Shabbat Bereshit: Get Naked

This week, as we begin again to encounter Torah, we are back at the beginning. The first chapters encompass so much: The world is created: human beings exist, and interact with all other forms of life on earth as well as with each other. And there, of course, is where it gets complicated.

Here’s where we start:  “They were both arumim, the man and the woman, and they were not embarrassed.” (Gen.2.25)

This is followed immediately by “The nakhash was arum, more than any other creature of the field which HaShem had made.” (Gen.3.1)

What is most interesting here is that first instance of arum here is translated “naked”, and the second is translated “clever” or “wily,” or, in Talmudic usage, even “wise.” We can explain this away as an instance of a homonym – two words that sound alike but mean different things. Or we can consider that this was originally an oral text, heard rather than read as words on a page. The similar sound of these two words invites us to consider the associations that we may experience.

In what way might we need to be naked in order to become wise? 

To be naked is to be vulnerable. Sooner or later we all feel that we are under attack; our natural response is to withdraw behind layers of covering. Perhaps one covers oneself with guile, or wariness, or a lot of joking around. None of those “clothes” are impenetrable, though; and what one learns as one lugs one’s suit of armor around is that it gets tiring. To be vulnerable is to be human, and sooner or later we all must admit to that kind of nakedness. Significantly, it is only through that vulnerability that we connect. It is scary, and sometimes it hurts, but in the end it is the only human way.

To be naked is to be open to connection. For example, in order to immerse ritually in a Mikveh one must be naked, radically so: one is not only to remove all clothing, but also any piercings, paint, and jewelry. As you came into the world, so also you go into the Mikveh. Only in this way is a ritual immersion possible; only when all that exists between you and the water disappears can you truly experience tevilah, immersion. To be naked is to be open to your connection to that which is outside you but is also part of you: you are physically connected to the water of the mikveh; religiously, to the community that creates the mikveh; spiritually, to the Torah, which is compared by our ancestors to life-giving water, and the G*d we seek through it.

To be naked is to be seen. The story is told of a Rabbi dying, disciples gathered around. “Rabbi,” one pleaded, “give us your blessing.” The Rabbi responded, “May you revere G*d as much as you do your neighbor.”  “But Rabbi,” another protested, “what kind of blessing is that?” “Ah,” replied the Rabbi, “if you think your neighbor sees you, you watch your behavior. May you always remember that G*d sees you.”

It is written  לעולם יהא אדם ערום ביראה – “One should always be arum in reverence [for HaShem]” (Proverbs 15.1) May you learn how to go around naked all the time inside your clothes, and thus may you find your life blessed by immediacy, joy, and, finally, the wisdom that only comes to those who dare to be open and vulnerable to life.

Shabbat Hol HaMo’ed Sukkot: We Must (find time to) Celebrate

It is easy to miss our fall Harvest Festival of Sukkot in the stress created by the confluence of the Jewish New Year, marked by Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, with the start of the school year and the ramping up of fall activities for all of us after what is at least supposed to be a less busy summer season. We lose track of this opportunity to notice and be mindfully grateful for all the abundance of our lives. We are busy and distracted and who can hear, anyway, the still small voice ringing quietly throughout.

The Talmud calls it a bat kol, a “daughter of a voice”, meaning that it is quiet, likely overlooked, and always a voice of clear, shining truth. We can only hear it if we quiet ourselves down to notice that which we are rushing to do, or that which we have already given up on because we can’t possibly do it.

The bat kol, we are told, is always calling. 

Right now it is sounding through the cacophony of media reports, and the attendant anxiety, over our upcoming election. It is trying to get your attention while you worry about what you’ve forgotten you promised to do this week. If you can hear it, it will guide you toward a deeper place of peaceful focus that might very well lead to higher productivity, while giving you a deeper sense of serenity in the midst of even your sense of chaos.

The bat kol is telling you to notice the abundance of Sukkot in all the resources at your hands, and all the possibilities within your reach. Yes, there is much that calls us to action, but there are so many hands and hearts already showing the way. Here are a few; all the information you need is at the bottom of this email.

