Tag Archives: #blacklivesmatter

I have had enough. Black lives matter.

In 1994, I attended, along with a number of my colleagues from the Capital District Educational Opportunity Center, an Office of Special Programs (OSP) conference in downstate New York. After the opening night’s dinner, I wandered over to  venders’s tables that had been set up in an adjoining room.  The items included many  that reflected the African-American population which OSP served: Kente cloths, African artwork, Maasai beaded bracelets.

I also saw books including The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Black Like Me.  I stopped dead in my tracks, however, when I saw The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews. A quick scan through the thin volume told me all I needed to know: it was an sickening, highly exaggerated  claim that Jews had a disproportionately large role in the black slave trade relative to their numbers.

Livid, I raised my voice to the vendor. “How can you sell a book filled with  anti-Semitic lies and garbage?” I demanded. “This is a New York state-run conference!” 

The vendor told me it was his right to sell anything he wanted. I marched back into the dining room, found our EOC director, and expressed my anger. When he downplayed the situation, I blew up. “If you don’t find a way to get rid of that book, I will walk out of this conference, get a bus home, and contact everyone I can in New York State to tell them that the OSP is condoning anti-Semitism,” I said.  “I won’t stay here if that vendor remains under this roof!”

Seeing not only my rage but also my determination, the director brought me over to the woman who ran the conference. She said, “I will take care of it.” The vendor wasn’t asked to leave, as I had hoped, but the book was no longer on his table—or any other table at that conference.

I later learned I was not alone in my reaction to the 1991 Nation of Islam publication. When Dr. Tony Martin, a black professor at Wellesley College, assigned the book to his introductory African-American history class soon after its 1991 publication, Jewish students protested and four national Jewish groups recommended the professor’s job status be reviewed. [He remained on staff as a controversial figure until his retirement in 2017.] Both the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith have published rebuttals comparing the book  to “the most infamous works of antisemitic propaganda in the 20th century.”Most importantly, the book’s thesis has since been refuted by mainstream historians, including the American Historical Association.

I had forgotten about that incident for twenty-six years. But when I saw the video of  George Floyd dying under the knee of a callous, arrogant white policeman on May 25,  I felt that same rage—and more. And I understood the incredible anger and massive protests that followed. If I could be so vociferous about a book, African-Americans, Caucasians, Asians—the entire world —had every right to say, “I’ve had enough. Black lives matter.”

In the weeks that have followed Floyd’s killing, I have become even more “woke.” Through discussions with friends, participation in newly found groups on social justice, and through voracious reading of both books and articles on the topic, I have learned that my empathizing with those who are the victims of systemic racism falls deeply short of fully experiencing their pain and anguish. It is time for me to speak out with the same voracity for George Floyd and against 400 years of systemic racism in our country.

I have always felt that as a Jew I understood discrimination, racism, and prejudice. Hadn’t I had students in my first teaching job draw swastikas around my picture in the school yearbook? Hadn’t I been  told that I was good at “wrangling a bargain” because I was Jewish? Hadn’t I read hundreds of books and articles bout the Spanish Inquisition and the Holocaust and attacks on Israel?

But I started to listen, really listen and reflected on my life as a privileged white person. When my son was home from college on his summer break, Adam used to go for his run at night to avoid the heat. I worried that he would be hit by a car. But I never had to worry that he, like Trayvon Martin, would be stalked and even killed because he was “in the wrong neighborhood.”

I reflected on s my Upstate New York neighbors, a bi-racial couple, had experienced. Their son was pulled over by the police because he was driving his father’s red sports car. The same young man was almost arrested when he was locking up his family’s restaurant, as the police thought he was breaking in.

The first week of the protests, I stopped by to chat with my Florida neighbor and just blurted out, “I am so sorry for all you have been through as a Black mother.”

“I know you have a good heart, Marilyn,” she told me. “But we’ve been fighting this battle for 400 years.”  One of her battles: When her family was living in Philadelphia, her son was asked to visit some of his white friends in their neighborhood. “I sat him down and told him no,” she said. His being in that section of town was too dangerous for a young Black man.

