There’s Work to Do

Dear Tanenbaum Community,

I wasn’t sure what my first communication would be to you as CEO, but I never envisioned that first communication would be addressing this issue. I, like many of you, have been of mixed emotions since the suffocating death of George Floyd. I have moved from shock, to anger, to rage, and now to fear. For I know that no accomplishment I have achieved can shield me fully from meeting the same fate as Mr. Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and countless others. That is unfortunately the result of a system of oppression so insidious we can barely see it operating.

Around the country, faith leaders are offering aid to demonstrators who have taken to the streets to decry racism and police brutality. Churches are providing sanctuary, mosques are providing medics for activists, and temples are providing trauma-informed counseling. While the fingerprint of religious traditions’ role on the creation and sustaining of systems of inequity remains, many of those same traditions, and others, are doing the hard work to end racism.

As you process through your own emotions during this time of trouble and transformation, know that there are actions you can take:

  1. Identify what is yours to do. Each of us can do something to contribute to the actions necessary to bring about a world where no person can lose their lives because of their racial background.
  2. Work with others. Religious and spiritual communities are actively engaged in anti-racism work. This fact sheet highlights organizations and initiatives working to move the needle toward justice.
  3. Educate yourself about White Supremacy. Supremacy is not just a way people identify their values, it is a structural concept that is at the core of racial oppression.

Every single person is impacted by inequitable dynamics of power and when we work to lift the veil, heal from our past, and commit to making moves towards changes in structural dynamics, we lift everyone up.

As we fight for justice, we stand with millions of people across the country who are rightfully outraged, but condemnation and outrage is not enough.

Tanenbaum is committed to working with our supporters and our partner organizations to combat hate and extremism, and stand with community members directly impacted by oppressive systems. A world where religious differences are respected is also a world where racial differences are respected.

In solidarity,

Rev. Mark E. Fowler
CEO, Tanenbaum

 


 

Learning is the Most Important Process in a Human Life

Guest blog post by Arno Michaelis, author of My Life After Hate/co-author of The Gift of Our Wounds


I’ve learned a lot in my 49 years. I spent 7 years of my life leading and organizing white nationalist hate groups, before brave people who I claimed to hate lead me to a better place. Another 7 years in the rave counterculture, shaking my ass to house music in an environment that was the polar-opposite of hate and violence. Then, on the MLK Holiday of 2020, I celebrated a decade of working internationally in the peace building and counter-violent extremism sphere, preventing and intervening in violent extremism of every sort. Today it is my personal mission to bring about a society where all people are valued and included.

Here are some things I’ve learned that I feel are important to understand during the COVID-19 pandemic:

Human beings have been conditioned to narrow our minds to binary thinking in response to trauma. This is an evolved trait that for the bulk of our 200,000 years of existence has enabled us to survive. When early Homo sapiens were faced with a saber-toothed tiger, we had to recognize the threat and conceive an escape plan instantly. Spending even a moment in contemplation meant we’d end up as dinner.

Today, we live in an exponentially different world, yet we retain the same survival instincts. While physical threats are certainly still a thing, our struggle for survival is no longer simply trying to avoid being eaten by large predators. And for billions of people, our struggle for survival is no longer simply about finding food and shelter. The fact is that up until society was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, we just weren’t struggling like we used to. We didn’t have to, thanks to modern advances in agriculture, economy, and technology.

Now, with worldwide shelter-at-home orders in effect, massive, sudden unemployment, and the grim toll of the COVID-19 virus itself, our survival struggle is once again front and center. We are all suffering because of the pandemic, in one way or another.

As noted above, when people suffer, they instinctively seek binary answers: yes/no, black/white, good/evil, etc. They seek certainty. And binary answers are the raw material of all violent extremist narratives. Variations of “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” are common to the rhetoric of every form of religious and political extremism, as are stories of oppression and feelings of victimhood. We want to believe that we’re with the good guys, and that we’re fighting against the bad guys. When our respective lived experiences lead us to feel an affinity towards a particular identity or ideology—essentially, a story—unprocessed suffering can lead us a step further to hate those who lack that affinity.

In the society we all took for granted not too long ago, most people had healthy ways to process their trauma: faith, music, art, sport, hobbies, academics, etc. Every person who was able to process their suffering, in whatever way was their jam, became someone who wasn’t going to transfer the hurt to someone else.