* Native Peoples in North Dakota are blazing a path; all you have to do is send support. If it is not in your hands to help financially, it is also a mitzvah to help spread the word on social media. 

It is not up to you to finish the work, but neither are you exempt from doing your part. – Pirke Avot 2.16

* Our local Community of Welcoming Congregations, of which we are a proud part, is marking 25 years with a gathering to support our work in furthering the cause of inclusion for LGBQ people in religious congregations. It is also a mitzvah to show up to help celebrate.

These are the obligations without measure, whose reward, too, is without measure….to celebrate with bride and groom. – Mishnah Peah 1.1

* The vision of Jewish mystics offers us the insight that the world is as full of love as it is of hate; as full of acceptance as it is of condemnation. All that is required of us is to quiet down and listen to that bat kol, that still small voice, ringing underneath the worry and the anxiety to tell you that fear does not empower. Anger does not protect. Cynicism does not build. The bat kol insists: we must celebrate all the good that does exist, if we would strengthen its impact in our world, and in our hearts.

Every day a bat kol goes forth from Sinai to lament the fate of the world caused by those who cause disrespect for that which the community holds sacred. – Pirke Avot 6.2

During Sukkot, our Harvest Festival, may you see all that you harvest. May you look at the chaotic demands of your life in this world and see the underlying hints of mitzvot waiting for you to do them; may you hear the cries for help all around you and hear the voice of your community reassuring you: maybe you can’t do this alone, but look at all that we have done – and will do – together.

Shabbat shalom and mo’adim l’simkha, may the Intermediate Days [of the Festival] be for joy,

Kol Nidre: thanking the Movement for Black Lives

Why I have to thank the Movement for Black Lives for helping me to clarify my Jewish identity.

Once upon a time, years ago during a visit to London, I took a tour to a town called Salisbury where I actually got to see a copy of the Magna Carta. I love historical artifacts, and so I was entranced – until I got to line 5, or thereabouts, where I discovered that according to the Magna Carta’s medieval writers, none of its provisions would be applicable to Jews.

Once upon a time in the modern era, European Utopian Socialism was born in a rush of excitement over the chance to participate in the creation of a better world. We Jews were as excited as the next group, and we rolled up our sleeves to help – until we were informed that we were not invited. The anti-Semitism of early nation-state utopian socialism is one of the factors that led Jews to develop Zionism – itself a form of national state utopian socialism – instead.

It keeps coming down to being Jewish. Those British Jews probably were hoping to be considered equally subjects of the crown. The Jews of Western Europe wanted to be socialists, anarchists, comrades in arms. They wanted to be included in the great dramatic wave of human effort toward a better world – only to be told that, because they were Jewish, they were not wanted.

In America the story has been different. American social justice work – Jews have been involved in it all: the establishment of labor unions, the civil rights movement, feminism, and LGBTQ rights. Jews – even who hardly would self-identify as such – are drawn to social justice causes. We don’t necessarily call our social activism part of our Jewish identity. Sometimes it seems beside the point. We are involved because that’s what it means to be a good citizen, a good member of one’s community. We may even hold up a vision for ourselves and others of a world in which it no longer matters if you’re Jewish or Christian or secular, black or white or brown, gay or straight or trans.

In America the story has been different – or has it? Why does it keep being so hard, then, to be involved in social justice work as a Jew? Why does it sometimes feel that I am welcomed to feminist work as a woman but not as Jew? And why do people who know I’m Jewish keep surprising me by linking me with Israel when I’m acting as a U.S. citizen?

Jews Do Social Justice

Shir Tikvah is a shul which, like many if not most other congregations, was created to allow Jews to learn and grow spiritually, either ourselves or, for some of us, at least for our children. As we have grown to our current size (which is not any longer so small) we have become a home not only for Jews who want to learn and pray, but for Jews who expect that learning and prayer are only two parts of the three-legged stool that I mentioned on Rosh HaShanah. The third is g’milut hasadim, which we typically translate as social justice. So we do social action.

But G’milut hasadim isn’t exactly “social action.” It means “loving kindness.” We are urged by our tradition to understand that what keeps our world going, what makes life worth living, what allows our world to survive – is Torah, Avodah, and G’milut Hasadim: learning, prayer, and acts of loving kindness.

