very sheltered life in a small apartment in a large apartment house, walking distance from my yeshiva elementary school and from the two synagogues that we prayed at. I spent six days a week in yeshiva starting when I was about 4-1/2, all the way through high school, and Friday nights and Saturdays at the synagogue from as early as I can remember. I learned to read Hebrew pretty much simultaneously with English, and spent half of every school day studying Torah and the prophets, and later the Talmud in yeshiva high school.

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Impunity, Parallelity, and Nonviolence

I don’t know if any of you knew my adopted mom, the legendary Esther. If not, maybe you remember my giving a reflection about her just before she died at ninety-five. Esther, who grew up hearing how her mother, as a child, saw her little brother bayoneted by one of the Czar’s soldiers for being Jewish and out after their curfew, Esther who spoke Yiddish as a first language, Esther who became a Communist at fourteen and never quit the struggle while she had any energy in her left in her to give, Esther who refused to wear a Star of David because it is on the Israeli flag, but when her friend gave her a silver chain with a little chai on it, she never removed it from around her neck. Never. My friend, my next-door neighbor, my adopted mom, Esther.

I remember one day she and I were talking and the conversation turned to the Israeli treatment of Palestinians. It was with deep pain that she expressed to me that she couldn’t understand how Jews could treat anyone like this after all they have suffered themselves.

My only answer I could come up for her was of impunity.

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We Are But a Moment

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In a moment, as time goes, our nation came under a new form of government and new management upon the ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America.

When Benjamin Franklin was returning from the last meeting of the Continental Congress after the drafting of the Constitution, a passing woman called out, “Mr. Franklin, what sort of a government have you given us?” “A republic, madam, if you can keep it.”
If you can keep it. And that has been the challenge lo these past many years. If you can keep it.

Our young nation, from the beginning was beset by errors, stupidity and evil. The new nation was created out of land stolen from numerous native peoples. Even within a generation, those who shared that mythical first Thanksgiving feast were massacring their Indian neighbors.

Can any nation long endure founded on the premise that some humans only counted as three-fifths of a man, and some didn’t count at all if they were female. It wasn’t long after that the infamous Dread Scott Decision settled it – some humans will never have any rights at all, for what rights does property have?

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One-Man Vigil

ICUJP Friday Forum regular attendee Patrick Bonner has been conducting a one-man vigil at Wilshire and Vermont on recent Friday mornings, each week bringing attention to pressing issues. 

We thank him for his passion and perseverance.  

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Policy on the Streets

immigrants-los-angeles-vendors-1486050490-640x421.jpgI want to share about something significant that happened on Tuesday in Los Angeles. There is finally the political will to legalize street vending, albeit with conditions that hopefully work both for these informal workers and the businesses that function legitimately along the corridors where vendors will be able to sell their wares.

I first became interested in the informal economy while living in the Philippines from 1974-1982. Between 1976 and 1978 I was pursuing a master’s degree in urban anthropology at the Ateneo de Manila University. For my thesis project, I wanted to study the effects of government relocation programs on the women in squatter settlements in Manila. Thus, I lived for stretches at a time in a site within the city limits and at a site designated as a relocation area outside the city limits. As I observed the activities of these women, I noticed how “masipag” (hard working, entrepreneurial) they were. At this time, wages in the city were low, conditions were poor, and it was clear that the “formal” economy was unable or unwilling to absorb the large labor force. Yet despite their difficulties and complaints, these women who became my friends, who supplemented their income with selling vegetables, cooking food, washing clothes, setting up as petty shop keepers, seemed to be a part of something that kept the city going. And they were proud to be able to work on the solution to their own problems, not just depend on a government that already had let them down.

A decade later, living in Nairobi, Kenya, I again had the privilege of working in some of the slum settlements that form a large part of the city. Once again I was exposed to people who worked hard on the fringes of the economy, working to sustain themselves and their families by a variety of means, just as those in Manila. Selling their wares on the streets of the city was not only a way of surviving, it was a way to feel some control over their lives and it gave them pride to be actively engaged in providing for their families.

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Controversy at Moorpark College

I thought this speech, which I first read a few years ago, was strangely on target for ICUJP, despite being 50 years old.

Moorpark_finger.jpgROD'S SPEECH - Controversy at Moorpark College
delivered December 3, 1968 at Moorpark College, Moorpark, California

There seem to have arisen some complications relevant to my appearance here this evening that should be clarified before I begin.  Plainly and simply.  I refused to sign a loyalty oath which was submitted to me as a prerequisite both for my appearance and my pay.  I gather that your local newspaper and some of its readers read dire and menacing implications in this refusal of mine, and I broach the whole thing only by way of a kind of personal disclaimer.

Number one, I have no interest in overthrowing the government of the United States and number two, to the best of my knowledge I have not or am not now a member of a subversive organization whose aims are similar.  I know there are many of you out there who’ve put me in a genetic classification of someplace between a misanthropic kook and an ungracious dope.  Actually, I’m neither.  I did not sign the loyalty oath and I waived my normal speaking fee, only because of a principle.  I think a requirement that a man affix his signature to a document, reaffirming loyalty, in on one hand ludicrous—and on the other demeaning.

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Desiderata by Max Ehrmann

ICUJP member Robert Link quoted this inspiring poem, which he meditates to every morning and every night, during his reflection a the Oct. 20 Friday Forum.

 

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

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When She Asks Me Not to Speak

At the June Justice Luncheon, "Renewing the Campaign Against Torture," Crystal Keshawarz, the Muslim respondent, shared this poem she wrote about her familial and personal experience with torture. 

 

image1.JPGWhen she asks me not to speak
I remember memories I never had
I have visions of things I've not seen
Grandfather, prison, torture, disappearance
Great uncle imprisoned, tortured, assassinated
The uncle I never knew, a child of 16
Disappeared off the street
When she asks me not to speak

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Fidel Sanchez - Community Organizer and Troubadour

Fidel was born and raised in San Salvador, El Salvador on Nov. 3 1962. Something was happening in Cuba (revolutionary winds were blowing) and his parents decided to call him Fidel Ernesto! The son of Maria Angela Ruiz originally from El Paisnal y of Luis Sanchez, originally of Chalatenango, El Salvador.

Fidel discovered the church and it brotherhood at the age of 8. He participated in different educational programs and music workshops at the church of San Antonio of Soyapango. He became a server at the church and joined the choir of the 11 o’clock mass. Later, he became a catechist and joined the youth pastors. As a young leader of his neighborhood he became part of the neighborhood directive in which he began to raise funds for the construction of a bridge between two very poor communities as well as worked to install a plumbing system of potable water and “black water” of his town.

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Tribute to Yevtushenko

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Today at ICUJP I want to talk a Russian poet who hated borders and walls and loved to build bridges of understanding and connection through his poetry. His name is Evgeny Yevtushenko and he died recently at age 84, on April 1st of this year. He was in many ways the Bob Dylan of the Soviet Union—a quirky, passionate defender of human rights and freedom. He became world famous by writing a poem called Babi Yar that denounced anti-semitism. He also denounced Stalinism, war, and everything else that stifled the human spirit. While I was helping to edit a Quaker-inspired collection of poetry and fiction in the Reagan era, I got to travel to the Soviet Union and visit Yevtushenko in his summer home, his dacha, in Peredelkino. I’d like to share with you a poem he wrote in 1984, during the period known as Glasnost or Openness. The poem is called “On Borders.”

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