Because of the pandemic, conventional means of coping are no longer an option. Now, if we’re not working in a field deemed “essential”, most of us have nothing to do but sit at home, connected to a global information system that we rely on to communicate, order groceries, and somehow keep ourselves entertained. That same system is also really good at producing echo chambers.

All violent extremist narratives are interdependent. The far-Right requires a far-Left for the ideology to function, and vice-versa. Violent Islamists exist in symbiosis with Islamophobes. Extremist beliefs are so dependent on their perceived opposition that at least as much time and energy is spent defining the out-group as is defining the in-group. As we all suffer through the pandemic, it’s all too easy to willfully forget that we’re all suffering together, and convince ourselves that there’s an ominous bad guy behind COVID-19. In this way, self-organized groups of people convince themselves that their version of the story is reality, affirm and validate each other, and then galvanize and separate themselves from those on the other political or religious pole—extremists who are equally convinced of their own version of reality.

This is how and why extremist ideologies flourish during times of great struggle. Because life has suddenly become hard, it becomes easy to regress to binary thinking that feeds violent extremism, directly or indirectly. The upheaval of the certainty that once ensured our survival can lead us to our doom today.

In order to transcend the lure of such extreme convictions and certainty, we must intentionally work to see ourselves in others, and to see others in ourselves—especially when who they are, or how they think, falls outside of our perceived in-group. Failing to do so feeds violent extremism.

Which is why we must direct our energy towards healing, and connection, rather than tripling-down on our political beliefs. Faith in the basic, primal goodness of humanity is the soil that nourishes our finest evolved qualities: kindness, compassion, courage, forgiveness, and love.

Today, more than ever, we need these noble aspects of our human experience in order to process our individual and collective trauma in a healthy way, just as we need to wash our hands, wear masks, and isolate ourselves to stop the spread of COVID-19.

We have the power to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic more enlightened, more connected, and more able to progress towards a society where all are valued and included. Or we can spiral downwards in a might-makes-right mess of separatism and strife.

Engaging with our faith and our love, choosing to listen and learn rather than dictate and dominate, is what will make the difference.

by Arno Michaelis
Author of My Life After Hate/co-author of The Gift of Our Wounds

 


 

(Dis)Information Webinar Postponed

Friends 
 
Like you, we realize the gravity of COVID-19 and how rapidly things are changing.
We have therefore decided to postpone our webinar, The (Dis)Information Session: The Impact of Fake News on Religious Communities. We know that this is a very important conversation, but for the immediate future, all of us need to focus on physical distancing, socially connecting—and staying as healthy as possible.

We will be back in touch in the not-too-distant future with a new date, but for now, we hope that you and your loved ones are safe and well,

Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO, Tanenbaum

What are the Facts on Fake News?

As any dedicated news junkie knows, people are talking about fake news—and that includes what you think about people from different religions. But have you ever asked yourself…

  • Is “fake news” even real?
  • Or is it a falsity in itself?
  • If it’s real…is it influencing me and what I think?
  • Are my opinions really based in fact?

To answer these questions and more (with you!), we’re hosting The (Dis)Information Session: The Impact of Fake News on Religious Communities, a free live webinar conversation and interactive training, on March 19 from 5 – 7 pm EST.

It’s time to think critically but openly about the hard issues that confront us, our communities, and our world.

Join Us and RSVP for the (Dis)Information Session on March 19!

 

Confront Hate on Holocaust Remembrance Day

In a 2005 resolution, the U.N. designated January 27 as Holocaust Remembrance Day—and condemned without reserve all manifestations of religious violence.  Today, our remembrance of the victims of the Holocaust is unavoidably followed by more recent memories—of Jersey City, of Halle, of Pittsburgh—but also a convicting desire to combat their source.  In a recent evening of our “Courageous Conversations” series, we applied a variety of perspectives—religion, media, ideology, politics—to reach the same conclusive response: a key way to confront anti-Semitism is to start with a conversation.

A bigotry as pervasive as anti-Semitism requires a multi-layered analysis to grasp—and even then, its roots go much deeper than many realize. But the panelists for our Confronting Hate event provided helpful insights to begin this process of understanding.

Georgette Bennett, our President and Founder, opened with a moving speech on the new biography of Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum[1] and how Marc’s work fighting hate is relevant to this critical moment in history.

