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GIVING TUESDAY – America in Transition!

Photo: Inspired by “Brexit”, safety pins are being worn to show solidarity against hate. | Brilliantist Studio via Shutterstock


Dear Friends,

This month, I’ve heard from so many of you from across the religious spectrum. Your reactions to the election, the holiday season and the future are not uniform. But most of you are concerned about societal division, rising hate crimes and the fear captured by a Muslim friend, who wrote, “I will never, ever, ever forget the night my babies went to sleep crying in fear.”

Please take a look at my latest article on The Huffington Post, Five Reflections on America in Transition. It includes some thoughts on what I’ve heard, my observations on how Americans are responding—and how we can respond—to mitigate fear, cross the divide, and rekindle hope.

At Tanenbaum we know that establishing a just society is a long-term effort – but we take daily action to create measurable improvements in the U.S. and across the world.

Tomorrow is Giving Tuesday – please donate to Tanenbaum because our nation needs Tanenbaum more than ever.

No child should ever fall asleep crying from fear, in the U.S. or anywhere!

Thank you,
Joyce S. Dubensky,
Tanenbaum CEO

P.S. For a glimpse of some of our latest achievements, check out our Fall Newsletter.

P.P.S. And on Wednesday, look for November’s Combating Extremism resources on what you had to say about extremism!

Five Reflections on America in Transition

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).”

Photographed at a university in New York | 2016

Photographed at a university in New York | 2016

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?

Election 2016: Now What?

Dear Friends,

Election 2016 (and the years of escalating acrimony that preceded it) has shaken our core beliefs about ourselves and our country. Across our nation, we’ve lost a sense of shared values about what it means to be an American, to live in the United States, and how to be great in the 21st century. Political leaders defined opponents as the “other” while touting fallacies as truths. We heard them, and we believed them. Why? Because we don’t talk with each other.

Now, we are left with a fractured American identity, fictionalized realities that breed stereotypes—and tribalism that is too often rooted in our religious, ethnic and social differences. But there is an antidote: listening to one another.

We haven’t been doing much of that lately. Instead, we’ve heard people talking over one another, loudly declaring their truths and demonizing those who are different. The result was predictable. Right now, we find ourselves in separate camps – women and workers; Hispanics, Blacks and whites; Jews, Christians and Muslims; the alt-right, the passionate populists and the progressives.

So this is a moment of choice. We can remain among our tribal comrades and view others as a threat. Or, we can find our way out of the pit.

One place to start is with dialogue. All too often dismissed, engaging in deep exploration with someone of opposing beliefs can be a more courageous act than taking up arms. It can arouse deep-seated issues of identity, vulnerability, and a sense of being wronged. And it can also open up possibilities for understanding.

This election has left our nation battered. Now, we need to find ways to move forward, to find ways to cooperate and, at the very least, to practice tolerance of one another. One way is to adopt listening as our civic duty – not necessarily to agree, but to hear others and reject dehumanization. Really hearing one another can be an act of compassion, and a practical and potent weapon for change. It is a way back to respect

At Tanenbaum we think of it this way. Tolerance is our bare minimum. Respect for the humanity in each of us is our vision. And if “we the people” take the first step, start talking with each other and recognize our shared humanity, perhaps our leaders will follow.

With ears open,

Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO

Reza Aslan defends right to be a scholar on Jesus

A well-known news network recently interviewed Reza Aslan about his new book on Jesus, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. The interview has gone viral and is well worth a look (there’s a link at the bottom of this post).

There is much we could say about the interaction between Reza and the correspondent, Lauren Green. Two thoughts stand out:

  • Reza demonstrates an ideal that is at the foundation of Tanenbaum’s philosophy: respectful curiosity. We’d like to say to Reza, "Thank you for answering the questions directly, speaking respectfully and for being open to those who have academic beliefs that are different from your own."
     
  • Green is primarily interested in Reza’s religion, Islam, rather than the merits of his work. It is reasonable to ask about an interviewee’s background in order to frame a story, but Green’s incessant line of questioning communicated the notion that a Muslim is not capable of writing a book about Jesus.

Scholars from every tradition (and none) have the right to share perspectives about their areas of expertise and to be questioned vigorously about their findings –  not their background or religion.

http://video.foxnews.com/v/2568059649001/zealot-author-reza-aslan-responds-to-critics/

Full disclosure: Reza Aslan is on Tanenbaum’s Advisory Board and was recognized at our 2013 annual gala.