This is a shul’s raison d’etre. These are the three primary activities that a shul exists to offer. Everything else that we do, if it is not one of these three activities, it’s nice, but it’s secondary.

We have always participated in certain activities of g’milut hasadim: the Oregon Food Bank is a major recipient of our tzedakah, both during their Annual Blues Festival and also through our yearly High Holy Days Drive. We act in other ways as well – our Hevre youth group has developed a relationship with the NorthEast Emergency Food Pantry, and we’ve begun to support a women’s shelter called Rahab’s Sisters. On a bi-monthly basis we go there to serve a meal we’ve cooked.

We react to other causes and take our place in support where we can. The signs on this building indicate some of our causes: we are an LGBTQ Safe Space. We welcome immigrants. We reject Islamophobia. And we have posted the sign out there that declares that Black Lives Matter.

Since Ferguson, if not before, we at Shir Tikvah have been saying to each other that we have to do something.

We knew we must act: first, because we are liberal Americans, and this is an expression of our values. And second, because we are Jews, and Judaism declares to us over and over again that we must pursue justice. In our Torah, in the Rabbinical Judaism that created our prayers, and in the social justice movements our people helped to found and lead in this United States, we are exhorted:

do unto others as you would have done to you,

do not do unto others that which you do not want done to you,

and each of us and all of us are created in the Image of G*d.

How to Begin

Okay, so we have to do something – but how? when? where? We were not sure how to begin. We knew one thing, though: the time for dialogue seems to be over. You know the kind of dialogue events I mean: they might take the shape of encounter groups that gather dissimilar people in a room so that they could see that they are really the same, or holding a Freedom Seder at which Jewish hosts invite Black guests to sing Go Down Moses and eat matzah. That kind of event is laudable in its time, but only when it leads to acts. As we know, Pharaoh does not let the people go because of a song.

A few first acts which I undertook on your behalf:

*seeking out a black pastor – that didn’t work and in retrospect I know exactly why: I tried to schedule it, according to my convenience.

*attempting to get in touch with SURJ (Stand Up For Racial Justice), meeting local Jewish activist (and one of the local SURJ chapter’s founders) Eleyna Fugman

* seeking out books and articles, and reading them, and sharing them with you

Now it Gets Complicated

In our conversations, Eleyna shared with me her disappointment and discouragement over the anti-Semitism she experienced on the left, and the lack of understanding within SURJ

Then the Movement for Black Lives issued their platform. It is tremendously intelligent and sophisticated. The introduction impressed me very much.

It is organized into xix sections; one of them calls for divestment and investment. “A cut in US military expenditures and a reallocation of those funds to invest in domestic infrastructure and community well being” sounds wonderful to me.

And then in the second paragraph of the Platform, in the context of their argument for divestment from military support for Israel, words were posted that described Israel as a state that was committing genocide against the Palestinians.

There has been a lot of dismayed public comment by different Jewish organizations. Some have asked whether Jews can support the Movement for Black Lives; others have asked how Jews can do anything else. Many Jews were deeply pained.

Is this another case of “everyone is welcome to help – except the Jews”? Again??

I found myself wanting to reach out my white hands to help lift others up to my place of privilege – certainly that’s laudable, right? – but reacting as a Jew to the Movement for Black Lives platform, feeling misunderstood, attacked, and rejected.

It took me a while to realize the bifurcation that I experience, between being Jewish and being White.

I realized that I wanted to have it both ways: to be White when it suited me, and to be Jewish when that part of my identity was called forth. But what I have learned is that the two identities don’t exactly mesh.

Duh. You can be White and not Jewish. And you can be Jewish and not White.

I once wrote an entire book offering the perspective that one’s Jewish identity can ground all of one’s acts and guide one through all of life’s challenges, and I did not see that my reaction to Black Lives Matter was really part of my White liberal values system, not my Jewish values system. Like many other Jews in this country, I had assimilated my Jewishness into that of the American social justice movement.

Let me explain what I mean by that.