For example, Georgette described Marc’s emphasis on the link between verbal violence and physical violence. She also denounced silence in the face of atrocity as implicit permission for these kinds of hate crimes, and challenged the audience to imitate Marc’s practice of engaging with people holding opposite viewpoints in open—and respectful—conversation. She noted, Marc was slow to call someone an “anti-Semite” but quick to condemn “anti-Semitism.”

A stimulating panel discussion followed. Judy Banki, an expert in Jewish-Catholic relations, discussed her work with Rabbi Tanenbaum including Nostra Aetate at Vatican Council II. TM Garret shared his personal story as a former white supremacist, and Muslim investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed explained how the far-right white supremacist movement affects politics around the world.

Judy spoke of her encounters with Catholic anti-Semitism, both personally and professionally, from pre-Vatican II to now.  She explained how it was present in textbooks, films and even prayers, and how Nostre Aetate helped start a process of changes. She detailed how this has changed, how it has not—and the work it took to get here.

TM’s powerful sharing revealed how he progressed from hateful jokes, to hate speech, to white supremacy, and into full-blown anti-Semitism. He made the distinction between leaving a hate group and leaving hate—how his bigotry did not end fully for over a decade after resigning as a leader of a KKK group and leaving the white supremacy community behind. It was only then, that he was finally able to confront his anti-Semitism.

Nafeez discussed how he investigated the shift in far-right movements on both sides of the Atlantic from their traditional anti-Semitism to their adoption of Islamophobic positions as well. He explained that far-right political groups often make a point of publicly denouncing anti-Semitism and Nazism (i.e., publicly disassociating from their historical, anti-Semitic roots), but then continue to support neo-Nazi groups and anti-Semitic stereotypes. Nafeez thus concludes that contemporary prejudice against racial and religious minorities, no matter what is said on the surface, is still deeply rooted in anti-Semitism.

[1] Confronting Hate: The Untold Story of the Rabbi Who Stood Up for Human Rights, Racial Justice, and Religious Reconciliation is sold by Tanenbaum at a discounted price, to make it available to people who wish to read it.


 

Tonight’s the Night to Confront Hate!

Tonight is the night to join us at “Confronting Hate: Examining Anti-Semitism Through Religious and Ideological World Views.” Please see below for some important information and reminders.

If you are joining us in person, the doors will open at 6:00 pm. This Courageous Conversation will take place from 6:30 – 8:00 pm at One Spirit Learning Alliance (247 West 36th St, 6th floor). Please check-in at our registration table upon arrival.

If you are joining us remotely, please click the link below to join the webinar via Zoom:

https://zoom.us/j/6374166188

Or Telephone:

US: +1 646 876 9923

Webinar ID: 637 416 6188

Please be advised that this webinar will be recorded live and will be posted online following the event.

Food for the event is sponsored by Khyber Pass. The Courageous Conversation event series is made possible thanks to our partners at the Nissan Foundation!

Please contact Dasha Tanner, dtanner@tanenbaum.org if you have any questions.

It’s Been a Long Year Since Tree of Life

Stronger Together (AP Photo – Greg Bull)

In the year since the Tree of Life massacre, 12 white supremacists were arrested for targeting, planning to target or threatening attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions. There were also other threats, as worldwide anti-Semitism continued to multiply.

That is the dark side of a global story that has not stopped unfolding after the deadly shooting in Pittsburgh. But there is another story. The story of international outrage and collective action as allies and upstanders unify against the hatred. We saw it after Tree of Life, and we saw it just few weeks ago yet again. On Yom Kippur, a synagogue in Halle, Germany was targeted by a gunman, and Anti anti-Semitism protests emerged across Germany by the thousands.

We need to stand up together. And to do this we must be armed with the information, and the resources to respond to those who pursue hate. That’s why, as part of Tanenbaum’s Combating Extremism campaign, we are honoring Pittsburgh’s tragic anniversary by sharing our newest fact sheet—Anti-Semitism – What, Where and Why.

We ask you to check it out and let us know what you think. And then please share it with friends, allies and those who think differently from you. Because we all have a lot to learn. And together, we are stronger than hate.

