Breaking the Hate: White Supremacy and Immigration

IMG_7797Shomrei members attended a session about immigration led by Reverand David Shaw of the Union Congregational Church on March 4.  The session is part of the Interfaith “Break the Hate ” series developed by Union Baptist Church. Several of the people who attended share their recollections and thoughts about the evening:

Aileen Grossberg

Reverend David Shaw presented a concise and illuminating history of immigration and immigration restrictions. We were all reminded that, despite what Emma Lazarus’s poem on the base of the Statue of Liberty might say, the U.S. policy on immigration has been restrictive for much of our history. To be reminded of this was very disillusioning.

I also thought sharing with a small group was effective. The activity broke up the intensity of listening, made the history become real, and helped us examine our own relationship to the idea of “American.”

Linda Ariel

I was not sure what I expected from last night’s program, Impact of White Supremacy on Immigration. Each of the two previous programs seemed to be more of a reflection of the presenter’s personality, perspective, and background. As such, I am becoming more knowledgeable about the different faith communities in Montclair, the people, their history, and their spiritual perspective.

Reverend David Shaw was an engaging speaker who was comfortable in sharing his experience in coming to the United States as a ‘migrant’, the verbiage he most often used to discuss the people who come to live in the United States of America. He interspersed didactic information with allowing us to discuss our own experiences in smaller groups. This allowed us to form ties with congregants of different religious institutions throughout greater Montclair, which for me broke down the anonymity of the people attending the presentation. Indeed, in attending the three meetings of this series and being engaged in an interfaith women’s group on our town, I am beginning to recognize people who used to be strangers to me and feeling more and more connected to other participants who share common values.

History is not my strong suit, so Reverend Shaw’s review of the history of migration in the US and the evolution of our country’s attitudes to newcomers here was very informative and enhanced the discussions in the small groups.

I continue to learn not only from the people who present each evening, but from listening to the others attending the series. It is important to listen closely to our neighbors and move from being strangers, to acquaintances, and hopefully in the long term to being friends.

Sarita Eisenberg

Several things struck me during the evening. I’ll highlight one – the discussion about who is a “real American”. 

Reverend Shaw is an immigrant. He pointed out, however, that his is not the prototypical immigrant experience as he came from England. No one has ever questioned his right to be here and, now that he is a citizen, no one suggests that he is not a “real American”.  This was also the experience an older gentlemen in my breakout group who came to the U.S. from Scotland about 25 years ago in response to a job offer. No one has ever suggested that he was taking a job away from a “real American”. Although he speaks with a noticeable Scottish accent, everyone he meets assumes that he is a U.S. citizen (which he is not) – a “real American”. I couldn’t help contrasting this with my family’s immigration experience as Jews fleeing from Eastern Europe or with how refugees and asylum seekers are being treated.

Click here for information about additional Break the Hate sessions

Photographs: Courtesy of Union Baptist Church

Breaking the Hate: A Discussion about Racism and Antisemitism

BTH PIC 1Sixteen Shomrei members attended a discussion about antisemitism and racism facilitated by Rabbi Greenstein and Pastor Singleton at Union Baptist Church on February 13. Several of the people who attended share their recollections and thoughts about the evening:

Miriam Haimes
Pastor Singleton welcomed the participants and immediately engaged everyone by asking which congregations were represented. Many local synagogue and church members were present. This brought a feeling of inclusiveness from the beginning. He then opened with a recitation of the Sh’ma noting that there is only one G-d regardless of how we worship or what we look like.

A question and answer between Rabbi Greenstein and Pastor Singleton ensued where each shared some history of hate. Rabbi Greenstein spoke about the history of the word antisemitism and that this was an invention of recent history. He noted that there is no such thing as semitism so the word should not be hyphenated. He also spoke about the long history of the Jewish people and their ability to survive after many struggles and attempts to wipe them out. Both the Rabbi and the Pastor spoke about the change in teaching regarding the death of Jesus and the Pastor explained that the Union Baptist Church of Montclair teaches that sin killed Jesus, not the Jewish people.

Pastor Singleton asked the Rabbi to explain about the Jewish people and also encouraged the participants to be hopeful and helpful rather than hateful and hurtful. The Pastor noted that education and awareness were key to understanding. Also there was discussion about understanding individuals as humans and not generalizing all people of a color or religion.

The participants then split into groups to answer some questions about racism and antisemitism. The group work was very rewarding as people shared personal stories and in a few short minutes shared experiences and some laughs as well. Understanding individual experience is key to “breaking the hate”.

While progress was made at the gathering in building connections, both the Pastor and the Rabbi agreed to continue the conversations and that they would get back to the participants with future plans.

Overall, the evening was a beginning for members of various local communities to begin to gain understanding of one another and each other’s struggles.

Ann Lippel
I realized that the most difficult thing we have to do in order to really understand the perspectives of other people is to listen. It is not so much listening to the words of someone with whom we happen to share the same physical space at any given moment- although surely the words give us the context for understanding – it is more listening beyond the words. Hearing the feelings that must have engendered the words -or sensing the expanse of time the speaker has been grappling with this notion – this helps me feel I am getting to know the speaker. If we can listen that way, we will naturally be reticent about reacting too quickly or making quick judgements. Listening is the challenging part; really knowing is the reward.

BTH PIC 7Zelda Greenstein
Hate is an ugly word.
I think both the Rabbi and the Pastor made that very clear with their very honest approach to the discussions and I believe that what I experienced in my little group discussion was very affected by their approach and that a true attempt was made to erase the hate.
I would love to continue participating in this process.