Jews tend to quote civil rights ideals first when we engage in racial justice efforts. We demand of our society that it live up to its promise of equality for all its citizens. We bring out the Jewish citations that support the demand, sure, but we are making an American demand, not a Jewish demand.

But watch what happens: I join a group as an American, and I work for the ideals the group shares. Then something happens that makes me feel singled out as a Jew. No one in the group necessarily even knows that I am Jewish, because I joined the group as an American. Now I have to come out as a Jew, and defend myself as a Jew, and maybe either leave, or have to ask for equal treatment as a Jew in this group. I thought I was equal in this work, and now I feel vulnerable in my Jewishness.

Here is the issue: we can’t have it both ways. We can’t be American when we join a group and then turn Jewish when we’re made to feel vulnerable.

There are Jews who know this – they’ve dropped their Jewish identity as much as a Jew can. They may feel that the work they are doing, the human beings they are being, they are despite their people.

But we who are here this evening have not made that choice. What does our choice look like?

 

The Way Forward

What does Jewish involvement in the struggle for racial justice look like?

As American Jews, we have always taken for granted that there is plenty of overlap between those two identities. And there is, especially when we are encouraged by so many American social influences to conform.

Do you remember the Gary Larsen cartoon of the penguin, indistinguishable in a sea of penguins, singing “I Gotta Be Me”?

Do you remember the Reebok advertising campaign which suggested that if you buy the same pair of sneakers from their company as 100 million other Americans, you will be in some way asserting your individuality? “Reebok lets you be you.”

Some years ago Rev Tara of Bridgeport UCC and I organized a lunch for our two congregations – United Church of Christ and Shir Tikvah – so that we could explore our differences, but each table reported back on all the similarities they found.

But true diversity doesn’t require you to minimize your difference with another human being; it celebrates the wonder of so many different ways to be human.

As our tradition teaches: “The amazing thing about the creation of human beings is this: when many coins are stamped from the same mold, all the coins are exactly alike. But the Holy One stamps every human being with the Image of G*d, yet no two are exactly alike.” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4.5)

This bit of ancient Jewish insight can help us begin to consider how all of us who work for social justice are alike, yet each of us has an essential quality that is different from all others.

How does Jewish teaching and a Jewish perspective help? What can it offer us? Only the opportunity to explore the essential quality that each of us has more deeply, in the hopes that it will help us feel more grounded, more confident, and more powerful when we go out into the world as human beings bearing a stamp that happens to be Jewish.

It’s interesting to consider the difference between a prevailing American idea and a Jewish idea by comparing the words “charity” and “tzedakah”. Charity is derived from the Latin word caritas, which is related to love, and the heart as the seat of emotion. Tzedakah has a very different etymology: it is derived from the word tzedek, which means justice. It has nothing to do with love. Therefore, a Jewish understanding of the concept of tzedakah is not interested in whether you love the person you are called upon to help. It is a simple matter of justice that you must help – no matter how you feel about it.

It’s fascinating to take this focus and consider the difference, in essence, between the concepts of social justice and g’milut hasadim.

Social justice is defined as justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society. The political philosopher John Rawls wrote in his book A Theory of Justice that, “Each person possesses an inviolability founded on justice that even the welfare of society as a whole cannot override. For this reason justice denies that the loss of freedom for some is made right by a greater good shared by others.”

The Jewish principle of g’milut hasadim is, actually, not too different from this, except in one respect. It may be possible for a society to be just in an indifferent way. This is actually a good way to think about the Jewish definition of justice – it doesn’t matter how you feel, you must act justly.

But that’s not considered good enough in our Jewish tradition. Otherwise we would have asserted that the three pillars that hold up our world are learning, prayer and justice. And indeed, that’s exactly what I used to say, deliberately mistranslating the last pillar’s meaning in order to bring it into line with social justice rhetoric.

What g’milut hasadim literally stands for is the principle that justice is expected, but that it is not enough. In the same way that people don’t want to be tolerated but accepted, Jewish tradition insists that we must hold ourselves to a higher standard than justice. Justice is expected from every Jew; what we are to aim for is kindness: acts of loving kindness.

