Archive | March 2013

Passover a la Les Miz

The Passover story is a universal tale of liberation. This performance of a Les Miz version is a great illustration.


The Talmud says, “You are not required to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it.” (Pirkei Avot 2:21)

I’ve been watching a lot of Netflix videos on social activism lately. One of these was a documentary by Harry Belafonte about himself called “Sing Your Song.” For those who only know Belafonte as a singer or actor, you are missing the most important thing about him. He has been a human rights activist all of his life. He is now 86 years old. Belafonte says he would love to take his money and settle in on a nice beach house somewhere with his wife to live out his life in comfort. His soul will not allow that. There is still too much wrong in the world.

This is basically how I feel. I have all the makings of a quiet retirement with Phyllis who has endured me for going on 45 years. We have a very nice life in a beautiful place. We have friends and the amenities of an area people who visit sometimes fall in love with as we did. I suppose, after half a century of activism (I started at age 15) I could decide I deserve to let others take over and rest on whatever laurels I have earned.

To do that I would have to cut myself off from the world. The injustices and other evils that continue to plague our world and our nation still get under my skin and inspire me to write, speak, and be active. Of course, since leaving NYC my approach has become “act locally but think globally.” I know the world will go on without me if I opt out. I know there are others, including people much younger than I am, who will continue the great work of bringing peace and justice to the world. My contributions are very small compared with those of some of the people I have met and worked with. I was once teased because I’ve never been arrested. According to an FOIA request I have no FBI file.

Nonetheless I feel a powerful urge not to stand by and stop working for the world I want to come into being. Even after all of these years I might still have something to contribute. I cannot stop now. I probably will never stop until I leave this world.

It is in that spirit that I tell you, my readers, that I hope you can see and feel what is wrong in the world and will feel compelled to do something about it. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” (Margaret Mead) The same applies to each of us as individuals.

I’ll close with another quote from Pirkei Avot in the Talmud. “The day is short, the labor vast, the toilers idle, the reward great, and the Master of the house is insistent.” (2:20)

The Shelby County Case

The Curmudgeons have been discussing the Shelby County case seeking to overturn the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  This, so far, has been an email discussion.  Those supporting Shelby County’s position are arguing that it is about racial gerrymandering and that it has caused districts to be drawn along racial lines (true) and that is somehow detrimental to the interests of the Democratic Party.  This is my latest response.


Gerrymandering is not explicit in the 1965 bill.

Section 2 says

SEC. 2. No voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.


This is a prohibition on using electoral districting for the purpose of restricting voting rights on a racial basis.  Anyone against that?  Get your white hood dry-cleaned.  The accusation is made that this law has been used to create districts to favor racial groups.  I do not favor racism in any form including such an action.  However there is a history of this law which reflects restriction on such uses for this law.


(From a Wikipedia article on the VRA)  Section 2 contains a general prohibition on voting discrimination, enforced through federal district court litigation. Congress amended this section in 1982, prohibiting any voting practice or procedure that has a discriminatory result. The 1982 amendment provided that proof of intentional discrimination is not required. The provision focused instead on whether the electoral processes are equally accessible to minority voters. This section is permanent and does not require renewal.

The article is at


In any case the Shelby County case is not about section 2, but about Section 5.  This part opens as follows.

SEC. 5. Whenever a State or political subdivision with respect to which the prohibitions set forth in section 4(a) are in effect shall enact or seek to administer any voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure with respect to voting different from that in force or effect on November 1, 1964, such State or subdivision may institute an action in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia for a declaratory judgment that such qualification, prerequisite, standard, practice, or procedure does not have the purpose and will not have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color, and unless and until the court enters such judgment no person shall be denied the right to vote for failure to comply with such qualification, prerequisite, standard, practice, or procedure.

Compassionate Listening

I have had the privilege of meeting many extraordinary people in my life.  They include some who are very famous and some who are not well known.  Recently one of these passed away.  Hs name was Rabbi Menachem Froman.  There is a wonderful video about him at

I met Rabbi Froman in his home in the settlement of Tekoa during a mission to Israel that gave me new understanding about how to go about making peace.  It was sponsored by Compassionate Listening ( and was specifically a Jewish mission.  There were sixteen of us plus a film crew.  In the course of two weeks we met with all kinds of Israelis and Palestinians including settlers, peace activists, PLO officials, Israeli farmers, Palestinian farmers, journalists, and even the founder of Hamas.

Our mission was based on an approach to peacemaking that is controversial among peace activists.  Instead of choosing aggressor and victim when approaching the arena of conflict, our mission was to engage people involved in the conflict and get them to talk about it.  One of the first steps in making peace is letting everyone understand that they are being heard.  This requires setting aside judgment.  We had two or three days of training ending with meetings with people who were in on what we were doing.

Then we got on the bus and visited people.  Sometimes they were not celebrities or activists.  We met with Palestinians living on the West Bank whose houses were under threat of demolition by Israeli authorities.  We met with settler activists and also with representatives of the Palestinian authority.  We even went to Gaza where we met with the Palestinian governor (after a nearly two-hour meeting he was literally in tears).  We met with the head of the local Red Crescent who was a founder of the PLO.  He spoke about his childhood in Hebron where some of his friends were Jews until the 1936 massacre.  We met with Iyad Seraj, a psychiatrist who believed that our two peoples needed each other to heal from our wounds.  (I hope he still feels that way after all that happened in Gaza since then.)  We met with Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, founder and spiritual leader of Hamas.  We were allowed to ask questions and we did.

In addition we had two week-ends.  During the first one we stayed with Palestinian families in Hebron, which has to be the most tense place in the whole land.  I love the memory of the hospitality shown by the peasant family I stayed with.  Their house, the one I stayed in, was demolished a few months later.  I donated to help them pay for new building permits and visited the new home around a decade ago.  The second weekend we enjoyed home hospitality in the settlement of Efrat.  My host, Joshua, was a remarkable man.  He is a settler and an Orthodox Jew but he is also a man of compassion and wisdom who has spent time in Thich Naht Hanh’s Plum Village in France learning Buddhist spiritual traditions.  As I left with the group he reminded me that the ear is not only the organ for listening but the organ that provides balance.

On our last night we ate in a café on Ben Yehudah Street near a place where a suicide bomber had killed many people.  Next door was a CD store and I was eager to buy Israeli music, especially that which blends Jewish and Arab musical traditions (I have a quite a collection of this genre).  The name of the shop was (in Hebrew) “The Way of The Ear.”  That just seemed so right.