My friend Mayra opened up to me about her life as a Hispanic woman married to Robin, a Black man. Her family wouldn’t talk to them for years. Meanwhile, Robin, who had a very successful position as a supervising editor for a major network, had been pulled over and slammed against walls more times than he could count as police had questioned why he was driving in his own neighborhood.  Another time, Robin and Mayra were guests at a large party  of one of the network executives. Robin was talking to a co-worker close to the front door of the large home.  Incoming guests assumed he was the hired help and kept handing them their coats and pocketbooks

Another friend shared her story of how her husband Bill* was the victim of road rage, an encounter that began on a toll road ended just inside their community’s security gates. The car with a white man at the wheel drove through a parallel gate, pulled along beside him, and cut him off.   The man then jumped out of his car, berating Bill for passing him on the parkway ,and demanded to know why he was in the 55+ community “You obviously don’t live here,” he was told. The driver’s wife, who was in the passenger seat,  offered to get out their gun. Fortunately, the incident ended when Bill drove away.  Because it was captured on Bill’s dashboard camera, it is being investigated as a hate crime. But I know that his residency would never have questioned if Bill were white. 

I am somewhat ashamed to admit that before May 25, I didn’t “get it.” But I am trying to catch up. I feel like the demonstrator at a June 2020 Black Lives Matter protest in Bethel, Ohio, who held a sign reading, “I’m Sorry I’m Late. I Had a Lot To Learn.” May the memory of George Floyd be a blessing to his family and our country. And may we all continue to learn and move forward to a more equitable world. 

*Not his real name.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish World News, a bi-weekly subscription-based newspaper in upstate New York.

SOURCES

https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/opinions/1993/10/17/half-truths-and-history-the-debate-over-jews-and-slavery/6b2b2453-01da-4429-bd50-beff03741418/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/opinions/1994/02/11/farrakhan-101-at-wellesley/6e55eea2-e9f1-44b9-8dd5-d2bfd36d3fbf/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/

The_Secret_Relationship_Between_Blacks_and_Jew

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_Martin_(professor)

Keep Calm and Bake Challah

Every Friday afternoon since the corona virus has turned our world upside down, I have been baking fresh challah. I revel in the process: the measuring, the gradual rising, and especially the eating. But it has become so much more. As Roche Pinson wrote in her book, Rising: The Book of Challah, “We make challah from a place of commitment to nourish ourselves and our families in a way that goes beyond mere physical feeding and watering.”

Even though I can’t remember ever baking a challah before,  two recent encounters with fresh-out-of-the-oven loaves motivated me. Last August met my future daughter-in-law’s parents in their home at their weekly Shabbat dinner. Along with the candle lighting and the kiddish, we all joined in the prayer over Carol’s freshly baked challah, a tradition she has maintained for decades. The taste of her delicious bread stayed with me throughout the coming months.

On one of the last services at our synagogue in Kissimmee before services were suspended, we congregants enjoyed home baked challah made by Liz Ross. The daughter of a Jewish mother and an Inuit chief, Liz had discovered her spiritual roots as an adult. As the only Jew in  Unalakleet, Alaska, her only choice was to make her own challah to accompany her holiday meals. Years of experience yielded a wonderful, sweet bread. 

On that first quarantined Friday, I decided a home made challah would be a perfect comfort food.  I pulled out my friend Flo Miller’s challah recipe that I had stored in a recipe file for years and gathered all the necessary ingredients: yeast, flour, sugar, butter. I mixed and kneaded the sticky dough with my KitchenAid’s dough hook and covered it with a cloth tea towel. After it had risen, I shaped the dough into three challahs, brushed on the egg wash, and let it rise again.  Once out of the oven, Larry and I dropped one of the loaves over on the doorstep of a friend who was spending Shabbos alone in  as his wife was in isolation in the memory unit of a nearby nursing home. 

