Tag Archives: #georgefloyd

Why I am not voting for Donald Trump

Marilyn Cohen Shapiro reciting Kiddish at Congregation Shalom Aleichem, Kissimmee, Florida

This article is in response to “Donald Trump: Social Justice President” (Rabbi Sanford Olshansky, Heritage Florida Jewish News, Aug. 28, 2020). 

The High Holy Days will be very different this year for all of us.

Rather than meeting fellow congregants in our synagogues, we will be Zooming. As the first day falls on Shabbos, Reform Jews will have to wait until the closing moments of Yom Kippur to hear the sound of the shofar over the Internet. Holiday meals will be lonely affairs as most families are practicing social distancing. Fasting on the holiest day of the year will be made even more difficult when people are not sharing the experience with others.

It did not have to be this bad. Other countries are opening up. Because of this administration’s failure to address the COVID-19 pandemic and — worst yet — its attempt to call it a “hoax,” the United States has over 6 million confirmed cases and over 189,000 deaths as of Sept. 4, with an upsurge expected this fall. Employment is at 8.4 percent overall (compared to 4.7 percent under Obama) but much higher among Blacks (13.0 percent), and Hispanics (10.5 percent). Both small businesses and large corporations are facing closures or uncertain futures. 

The president and his followers have made a health issue a political issue. The country has been torn apart on the issue of wearing a piece of cloth. “The dispute over masks embodies the political dynamics of the campaign,” writes Tara McKelvey in a BBC news article. “It also reflects a classic American struggle between those who defend public safety and those who believe just as deeply in personal liberty.” Meanwhile, all respectable medical personnel view masks as our first defense against the virus.

For those fortunate enough not to have suffered devastating health or economic effects, the impact of the pandemic still has been emotionally difficult. Parents of children fear sending their children to school. Nursing home residents cannot see their families. Grandparents cannot see their grandchildren. Six months into the pandemic, people are feeling lonely, isolated, depressed. 

Meanwhile, since George Floyd’s murder, the United States has come face to face with its long history of systematic racism, and the president has only fueled the flames. His comments and policies have impacted Latinos, Muslims, Blacks, Dreamers, Africans (“shit-hole countries”), Asians (“kung fu” flu), and Jews. Even the disabled — including those who suffered physical or emotional injuries as a result of their military service (“losers” and “suckers”) — have been the target of the president’s disrespect and scorn. 

Jews and non-Jews alike have questioned why I don’t support Trump as he is “good for the Jews.” His history of anti-Semitic comments prove clearly to me that he is not. In 2017, the president stated soon after the white supremacist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia that there was “good on both sides.” His inability to denounce neo-Nazis demonstrates to me that the lessons of World War II and the Holocaust mean nothing to him. Later that year, after the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue, Trump’s initial reaction was to criticize the synagogue. “If they had some kind of a protection inside the temple … maybe it could have been a very much different situation.” In August 2019, he accused American Jews of being “disloyal” to Israel by voting for Democrats. In December 2019, speaking at the Israeli American Council referred the dual loyalty cliché, and then went on to call Jews involved in real estate “ brutal killers, not nice people at all.” As recently as last week, Mary Ann Mendoza, a Trump supporter was pulled from the RNC line up after protests of her promotion of anti-Semitic and QAnon conspiracy theories on her Twitter Feed. 

The president is the antithesis to every moral tenet of Judaism. He is a bully, a liar, a cheat, a womanizer, and a self-absorbed, unempathetic narcissist who has no respect for anyone who does not fawn over him — unless they are despots. 

His June 1, 2020, photo in front of what is considered the “Church of Presidents” is one the most egregious example. In the middle of peaceful protests, law enforcement officers used tear gas and other riot control tactics to forcefully clear peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square and surrounding streets, creating a path for the president and senior administration officials to walk from the White House to St. John’s Episcopal Church. Reverend Gini Gerbasi, the rector, had helped organize more than twenty priests and lay volunteers to provide water, food, and hand sanitizer as a “peaceful presence in support of protesters.” As they were packing up before the 7 p.m. curfew, armed riot police carrying riot shields entered the churchyard, forcing everyone to evacuate. Minutes later, the president and his entourage entered the square. Brandishing an upside-down, back-facing Bible, Trump posed for photographers for what he perceived was his “law and order” demeanor.

The publicity-stunt-gone wrong met with overwhelming condemnation. Rev. Gerbasi’s comments reported in the Washington Post were especially hard hitting. “People were protesting the fact that their government had been enslaving, incarcerating, overlooking and brutalizing them for generations — and the government brutalized them again,” she stated in a Washington Post article. “Religious people, who were literally wiping away the protesters’ tears, were driven off the church property with brute force and fear. All so that Trump could use the church as a backdrop and wave the Bible like a prop. It was beyond offensive. It was sacrilege.”

“We need our President, and all who hold office, to be moral leaders who help us to be a people and nation living these values,” stated Bishop Michael B. Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. “For the sake of George Floyd, for all who have wrongly suffered, and for the sake of us all, we need leaders to help us to be ‘one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.’” Donald J. Trump is not that president. The only path for our country and democracy is for the overwhelming numbers of Americans to recognize this failure and vote for Joe Biden on Nov. 3. Then, and only then, can all of us sound the Shofar in the future with peace, joy and hope.

Marilyn Shapiro lives in Kissimmee, Fla. This article was first published in the (Orlando) Heritage Florida Jewish News on September 18, 2020.

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

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)