Why do racial justice as a Jew? because it demands that we aim higher than justice, not only for those we seek to help, but for ourselves as well. We can’t help others if we aren’t helping ourselves as well – and denying part of who we are is not helping.

Tomorrow during our regular Yom Kippur discussion at 2pm I will share with you a page of Jewish teachings that I collected as a starting point for us, so that we can begin to learn our way into Jewish racial justice work.

Why? because we’ve learned that we can’t be who we’re not. So we might as well be who we are….

_______________________________________

Identity is not merely about recognition, or acceptance, or representation; it is about becoming a people again, about finding our potential within that, about power. We must acknowledge the advantages we’ve been given by this system so we can use them as weapons to destroy it. But we must also acknowledge that we are an oppressed people — not so that we can evade responsibility for the ways we are empowered, or use our victimhood to shame and tear others down — but so we can align ourselves deeply and authentically with the titanic struggles for collective freedom before us. It is the only way we will ever genuinely stand in solidarity with others, the only way we will truly become our most powerful selves, the only way we will become whole again.

And as we become whole, we can play an even more grounded role as partners in the struggle for a free Palestine by refusing to allow Israel and the US to shed blood in our name. We can show up in this moment for Black Lives as true partners, as we are being called upon to do. Those of us who are white can disrupt white supremacy by using the benefits it gives us as tools to destroy it, sabotage it by reclaiming our Jewishness and refusing to do its dirty work. We can make all the movements of which we are a part stronger, smarter, fiercer, kinder, and funnier. And we can reclaim the peoplehood that is at our fingertips, protect our people — love our people. We can even, perhaps, give ourselves permission to grieve — for ourselves and our children, but also for our Savtas and Sabas who never got the chance.

Imagine how the entire movement would benefit from this, how much better off we’d all be if we fought from a place of wisdom, pride, and love, instead of guilt, shame, and fear. Imagine how much closer we’d be to winning freedom for all people. And this is where the lesson transcends the question of Jewishness and anti-Semitism and goes hand in hand with the most essential questions the movement must ask itself today: What do weeach and every one of ushave to do to become our most powerful selves? We had better have a good answer, because becoming our most powerful selves is the only chance we have at winning the world we all deserve.

What a humbling challenge, then: to become whole again.

– Yotam Marom, Toward the Next Jewish Rebellion

____________________________

Today, October 11 2016, is National Coming Out Day. We need to come out – to ourselves, and then to our community – as Jewish. It is our Jewishness that will ground our social action.

And then it will turn it into something richer. It will be g’milut hasadim. 

רצון יהי כן

 

Shabbat HaAzinu: Listen!

HaAzinu means “listen!” – “pay attention!”  Now, in these few days between Yom Kippur and the start of our Sukkot holy day, now, when we are rushed to prepare not only for that Festival but for all that our New Year brings.

“Listen!” The words of our parashah, Moshe’s final song, ring out over the ages to us. On this Shabbat, following so closely on the heels of Yom Kippur, we are poised to respond with our best selves. Sometimes we have to listen carefully to a still small voice inside of us. Other times, the voice of G*d rings out loudly. It rings right now, right here in downtown Portland.

On Yom Kippur while we were immersed in prayer, while we were considering what it might mean to engage in social justice from a more deeply felt and articulated Jewish grounding to support us, a disaster for our local democracy was unfolding downtown at Portland Oregon City Hall. You can see coverage here:

http://www.opb.org/news/article/portland-police-union-deal-ratify-votes/

http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2016/10/portland_city_council_approves_27.html#incart_gallery

https://t.co/O72VuEtncm

A number of our fellow citizens had gathered at City Hall to voice their concerns with the new contract created by Mayor Hales and the Portland Police. Rather than being heard, they were forcibly ejected from the building with force by armed security. For no clear reason, our fellow citizens were pepper sprayed. The Image of G*d was beaten. It was arrested.

City Hall was built by the taxes paid by citizens. It is our building. It is our right to go there and testify without fear of being forcibly, physically silenced. And it is our right and our obligation – indeed, a mitzvah – to raise our voices now and demand that our elected leaders listen, and respond, and stand accountable for that inexcusable violence.

(I attach the open letter written by a leader of Don’t Shoot Portland. Please read it, that you might listen to him.)

