For as long as I can remember, I have always cared about fairness. Even as a kid, I had a pretty clear idea of what it meant to act fairly. In time, that internal driver found expression as a passion for justice, which I defined as treating all people with respect—no matter who they are or what they believe. Precisely what that would come to mean, however, was not always clear and certainly not static.
As society’s understanding of identity expanded over decades, my own view of what it meant to practice justice likewise evolved. Now, far into my justice journey, I have discovered yet another identity that resonates with me. One that offers me a new, powerful vehicle for working toward global justice. In a phrase, I am talking about diaspora identities.
To explain what I mean, it is worth reflecting on how I got here. In part, it started with anti-Semitism. I am Jewish and was about seven years old when I first felt the paralyzing pain of hearing the kids on the block call my little brother “Jew bastard” and “Christ killer.” I asked them to stop, to apologize, but they kept repeating their taunts. I’ve always remembered that moment, and it became my lens for understanding others.
I felt pained by the lack of basic respect and equality societally allowed to African-Americans. But when Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. called on us to judge his children by the content of their character and not the color of their skin, my sense of justice crystalized. That was what justice should look like—for every child.
In the years that ensued, I learned more about the ways different identities are targeted. I realized how the bias inflicted on African-Americans also attaches to other people of color, though not always in the same ways. That women do not have the same opportunities as their male counterparts, not only because of sexual harassment, but also because, institutionally, women are not paid equally for the same work. I came to recognize that people have many identities including those that result in injustice and marginalization—their sexual orientations, gender identities, disabilities, age, economic and social backgrounds, etc. And always, there is religion, a core identity that far too often is used to divide and fuel conflict, and that becomes a target for prejudice, hatred and violence.
Now, I have another new identity, one that holds promise for more global connections, constructive collaborations and justice.
Last week, I attended an unusual international conference convened by Common Purpose. Called the Diaspora Dialogues, they identified diaspora leaders from across diverse communities and brought them together in Armenia. The goal was to consider whether and how the power of distinct diaspora leaders of all ages could be harnessed for global good.
When I was invited to go, I hesitated. For one thing, while I am Jewish and therefore a member of the Jewish diaspora, I am not a leader in that community. In addition, my work at Tanenbaum is based on combating prejudice directed at people from every faith and none, and we do this work from a secular and nonsectarian perspective. However, as I thought more about it, I realized that being part of the Jewish diaspora was, in fact, part of who I am. In different places around the world, I have been stopped by total strangers, looking at me and saying “Jewish!” In each instance, they were identifying a fellow from their tribe. I also had an unexpected reaction when I first visited Israel. It was the only time in my life that the majority of people around me were somehow brethren. In that, there was a sense of belonging and safety that I have not experienced anywhere else on earth.
Given this awareness and as a person with leadership responsibilities as Tanenbaum’s CEO, I agreed to attend. Approximately 60 people from a range of diaspora identities convened. Most were people who were born in one country, and now lived in another nation. Some had ties to several countries. Most of the participants could identify as a member of a diaspora (Nigerian, Pakistani, etc.) based on the reality that they did not live in their birth/home country. A few of us were diaspora because of our religious identity, as Jews.
Like me, many were thinking deeply about this diaspora identity for the first time, although others had already embraced it, including in their daily work. Even though the ways we came to be among a diaspora differed, we all had a lot in common, perhaps because of how we were selected. We were’s all strivers and wanted to do something to better our communities or the world. We could identify shared experiences around not belonging, as we owned our diaspora identities and experiences.
Therein, lie the possibilities. Right now, across the globe we are dangerously divided by our different identities and our different beliefs. This manifests in political divisions and global conflicts. Working across diverse diaspora identities suggests new possibilities of identifying common ground and creating novel opportunities for problem-solving and collaboration. This vision was embedded in Common Purpose’s program with us and its long-term thinking. As one of the people who explored the possibilities with them, I was moved to see the power and potential in this effort.
Together, diaspora leaders and diaspora community members have an opportunity to tackle big and small problems—and to create greater justice for all. Count me in!
*This post originally appeared on HuffPo on October 19, 2017
When you hear “white supremacy,” what comes to mind? Do you think of the white supremacy groups that posted more than a dozen fliers at Pioneer High School in San Jose, California? Or of vandalized Jewish cemeteries? Or domestic terrorism?
The fact is . . . white supremacy is resurging. And we all need to pay attention. Who is a white supremacist? What do they believe? (And what about diversity among haters?) Take a look.