As the two loaves waited under my mother’s challah cross stitch covering, I lit the Shabbat candles that we had placed in my Grandma Annie’s brass candlesticks. Larry recited the Kiddish over the Manischewitz wine, and then we both recited the HaMotzei over the warm braided bread. We sat down to our first Shabbat dinner in quarantine. 

The following week, Larry and I headed to Publix at 7 a.m. as part of a “seniors only” shopping trip. I immediately headed to the baking aisle to stock up on my bread making supplies.  I obviously was not the only one baking. Yeast, like toilet paper and hand sanitizers,  had completely disappeared from the shelves, with flour, sugar, and eggs in short supply. We grabbed what we could and headed home.

Fortunately, the flour, sugar, and egg situation improved. Initial attempts on purchasing yeast online, however, were miserably unsuccessful. Amazon offered a three-pack of Fleischmann’s for $25, price gouging at its worst. I sent out an all-points bulletin on FaceBook, and three friends dropped off some packets they had in their cupboards. They each got a challah in return. Soon after, Amazon offered a one-pound bag of yeast. Despite the fact it was twice the normal price, I snapped it up.

Thus began my Friday ritual of making the bread and giving one or two of my loaves to others. As a thank-you for two homemade masks. As a “Mazel Tov” on finishing chemotherapy. As a wish for safe travels to their summer home.  If the bread came out of the oven too late for delivery before sundown, we dropped it off the next day with a suggestion to warm it up, toast it, or make it into French toast.

Each week, I tweaked the process. Too much flour made the bread tough. An extra egg yolk made for a richer taste. Covering the bowl with a tea towel and then loosely wrapping it in a garbage bag helped in the rising. Slamming the ball of dough on the counter a few times removed extra gases—and relieved tension! Raisins were a wonderful addition. Creating a challah with six braids or more will take more practice.

One night, when an afternoon nap killed chances for my normal bedtime, I went on YouTube and found a series of  challah baking videos made by Jamie Geller, the “Jewish Rachel Ray.” An Orthodox Jew who made aliyah to Israel in 2012 with her husband and six children, Jamie’s  demonstration added a spiritual component that touched me. Although she is a professed “shortcut queen,” Jamie said she eschews a dough hook in favor of kneading the bread by hand to infuse her love into the loaves. She uses that time to pray for her children, her family, for people in need of r’fuah sh’leimah [complete healing].” 

The  next Friday, I used an electric mixer to start the process but then turned the dough onto my floured countertop and began kneading. Like Jaime, I prayed for my children and grandchildren, who are physically so far away but always in my heart. I prayed for the wellbeing of my friends and family. I prayed for my friend Kathy who is on her way to recovering from COVID-19. I prayed for Minnie, a beautiful baby born at 29 weeks who will be spending her first weeks of life in a NICU unit. I prayed for Jesse, who just lost his wife Heddy to cancer. And I prayed for all those impacted by COVID-19, the sick, the grieving, the lonely, the unemployed, the hungry. Was it my imagination, or did the challah taste especially sweet, especially delicious that Friday night?

This week, the need for prayers is even greater. Along with the pandemic and devastating unemployment numbers, our country is marked with racial strife and protests—both peaceful and violent. So this Friday, I will knead my challah dough with additional prayers —for George Floyd (May his memory be a blessing) and his family, for our country, for the future of democracy. And as the beautiful, sweet braided loaves rise for the final time, I will call my elected officials to repeat the words of Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, “We stand in solidarity with the Black community as they yet again are subject to pain and suffering at the hands of a racist and unjust system…. Systemic injustice and inequality calls for systemic change. Now!” Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who brings forth bread from the earth. Amen

A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish World News, a bi-weekly subscription-based newspaper in upstate New York.

Marilyn Cohen Shapiro, a resident of Kissimmee, FL, is a regular contributor to the (Capital Region NY) Jewish World and the Orlando Heritage Florida Jewish News. She is the author of two compilation of her stories, There Goes My Heart (2016) and Tikkun Olam: Stories of Repairing an Unkind World. (2018). Both books available in paperback and e-book format on Amazon. You can read more of her stories on her blog, theregoesmyheart.me.