What are we commanded to do in response to a divine call such as in this moment? First, learn about it. Then, write a letter or an email to City Hall. Post on your blog or on Facebook. Join me for our erev Shabbat kirtan this evening to consider, learn, and discuss. And then consider joining me at the planned protest gathering:

Friday Night Lights: Protest Against Brutality of 10/12 at Watershed PDX, 5040 SE Milwaukie Ave 3:00 Friday till 8:00pm Saturday

In our parashah we read Moshe’s hope that “My teaching will drip like rain; my word will flow like dew; like storm winds on vegetation and like raindrops on grass.” (Devarim 32.2) May the approaching storms speak to us not only of the weather on this erev Shabbat. When inappropriate violence is used against our fellow citizens, it is not enough to secure our own house. The storm that grows in strength in our country will one day reach us all if we do not stand up against it. 

I am deeply disappointed in the actions taken by our elected representatives at City Hall. Regardless of the details, crucial as they are, of whether the contract should have been ratified by City Council vote, violence against those who raise their voices peacefully in protest is wrong.

I pray that we each find a way to respond, as concerned and responsible citizens, that increases peace for all.

An Open Letter to Mayor Charlie Hales

My name is Gregory Robert McKelvey. I am a 23-year-old law student, campaign manager and activist. I am also a born and raised Portlander. During the past few years I have been organizing with groups such as Don’t Shoot Portland, which fights for justice in this city. During the past month or so, I have met with you and your staff many times to see if we could work together in achieving a better Portland. It has become clear that we cannot. Yesterday, I personally witnessed your police force close the community out of a public City Hall meeting, beat women and children, and pepper spray and arrest peaceful protesters all while yelling. Officers continued to yell, “under order of the mayor.” What I witnessed yesterday was something I never thought I would see in my hometown. I saw in the media that you said something like, “Some people are just looking for any reason to protest.” This is an incredibly disgusting statement, one that I feel compelled to personally address.

Over the past few years, Don’t Shoot Portland has conducted many peaceful protests throughout the city. Never once have we rioted nor looted. Just this year we organized panels, forums and art shows. We are not strictly a protest group. However, there are many instances in which a peaceful protest is warranted. Our First Amendment right is not something we are supposed to simply point to as a trophy of our past accomplishments, but rather a tool we must use to be heard. Howard Zinn once wrote, “Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy; it is absolutely essential to it.” There is nothing more patriotic than exercising our First Amendment right.

However, it is not fun to protest. I do not enjoy getting daily death threats. We do not enjoy sleeping in tents outside of City Hall in the rain. We do not enjoy being pepper-sprayed. We do not enjoy being hurt by your police department. We are not looking for any reason to protest, we are trying to fix the reasons why we must protest. Police brutality, abuse of power, racial disparity in policing and corrupt politicians.

The Los Angeles Times wrote the other day:, “A 2012 investigation by the U.S. Justice Department found Portland Police were using excessive force against people with mental illness and were too quick to use Tasers.

Portland Police have also long been accused of disproportionately targeting black residents. African American residents make up 6.3% of the population but account for 12.8% of police stops, according to police data released last year.”

We have a problem in our city. Minorities are contacted at a far greater rate than whites; minorities are jailed at a far greater rate than whites; minorities are overwhelmingly overrepresented in our jail system. “As mayor, you can only submit two possible explanations for this reality: Either there is something inherently worse about brown or black people, or police actions have created an unjust racial disparity.” I like to think you do not think black and brown people are worse than others, and therefore agree that there is a problem with policing. This is why we protest. — because you recognize and acknowledge the problem yet refuse to do anything about it. Black people do not have the privilege. We must do something about it because we are being affected. None of us want to turn into the next hashtag.

Yesterday, I showed up to testify. Many others showed up just do that same thing. We wanted to be in Council chambers, but within just a few minutes you moved the meeting and locked out the public. You then had armed cops force everybody into one part of City Hall. That is an occupation. We were not allowed to attend the meeting. We were not allowed to testify and we were not given a voice. The only thing we were allowed to do was be beaten. I handed out waters and snacks to your officers. I felt bad for them. It must feel wrong to be ordered to beat children out of City Hall. I also care about them. I care about you. I care about our entire city. I just want justice.