- White Supremacy: An Overview: A comprehensive fact sheet about the varied white supremacist movements and groups.
- Questions for Educators: A resource to use alongside the fact sheet.
Stay informed and empowered,
Joyce S. Dubensky
P.P.S. And check out our interview with reformed white supremacist Arno Michaelis.
The current news cycle is reporting that President Trump will soon issue an executive order temporarily banning all travel to the U.S. by men, women and children from seven predominantly Muslim countries and precluding most refugees from entering our country. While it appears that these bans will be time-limited for most, they may be indefinite when it comes to Syrian refugees.
In the name of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and basic human decency, Tanenbaum calls on President Trump to refuse to issue an executive order that would bar a single religious group from entering the United States.
This potential policy bears the harrowing hallmark of U.S. treatment toward refugees during the Holocaust. Then and now, such policies—even if short-lived—can amount to a death sentence. During World War II, the U.S. turned away thousands of Jewish men, women and children fleeing imminent extinction in Europe, fearing they might be “Nazi spies.” Upon return home, actual Nazis sent these innocent individuals to Auschwitz to die. Their only crime: being Jewish.
Today, the refugees are people fleeing terror, whether from terrorist groups like ISIS and Al-Shabaab, or from governments that slaughter their citizens as collateral damage. Even if there is an executive order that makes an exception for persecuted religious minorities, such as the many Christians suffering in the Middle East, every indication is that this would not include the Muslims who are also living in imminent danger—in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere in the Middle East and Africa. Their only crime: being Muslim.
Terror does not discriminate, but a ban like this would make the U.S. a nation that does.
Equally alarming, a ban on Muslims with visas or those seeking them would have consequences that most Americans would not support. Students currently in the U.S. would not be able to visit their families abroad, because they might not be allowed to return. Muslim U.S. citizens awaiting the arrival of a spouse or other loved one might not be able to reunite. Fears of deportation and internment would heighten for Muslims living in the U.S. And all Americans, not just those from the Muslim community, would be further disconnected, as unfounded stereotypes about our Muslim neighbors become the law of our land.
And the refugees. While strong safeguards must be in place to identify those that are a threat, we must remember that, whether Jews from Europe during the 1940s or Muslims from the Middle East and Africa today, we are talking about innocent men and women just like us, who seek only to save their lives, and the lives of their children, by finding a safe-haven in a nation founded in the name of religious freedom.
Our government’s decision to deny refuge for Jews, who left their homes out of desperation, will forever remain a stain on America’s claim to being a moral compass. Let us not make the same mistake again.
With commitment to our nation’s values,
Joyce S. Dubensky
On Monday, three deadly terror attacks in Germany, Yemen and Jordan captured the world’s attention. It’s not that these acts are unusual. The number of articles about violent terrorism are too numerous to count. It’s that they all occurred on one horrific day.
And so did an effort to target Jews in the heartland of America.
On Monday, news outlets reported that alt-Right media presence Andrew Anglin (of the anti-Semitic online site “Daily Stormer”) was spewing rhetoric dangerously close to—if not directly from—the Nazi playbook.
In an article alleging that Jews had an agenda to go after the mother of the alt-right’s most visible alt-Right leader, Richard Spencer, Anglin accused the Whitefish, Montana Jewish community of plotting to destroy her business. Needless to say, Anglin’s story is a distortion. But he called for retaliation and asked his readers to make their objections known to members of the Jewish community, some of whom he showed with his article—wearing yellow stars.
Anglin actually encouraged his readers and other white nationalists to “troll,” or harass the town’s Jews and anti-discrimination activists online. Though his directions explicitly warned against violence, the reality is that it doesn’t work that way. Especially since his call to action included identifying information of neighborhood Jews and their allies. Not surprisingly, death threats have followed.
You can’t genuinely discourage violence, and at the same time call Jews, as Anglin did in his blog post, “a vicious, evil race of hate-filled psychopaths.” The road from hate to harm is all too short.
At Tanenbaum, we condemn the hatred, the anti-Semitism and the resulting threats that are now making one town in Montana unsafe for Jews. We also regret that, in so doing, we are giving Anglin public attention that can wrongfully be used as legitimizing him. Yet, we are compelled to be on the record. We condemn everything Anglin, Spencer and their audience stand for, do and say.
And so we ask…
If Anglin’s incitement isn’t a hate crime, what is?
And if it is, why aren’t we all standing in opposition to what he is doing?
If not now…when?