Nick Levitin
For me the evening had an impact beyond anything I could have imagined. When we broke up into groups I was with 6 woman – 3 of whom were white and 3 who were African American. We were asked to respond to several written questions. One of them was how racism in Montclair had effected us. Two of the African American participants were young women, congregants of the Union Baptist Church where the meeting was held. The first spoke movingly about the pain she suffered as the result of growing up as “the other.” She spoke from from heart, more with a sense of puzzlement rather than bitterness or rage about the pain she had experienced. Most of what she said, I had heard before in documentaries or on television. But, here was someone sitting two feet from me telling me her story and it was devastating. How invisible she felt growing up in Montclair, with few if any among the white community who understood what it was like being viewed as so different. I was moved to tears. Her friend who was a light skinned African American shyly described what it was like growing up being referred to as “not like the others” “a good black.” Others in our groups also shared moving stories of their experiences. Although I think of myself as someone who knows about racism, the evening was a revelation to me. I was shaken and couldn’t return to “normal” life as if nothing had happened. I had been sensitized to something I had an intellectual understanding of, but not an emotional one.

Rabbi Greenstein’s talk about anti-semitism was also powerful. To hear him say that one of the origins of anti-semitism was the Church’s teaching that the Jews killed Jesus was something that I didn’t expect and went to the heart of how pernicious anti-semitism can be. Pastor Singleton was a warm, welcoming host committed to creating an atmosphere were people could be heard. It was an important evening. One which will lead to other evenings at different churches and synagogues around town. I hope that Shomrei members will make a major effort to attend. The times we live in demand that we challenge prejudice, not just by the way we think, but by our actions as well. Meetings like this have the possibility of not only changing the way we think, but creating community beyond our own where we can learn and grow together with our neighbors.

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Click here for information about additional Break the Hate sessions

Photographs: Courtesy of Union Baptist Church

Nick Levitin: This Year’s Honoree in Three Acts

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For Nick Levitin, the true meaning of life lies in service—to serve people and God. His passion for people and his commitment to service are the bookends of his journey, and they created the groundwork on which he served. As a kid growing up on Long Island in a secular family with no Jewish education, serving as President of not one but two synagogues was never part of his childhood game plan. He did not join a synagogue until he was 39. But first, he would follow his dreams onto the stage. Continue reading

Plans for the Rabbi’s Sabbatical

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As you know, Rabbi Greenstein will be away from Shomrei from January 1st through May 31st of this upcoming year. He has been awarded the Daniel Jeremy Silver Fellowship at the Center for Jewish Studies at Harvard University.

For much of this year, a Rabbi Sabbatical Committee, led by Shomrei members Geoff Sadow and Dan Winter, have been working to ensure that our congregation will operate smoothly during our rabbi’s absence. This includes the hiring of guest rabbis to join us for many Shabbatot and to provide rabbinic coverage. This also includes the scheduling of academic and musical scholars-in-residence who will bring to Shomrei some exciting programs.

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Vigil

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Rabbis Ariann Weitzman, David Greenstein, Marc Katz, and Elliott Tepperman lead 200 members of the religious, political and social Montclair community at B’nai Keshet to mourn the victims of the Tree of Life massacre at a vigil of prayers, song and support, Sat. night, Oct. 27. Photo © Adam Anik

This past Shabbat the worst attack on Jews in American history took place. Many of us were stunned, horrified, angered and grief stricken. What does one do in such a circumstance?

One answer was provided by our rabbi and our community: Congregation Shomrei Emunah co-sponsored a vigil along with congregations Bnai Keshet and Temple Ner Tamid.

Unfortunately, due to the late hour of the email notice that went out to the congregation about the vigil (it could not be sent out earlier because of Shabbat) there were few Shomrei members in attendance. How I wished our congregants could have been there for this special evening – a chance to come together to share our pain and find comfort in one another’s embrace. Having spoken to a number of our congregants, I know many wished they could have attended.

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Turning Strangers into Friends

IMG_2133The biggest reason my family joined Shomrei back in 2015 is because of the community here. So as the crisis in Syria grew,  my husband and I kept asking each other: Should we do something? Adopt a Syrian orphan? Donate some clothes? It seemed obvious that I should email the rabbi. Was Shomrei “doing” anything? Continue reading

Gratitude

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We owe a lot of people our thanks!  It’s literally been a flurry of activity at Shomrei since the pipe burst and the flood ensued.  Once the initial crisis is over, the hard work begins — the restoration. So many volunteers and staff have stepped-up to meet this crisis on our behalf, it’s a good time to recognize some of them and express our gratitude! Continue reading

“Thank You” at Thanksgiving

Aileen Grossberg

Aileen Grossberg

Thanksgiving is a day for thanks although we Jews often give our thank yous at the New Year, Rosh Hashanah.

So I am taking this opportunity to put the THANKS back into Thanksgiving and express my thanks to people involved in activities that I have a stake in.

So thank you to all the volunteers who help to get food on the table for those weekly kiddushes. Even when I am not directly involved, I thank them. Without our volunteers we would have no bountiful weekly spreads and the fellowship that comes with sharing a meal.
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Grape Leaves and Gratitude

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Adults L-R (Tamam, Bara’a and neighbor Abdulrasul). Smiles all around just before lunch prepared by Bara’a.

Judith Antelman, a new member of Shomrei, recently attended her first meeting of Shomrei’s Refugee Assistance Group. The group assists refugees who recently resettled in our area. The following is her response after meeting one of the refugee families.

Grape Leaves and Gratitude

These days, I greet every morning with gratitude. I am grateful for my health and well-being. I am grateful for compassionate family and friends. I am grateful for an abundance of organic, locally grown food. I am grateful for gardens, parks, and running paths in and around Montclair. I am grateful for my new community of friends at Shomrei. And on a crisp Autumn Sunday in November, I found gratitude in the humble home of Bara’a, Tamam, and their three children.

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