With reflection & hope,

Joyce

 

A Shooting On Yom Kippur


Friends –

As many of you know, I am Jewish. That’s why I was in Temple on Yom Kippur, when a gunman in Germany again tried to slaughter Jews as they prayed. He did not succeed in getting into the synagogue where over 50 worshippers sat together.

So he took his hate out on others nearby, apparently trying to fulfill the pledge he made in his online manifesto. “If I fail and die, but kill a single Jew, it was worth it…After all, if every White man kills just one, we win.”

My Rabbi condemned this violent act of anti-Semitism, as she remembered Pittsburgh and Poway.

Jews around the world—including in the U.S.—are at risk because of anti-Semitism. And horrifically, so are many others. This hate is not limited to targeting my Jewish community. It affects Muslims and Christians in countries all around the world. It targets Bahá’ís and Sikhs and Hindus.

Anti-Semitism reflects these wider social trends. It is often referred to as the “canary in the coal mine,” and often indicates a rise in stereotyping, demonizing others and widespread bigotry and hate.

And that’s why we are addressing this issue on November 14th, during a courageous conversation called Confronting Hate: Examining Anti-Semitism through Religious and Ideological World Views. It’s time to tackle violence against Jews head-on—and how it can fuel hatred against so many others.

We must stand together as allies to condemn anti-Semitism. And to protect one another.

Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO, Tanenbaum

 


 

Remembering & Understanding 9/11

Friends –

In the days following September 11, 2001, our nation experienced an outpouring of support, generosity, and empathy from our neighbors and every corner of the globe. Today, there are children for whom September 11th is a moment only experienced through textbooks. But, for many of us, it is still a time to remember the 3,000+ lives lost and to reflect on how our way of life has changed.

I still remember when I could go to a meeting in NYC and not having to go through security. A time when we were not worried about terrorism; when Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and Sikh hate crimes were far less out in the open.

September 11th marked a time of change and challenges with which we, as a nation, are still grappling. That’s why it’s important to remember, to learn from that seminal moment, and to move forward together.

I’m proud that Tanenbaum can be a resource as we navigate emerging extremism and hate. For those who still care about the facts, for educators, clergy and community leaders, we offer some easy-to-use materials, including:

  • Our September 11 Fact Sheet is an easy-to-use resource highlighting the facts and history of 9/11.
  • To understand terrorism, we offer our Talking Terrorism Fact Sheet for more information about global terrorism, as well as our White Supremacy fact sheet (because more Americans have died at the hands of white domestic terrorists since 2001 than any other type of terrorist attack in our country).

With a commitment to truth and justice,

Joyce

Islamophobia isn’t a joke

Friends-

At a town hall event on August 27th, Rep. Steve King (R – Iowa), specifically referred to China’s crackdown on the ethnic Uighur minority and other Islamic groups. But then he said,

“They want them to put on Chinese clothing and eat Chinese diet, which includes trying to force the Muslims to eat pork,” King said. “That’s actually the only part of that that I agree with, everybody ought to eat pork. If you have a shortage of bacon, you can’t be happy.”

Taken in context, it appears that Rep. King may have thought he was bringing attention to the issue, while also attempting to make an inside joke to his constituents. Iowa is the top pork-producing state in the U.S. However, this is also not the first time King has scorned Islam’s dietary restrictions. In a 2018 Breitbart interview when discussing his district’s meatpacking plants, he objected to the plants employing Somali Muslims, saying,

“I don’t want people doing my pork that won’t eat it, let alone hope I go to hell for eating pork chops.”

While King is not the only American lawmaker who has made Problematic Statements, this is also not the first time that King’s statements have sparked controversy. He has been condemned by his Democratic and Republican colleagues alike for his repeated use of Islamophobia, anti-Semitic, and white supremacist rhetoric.

And that rhetoric is dangerous. At Tanenbaum, we understand the devastating effects rhetoric such as this can cause, often with devastating and deadly consequences.

Tanenbaum unequivocally condemns Islamophobia and all forms of religious bigotry. We all have a responsibility to stand against hate and xenophobia, and hold not just our elected representatives—but ourselves and everyone around us—to higher standards.

You can be part of the solution. Together we can create a groundswell of credible, responsible voices against religious hate. One way is to use our Combating Extremism resources, Explaining Extremism and Addressing Islamophobia and Five Ways to Counter Extremism on Social Media for practical approaches to opposing and discussing extremism.

In partnership,

Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO, Tanenbaum