The Opportunities of Nisan & Iyar

The Starbucks Effect- by Mishkan Member, Jackie Jonas. 4/20/18

You ask me why I talk so much about race
A song with one note
A book with one chapter
I remember the story of the preacher with one sermon
“Pastor, don’t you have another lesson?”
“I got plenty. I’ll give you the next one when you learn this one.”
I have other songs. I sing them all the time.
But they stick in my throat at the sight of a dead child
The sound of a slur
The cut of an eye.
I have other lessons.
I’ll give you the next one when you learn this one.

We begin the month of May traversing the Jewish months of Iyar and Sivan. The beginning of Sivan and the last days of May herald in Shavuot, which originated as an agricultural festival. It celebrates the bringing of the Bilkurim- the first fruits- and the first harvest in ancient and contemporary Israel.

In later centuries, when we were disconnected or exiled from lands where we had farmed, we transformed this idea and began to view the Torah as the first fruit-spiritualizing the seven weeks of counting the Omer. Our Sages claimed Shavuot as a time of revelation and receiving of Torah- and exploring how Torah as our understanding of our truth evolved and evolves, can guide our lives.

In Jewish mystical tradition, one of the understandings of how the soul grows and how true revelation or awakening can happen is through “Yerida b’sh’vil Aliyah” or “going down to rise.” This requires descending into the depths and the shadowy truth of life to ascend with well-rooted and actualized self-awareness. “When a person is destined to reach a higher level than their present, it is necessary for them to undergo a descent first.” (The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

On Thursday, April 12th, 2018, two African-American men were filmed being arrested in a largely white area Center-City Starbucks, after a manager called 911 because they had not purchased anything and asked to use the bathroom within minutes of arriving. The descent into blatant racism in broad view, and the international uproar and collective response came quickly. A group of clergy leaders and staff of POWER, the faith-based justice organization we are members of, gathered to mount an interfaith, multi-racial response. We literally descended upon the store where the arrest had taken place and sat down. As we say we were able to raise our voices high in a way that elevated our concerns and demands to Starbucks on a national level and our Mayor and Police Commissioner on a local level.

As I was quoted in a subsequent issue of the Cleveland Jewish news: “…this is an issue about our country at large, and some of the white supremacy and systemic racism built into the founding of the country... The incident itself was certainly egregious… and is a demonstration of some of the systemic issues that many people of color face in our country every day.”

Time will tell whether our current activism will become the weight on the arc of history that bends it further towards racial and economic justice. At the same time it is important here in our own Mishkan to have the courage and commitment to dive deep and explore the intersection of white privilege, socio-economics or class, and unconscious biases require our attention. This includes the commitment to greater consciousness in order to rise to the “higher level.”

What does it mean for those of us who are Jewish, or partnered with Jews, and are white to be allies? What is the experience like for those of us who identify as Jewish or are partnered with Jews and are not white or identify as bi-racial, multiracial or identify in other ways at Mishkan? What have we done well to create a welcoming community and where are our own unconscious biases still at play- even in the form of thinking we have done the work and are bias-free? What do we make of our evolving role in a majority white Christian society that did not see Jews as “white” until after the second world-war, and now fall into that category who are generally of Ashkenazi background or are white from other religious and cultural backgrounds?

Please reach out to me if you want to be actively part of the conversations as they unfold.

Here’s to this month ahead, and the revelations that are in store as we gather to honor our Yad l’Yad recipients, Friday, May 4th, and celebrate the Festival of Shavuot, Saturday May 19th with Pnai Or here at Mishkan. May our courage and willingness to go down to meet our challenges and through the messy and precious process of life, rise to the possibilities of who we may yet become as a sacred community together, bear fruit and new Torah for us all.

“We are not born free and equal, but we are born to become free and equal. It is the goal of all social endeavor to bring about equality in the inequality into which people are born. It is the goal of spiritual endeavor to make humanity free”.            R. Mordecai M. Kaplan, Diary, June 1915







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