This article was published on the Huffington Post Blog November 25, 2016
In my capacity as the CEO of Tanenbaum (an organization that tackles religious conflicts so that difference will be respected), the 2016 election was hard. The identity politics and lingo of hatred were the opposite of the kind of country we want to live in – from the targeting of Muslims, characterizing homeless Syrian refugees as automatic extremists, to the sudden and growing reality of swastikas in the public space, and the economic, social and racial divide within the country.
In the weeks following the election, I’ve had the chance to reflect with the people around me. It’s been a haunting journey with fear, sorrow, hope and a few hard lessons learned. With respect, I share my Five Reflections with you now.
Reflection #1 The feeling that “I’m in real danger” is palpable.
Immediately after the election, I felt a need to reach out to people I care about, just to touch base. I heard from friends who had supported the President-elect, but were upset about the hate rhetoric and worried that it might not recede. Others shared concerns – their responses left me breathless.
From my Sikh doctor friend, who is also a Major in the U.S. Army:
“I feel that the tone [during and after the election] has created animosity and division. This will be yet another crucible that Sikhs, Muslims and other minorities will endure. … The Republican Party needs to show America that it still cares about ideals such as diversity and religious freedom that have made us great. So far their silence has shown a complicit support of hateful rhetoric and has many of us wondering if America is really two very divided nations?”
From my friend, a successful professional woman, and a Muslim:
“I will never, ever, ever forget the night my babies went to sleep crying in fear. the sick feeling in my stomach got even worse with the appointment of Bannon.”
From an African-American Communications expert:
“I’m dumbfounded by the number of people who voted for Trump who didn’t do so because they are themselves racists, xenophobes or misogynists, but because the racism, xenophobia and misogyny that Trump spewed didn’t even register for them. Of course, being blind to it (or turning a blind eye to it) equates to tacit approval of those mindsets and that’s what so shocking and frankly frightening, especially when it comes to my own mixed-race family that I feel now I must be on constant guard to protect.”
From an academic leader who is Catholic:
“I am trying to ‘lead’ as faculty staff and students struggle with how to respond, from offering sanctuary to undocumented students, to forming a ‘resistance movement.’ Sadly, there has also been some ugliness. Sigh.”
From a Christian woman who cares for other people’s children and their homes:
“What will happen to women in America?”
Reflection #2: The fears are grounded in reality.
In addition to the news of protestors, the debates on whether to acknowledge President-elect Trump as our duly elected leader, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported an uptick in hate crimes after the election (based on reports, not all of which could then be verified). This was alarming given the FBI’s 2015 report that hate crimes had escalated, with a 67% increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes from 2014 to 2015. I am terrified by how some people with racist views have gone public and now seem comfortable freely expressing their prejudice. When did anti-Semitism stop being a dirty word?
But I’m also seeing the ugliness up close, within my personal community.
From a colleague:
“My son’s school had mass protests today after these messages were found yesterday: ‘F—k stupid Latino immigrants … F—k N—s … ISIS is calling, Muslims can leave … (Heart) Trump!’ He was leading the charge (yes, I’m proud of him).”
From a Union Employee Campaigning in Virginia:
“My whole life, I never felt anything about race. But when I was in Virginia knocking on doors for the election, the people would slam the doors in my face, shouting N—.”
Reflection #3: Some people are feeling paralyzed – while others are in “doing” mode, to protect an inclusive social fabric.
I personally witnessed responses from people in my community, and noted with surprise that I had moments of challenge with moving forward. I am a true believer in respectful exchanges and the power of listening to understand rather than confront. So I surprised myself when I attended a one-year old’s birthday party and met someone I had not known from the Midwest.
Though I am almost always a friendly type, I found myself uncomfortable – an unusual experience for me – wondering how to talk about the election and whether we would be able to do so. Though I opted to jump in, as per usual, it was not without trepidation. And that is new. For the record, we shared a concern about division in our country, and what we agreed is a surge in the normalization of hatemongering.
Yet, across the country, and certainly in New York, people dedicated to justice and respect for all came together. Tanenbaum was among the supporters of an important community gathering called #IAMAMERICA, spearheaded by Debbie Almontaser and our interfaith community, which believes in all of us.
Several of my friends donated to causes that protected the people and the rights that they feared will be lost. One Jewish woman, a lawyer in a major firm, sent out a November 9th email titled “This is not about politics” and encouraged her colleagues to make contributions to organizations that pursue justice.
# 4: Listening to One Another is Hard —- but Informative!
Even from those closest to me, who share my values about trying to put the Golden Rule into practice, I saw how communicating across the divide is not always easy – particularly about the last election. For me, it is important and it happened in an unexpected way.