It became clear that in an effort to thwart democracy, you were closing off City Hall to the community. I grabbed my bullhorn and directed everyone to leave. Next, you directed your police force to violently move in on everybody in the lobby. There was absolutely no violence before this. We were leaving as fast as we could. This did not make a difference to you. The citizens you abused were mostly women, children and the elderly. There were many disabled people as well. All waiting to testify at City Council. You should not view your constituents as the enemy, but rather as partners. We were there to testify, not occupy. It was you that ordered an armed occupation of City Hall while your citizens wanted to have their voices heard in a public meeting. This is intimidation at its finest and it is vile.

The area on the second floor of City Hall is very large but the doorway is not. As your forces continued to push into the crowd, many people were thrown to the ground. Others were trampled. Because of this nobody else could get through the doorway since it was blocked by injured community members. Yet, your police officers behind the line were still pushing people forward. People were attempting to slow the push so that those who had fallen could get up without being severely hurt. You did not care. This led to many more injuries. As people fell, your officers would jump on top of them and begin punching them in the face. After you had removed most of the community from their own building, your brutal officers began shutting the door. However, there were still people crying in agony on the ground inside. We needed to get them out before your officers could hurt them even more. While attempting to hold the door open — so that these injured people could get outside, your forces pepper-sprayed a 72-year-old women and many others.

I was one of the last community members to leave, as I was near the back of the line. Thus, I was able to see the entire ordeal unfold. As I got outside, with the mist of pepper spray still in the air, I was in shock of what you had directed your forces to do to us. Over the past month you have continuously attempted to silence us. However, I never expected you to deploy these tactics on hundreds of people just because they wanted to testify to their City Council.

Since you seem to believe we protest for no reason, let me inform you what the reason actually is. On September 23 we gathered in North Portland for a peaceful rally and march in solidarity with cities that were mourning the killings of unarmed African-Americans. Those cities and families asked us to do so. Soon after we gathered, we were met with dozens of officers with “gang enforcement” across their uniforms. We are not a gang. We are your constituents. Imagine the feeling of the young African-American children who came to rally for justice when their mayor sent gang enforcement to assault them. How do you think that feels? Apparently you think it feels like, “looking for any reason to protest”.

During this peaceful march, your forces pepper-sprayed, beat and shot at us. Since the police force is your responsibility, we came to City Hall to ask why you had directed your officers to assault us. After hours of simply asking to hear from you, you met with myself and two other leaders. In that meeting you agreed to speak to the crowd, continue regular meetings with our group about racism and police accountability, and to apologize for what your forces had done to us. You followed through on all of those requests, and I respect you for doing so. However, you soon proved that they were empty promises. The first of these continued meetings was supposed to be the following Wednesday at City Hall.

Once we arrived at City Hall for the community dialogue you had promised us, we were met with signs that said the meeting had been moved to a church in North Portland — and that City Hall was on lockdown. Many people could not make it to North Portland on such short notice. Others did not feel safe going to a church that is run by an accused sexual assaulter. Others simply did not feel comfortable going to a church. Black people are bigger than black churches. You then repeatedly lied claiming that we had signed off on the location change. You and your staff all know this is not true. This was a clear attempt to avoid your promise.

We stayed at City Hall, demanding that you do what you said you would. After many hours of waiting outside, your staff pulled me aside so we could meet with you. I told you that you needed to do what you promised, even if four hours late. Thus, you went outside and held a forum with the community where you answered many difficult questions, mostly about the new police union contract. You pretended to listen (your usual tactic) however it was clear the only way we could actually be heard would be at city council.

The following Wednesday, you allowed testimony on a flawed and corrupt contract with the PPA. Every single member of the community testified against the contract. You did not care because you do not have the community’s interest in mind. After just a few hours of testimony you amended the contract. This means that our voices can make good changes to the contract and also that the contract was not yet good enough to be ratified. However, this was not nearly enough.