From my plumber Tony:
I have the world’s best plumber. And when the bathroom started leaking into the dining room, he showed up and quickly, cleanly and with kindness took care of what could have been a holiday nightmare. We’ve always been friendly, and we got to talking about the election. I listened hard, and one thing was crystal clear. Tony had voted for better business opportunities.
“I learned a long time ago that there are two types of businessmen. The good guys who do a good job, charge a fair rate and have to beg to be paid so they can feed their families. And the guys to tell you like it is, what they’ll do, and get paid. President-elect Trump cares about us. He’ll fight for us.”
Tony’s not a hater, bigot or a person who stereotypes cruelly. He is a reason we must not stereotype President-elect Trump’s supporters.
Reflection #5: Amid hate crimes, top government appointments that stir anxiety among many, and the emergence of neo-Nazism (and the alt-right), there are reasons for hope.
These are days when our President-elect properly condemned bigotry and, then, during a meeting with the New York Times, said he disavowed the alt-right, white supremacy gathering held in Washington (where hate-rhetoric about Jews prevailed and gestures from the Third Reich could be seen). As a master of Twitter, however, we note that he could do so much more – like strongly condemning acts of the religious harassment, racism and prejudice, and violence.
And right after the election, I was struck by insights I would not have expected, but appreciate. I read an op-ed by Glenn Beck, who urged on all of us the importance of listening – to those you fear and disagree with. For me, hearing Mr. Beck speak of overcoming the divide, a man I used to consider only divisive himself, was a reason for hope. Equally striking was Nick Kristof’s insight that Liberals readily condemn the stereotyping of Latinos and Muslims, but have been quick to stereotype Trump voters. Honest reflection is a step on the path forward.
Establishing a just society and putting it into practice is a long-term effort. One that is always characterized by fits and starts. We have just come out of a fraught election. For those concerned with justice that honors our differences, this is a time for vigilance. Many have rational fears from the months of divisive rhetoric, recent hate crimes and the fears of more.
Yet, now is the time to take a risk and reach out to people whose religious, political, social convictions are different, and even opposite, from our own. A good place to start may be with the people closest to you – or your plumber. It is time to hone the elusive skill of listening to learn. And what better time to start than during the holiday season?
Over the past week, Tanenbaum’s phones have been ringing off the hook. Friends, partners and strangers want to know what they can do to keep their families and communities safe. People are frightened by the undeniable wave of bigotry and fear tactics that have been unleashed since November 8th.
Venom is spewing all around us. There have been more than 300 reported hate incidents since Election Day. I’ve heard stories about Muslim children asking their parents if they will be deported, of waking up to swastikas spray painted on local buildings, and name-calling and intimidation we hoped was long behind us. I wish it were, but it is not.
If anything, combating religious prejudice and hatred has never been more urgent. Take a look at a few headlines—from just the past week:
- ‘Hang yourself by your headscarf’: US student pens anonymous note to Muslim teacher – Independent
- Campuses Confront Hostile Acts Against Minorities After Donald Trump’s Election – The New York Times
- Police investigating two swastikas painted on South Philly building – Philly Voice
- Man viciously beaten in Chicago as bystanders scream ‘he voted Trump’ – USA Today
All the while, Breitbart and other like-minded media are calling this trend a lie. We need the volume of our voices to match theirs. And we need our actions to speak even louder.
That is why today, I ask you to support Tanenbaum as we combat religious hate with practical solutions. Help us reach all sides and stop the venom. Our organization is small but our impact is large, and we need your help NOW to make long-lasting change.
Please make a donation today, or even sign up for monthly giving, to help combat religious prejudice, fear and hatred—so we don’t have to wake up to another day of headlines like these.
Joyce S. Dubensky
An interview with Deborah Levine
by Ellie Green
Deborah Levine was born into one of the only Jewish families in British Bermuda. She has since immigrated to the U.S., and now resides in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Deborah is an award-winning author who has written extensively on religion and diversity including, Religious Diversity at Work and Teaching Curious Christians about Judaism. And now, she brings us her historical memoir The Liberator’s Daughter, which details her family history to the present day and, specifically, the life of her father – a Jewish U.S. Army Military Intelligence Officer in the Second World War.
“Our history was something he didn’t want anyone else to forget.” – Deborah Levine
Aaron Levine witnessed some of worst atrocities committed in the 20th century. And he personally interrogated those responsible. After the fall of Hitler’s Third Reich in 1945, Levine was tasked with liberating concentration camps as part of the Allied war effort and interviewing Nazi prisoners of war.