Soon after that meeting, I met with you again. You attempted to lecture myself and two others on the reasons we must accept a bad contract. Your entire argument was based on the false premise that we need more police officers. You claim we are in a crisis. However, crime is down across the board. There is no crisis. Your primary concern with this contract is to retain and recruit officers. But what does it mean to retain and recruit officers who do not want to be held accountable and enjoy assaulting us as they have throughout the last month? Our city had an opportunity to set an example for real police reform and recruit officers of high character. I sincerely fear for what our city will become. It’s hard to imagine this being any worse.

The contract is bad. I agree with JoAnn Hardesty of the NAACP when she wrote, “[The contract] reflects the narrow focus on money rather than vision and does not reflect the will or voice of the community. There are many things wrong with this contract.” I also agree with the City Auditor who wrote, “We are concerned that the veil of secrecy that has enveloped the proposed contract and its creation stands to do long-term harm to the City’s efforts to build a stronger police accountability system.”

At the following City Council meeting, you jailed your political opponents for speaking out against you and blocked off the public from the meeting itself. This is anti-democratic, unconstitutional, illegal and un-American. Once again, I was not allowed to testify. Yesterday, a week after your latest abuse of power, you decided you would get your contract passed by any means necessary. You closed off the public from City Council, sent armed police officers to protect their wage increase, beat women and children, and arrested innocent protestors. None of us were allowed to testify, none of us were even allowed to be in there. We simply listened in horror in the halls of City Hall as your officers laughed at us. This is why we protest. We are not looking for any reason to protest, you just keep giving us reasons why we need to protest. Please watch the footage of the incident and tell me it looks fun to be there. Tell me that it looks enjoyable. Locking up and shutting out your political opponents is not how democracy works. Beating women, children, the disabled and the elderly is not how policing should work. For these reasons, along with the human rights abuses of your homeless sweeps including the Springwater Corridor, and your reluctance to act on corruption, the housing crisis, addressing homelessness or police accountability; I am calling on you to resign. I understand that you are on your way out but we have no time to spare. Lives are on the line. We will protest against you until you resign. This begins October 14.

Shabbat Shuvah: How Will You Go On the Last Day?

At the beginning of our parashat hashavua it is written: Vayelekh Moshe; vay’dabeyr et kol had’varim ha’eyleh el kol Yisrael, “Moshe went; he spoke all these things to all Israel” (Devarim 31.1)

Although this form of speech may seem familiar to some of us (i.e. “he went and spoke”, or “he’s gone and done it now”) a strict grammarian, or a Torah commentator such as the ancient Sages of Israel, sees here a question. Based on the Rabbinical rules for interpreting Torah, which take as a given that there are no superfluous words in the sacred text, we can ask the simple question: where did Moshe go? The Torah does not specify where he went. It is an even more interesting point when we note that this is Moshe’s last day on earth.

Where was he going, on this last day of his?

Commentaries abound to fill in the ambiguity, and give us several possibilities for interpretation:

1. Even at the end of his long and distinguished career, Moshe was still a humble person. Rather than call all Israel together to hear him, he chose to go to each family tent. He chose to spend his last day of life with his people, meeting intimately with those with whom he had shared so many years of struggle and hope.

2. More disturbingly, it is suggested that the people of Israel were not willing to gather to listen to him. At the end of his life, they dismissed him and his words as no longer meaningful or relevant.

3. The mystics suggest a third possibility from his words: “I can no longer come and go.” They remind us that Moshe had been accustomed to going “up” to commune with G*d, and then coming back “down” to be with the rest of the Israelites. Now, nearing his death, he had risen toward G*d and was unable to meet us on our level.

From these insights we see that the question is not where he went, but how. Did he go in humility as a great leader? did he go as a scorned old man that no one wanted to listen to any more? Did he go somewhere that no one could follow?

On this Shabbat Shuvah, our Shabbat of Returning between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, we consider not where we are going but how we are going. Each day of our lives we draw nearer to the last day. How are you going?

On this Shabbat Shuvah, may you feel supported in your search for your best way to go forward, toward the rest of your life, and toward your last day. That is why we create spiritual community: to talk about this, to encourage and support each other, and to be there, on this Shabbat and every day.