Levine was prepared, having been trained in interrogation in Fort Ritchie. But the undertaking was haunting. The letters he wrote home to his wife depict the atrocities he found in Germany, including the ‘stench of bodies piled up’ in Nordhausen-Dora (the concentration camp liberated by U.S. Troops in April 1945) and his encounters with people in Germany, many of whom ‘found more fault with Hitler for having lost the war’.
Levine’s daughter recalls conversations with her father. “When I as a child asked him, ‘Well Daddy, did you kill anybody during the war’ he said ‘No, but I did slap somebody once….it was a Nazi prisoner and all he said to me was, ‘The only mistake Hitler made was not killing more Jews’.”
For most of her life, Deborah Levine was unaware of the true extent of her father’s activities in WWII. But when her father was in his 70’s, he presented Deborah with a box of letters – the truth-telling letters he had written to his wife during his time in Europe. It is these letters that Deborah recently complied into her book, ‘The Liberator’s Daughter’. Designed to educate people on both the importance of remembering the Holocaust as an atrocity against the Jewish people, and ‘as a universal lesson’ that such horrors can occur anywhere, at any time, Deborah Levine painfully reminds people that the Holocaust occurred in a ‘cultured, educated society. We are not in America immune to similar things happening.’
“The timing of this book was key to me.” notes Deborah. “I feel that we were are at a cross road politically, globally and nationally where the reminder of this history is absolutely required for moving forward logically and successfully”
In promoting her book and speaking out for the continued remembrance of the Holocaust, Deborah has encountered some who deny the very existence of the event. Deborah recalls an encounter with David Irving (an infamous pseudo-historian Holocaust-denier) at a book launch as ‘a wake-up call to me that these conspiracy theories and the holocaust denial movement was appealing across many sectors of the public’. For Deborah, even though only 70 years have passed since the world truly uncovered what was happening in the concentration camps, ‘a lot of it has been forgotten’.
“One of my intentions of this book was that it be both inspirational but also educational.”
Aaron Levine went on to dedicate much of his life to Jewish causes and ‘to the American Jewish archives so that our history would not be lost’. His stories, as present through his letters and the vision of his daughter, provide insight into a man who was intensely proud of his Judaism and was also dedicated to his job in the military. The letters he wrote are a lasting legacy of one man’s experience as a liberator. As such, they are must read for anyone wishing to educate themselves about the Holocaust.
Deborah Levine has worked tirelessly to support religious diversity both within communities and in the work place. In addition to her other publications, she is also the author of Religious Diversity in our Public Schools.
‘The Liberators Daughter’ by Deborah Levine is available for purchase on Amazon.
Today marks the beginning of the last – and ultimately successful – march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama led by Martin Luther King Jr. The march has been commemorated all month because it was a powerful turning point toward justice in the U.S. Personally, I believe that remembering this history – in all its various manifestations – is important. It helps us steady the course and stay true to some of our nation’s core principles.
If you have a moment, please take a look at some of my thoughts in Memories of Selma – All of Them. I’d love to hear what you think!
Joyce S. Dubensky,
“We have opened the church in order to help people. This is the duty of the church and we are doing all we can to help them,” Archbishop Alexios said to a Reuters reporter while the sounds of children playing echoed down the hall.
“At the beginning there were 600 people and today they became a thousand – mostly children and women. Some of those children are a week old,” explained the head of Gaza’s Greek Orthodox minority.
Gaza and Israel: Which side is Tanenbaum on?
To read more about Tanenbaum’s perspective on the conflict in Israel and Gaza, view our blog post by Tanenbaum CEO, Joyce S. Dubensky
Germany, France and Italy condemn anti-Semitic protesters after violent clashes
Many news agencies have reported on the sharp increase of anti-Semitism, although anti-Semitism has been on a slow rise over the past 25 years. Newsweek reported on July 24th that the foreign ministers of Italy, Germany and France have issued a joint statement condemning anti-Semitic statements and acts that have been witnessed throughout anti-Israel protests.
India Mental Health Care
PBS reports on how medical doctors and spiritual practitioners are working together to address mental health in India. There is a dire need for help; in India, only five thousand psychiatrists serve the needs of 120 million people. It is estimated that one hundred million people in India have “common” mental health disorders while 20 million have severe illnesses, e.g. schizophrenia. Watch the video or read the transcript for more.