Always the Stranger

April 27, 2016

On  April 11, Northwestern Hillel’s Executive Director and JCUA Member Michael Simon spoke at JCUA’s 2016 Freedom and Justice Seder: The 11th Plague – Standing Against Islamophobia. In celebration of Passover this week, we are honored to share his inspiring presentation in full.

Michael SimonBy Michael Simon

I am the Executive Director of Northwestern Hillel, the center and catalyst for Jewish life at Northwestern.  We work to enrich the lives of Jewish students so that they may enrich the Jewish people and the world.  But beyond those lofty goals, we work in the day-to-day, here-and-now of campus.  The rhetoric related to issues of diversity and inclusion, of Israel and Palestine, of intersectionality and marginalization, of power and privilege – all have become more intense and more strident in the past couple of years. What drives me in my work, in general and also, particularly, in working with Sister Tahera on Muslim-Jewish and other interfaith and intercultural initiatives, is to fully bring myself and ourselves to conversations that put the particularism of Jewish identity into tension with the universalism of being human.  How do I bring my full self, flaws and inconsistencies and all, to this or any table?

In a moment, we’ll drink the 2nd cup of wine.  Traditionally, this comes at the end of the maggid section, in which we ask the four questions and tell the story of the Exodus.  In this section we also talk of four children:  one who is wise, one who is wicked, one who is simple, and one who does not know how to ask a question.  When I was younger, I wanted to be the wise child.  I saw myself as the good one, the one who always tried to do the right thing.  But I’ve found myself drawn more and more over the years to an idea expressed by Rabbi Israel Salanter in the 19th century, that “We each have all the four children within us.”  We have a desire to fight bigotry and a streak of bigotry.  A desire to stand up against injustice and a desire to just stay quiet and hope no one will notice.  A need to scream at authority and a lack of knowing even where to begin.

Michael-and-TaheraA couple of weeks ago, a member of the Chicago Jewish community who happens to be a Northwestern alum wrote to challenge the very premise of this event.  He asked, “Are you perhaps also ‘standing’ against radical Islamic violence directed at Christians and Jews?”  I responded that I do, indeed, stand against such violence – terrorism – done by Muslims against not only Christians and Jews but also other Muslims and many others, done by Muslim extremists who justify their actions through a twisted and hateful reading of their religious precepts.

I reminded this person that I have my own experience with terrorism – my intended fiancée was murdered by the Hamas terrorist bombing at Hebrew University in 2002.  I understand – viscerally – the need to stand against terrorists and those who honor and support them.  Read the rest of this entry »


My Son Came Home

April 13, 2016

(This blog post was originally printed in Oy! Chicago on March 25, 2016)

Annice MosesBy Annice Moses
JCUA Member

Three teen boys running around with saggy pants and backpacks. One of them is wearing a black hoodie — hood up, a bandana covering the lower half of his face. That kid has a gun in his hand. He’s shooting it. The police are called. You know what happens next…

What happens next is I get a call from my son. He tells me his friend was being an idiot and shooting squirrels. Someone called the cops. Can I come pick him up? He gives me the address. It’s not the address of the police station.

I am the first parent to arrive on the scene. There are two police Suburbans parked, their engines running. My son and his two friends are standing nervously. Two guns and a giant canister of ammo sit on the hood of one of the police vehicles. The officers are extremely polite. They tell me that the boy with the hoodie had been shooting his Airsoft gun and both my son and the third boy had not. They said the boys had all been cooperative. My son was free to go. Free. To. Go.

I found out later — many days later — that my son also had an Airsoft gun. A gun that was shifting anxiously in my son’s backpack, while he was being respectfully questioned by officers. A backpack that was never searched — a gun that was never discovered.

My son, at age 13, had just gotten a big dose of white privilege. A privilege that may have saved his life.

My son came home that day. He left his bed unmade and his towel on the floor the next day and the day after that, and the day after that. My son continues to have breakfast every Sunday with his grandparents. He still opens up a mouth about having to clean his dishes before going out with friends. He still takes too long doing his hair and regularly makes his brothers late to school. He got strep throat. He turned 14. My son came home.

Tamir Rice was black. He was 12 years old. He was playing with a BB gun in a park. He will never play in that park again. He will never celebrate another birthday. He was shot by an officer before he had a chance to explain his gun was a toy; before he had a chance to hide it in his backpack; before he had a chance to call his mom and say he needed her to pick him up; before he felt his nerves kick in worrying about what his mom was going to say. He’ll never come home again.

I can’t stop thinking about it. But I can if I want to. I’m not raising a black son. I don’t need to teach my son — my sons — to keep their hands on the steering wheel when they get pulled over. I don’t have to help my sons’ white friends understand that the usual mischief boys get into can’t be for mine because I fear his life may be taken in a “misunderstanding” because he’s black. When the dispatcher comes over the radio saying, “Suspect is a black male…” somehow those words — BLACK MALE — strike such a fear, that a routine nuisance call can escalate to a child dying in a park next to his toy gun. The gratitude that my son came home is forever paired with shame. There can be no solace in injustice, even if my son came home.


We Must Stand Together

March 29, 2016

headshotBy Michael Goldberg
JCUA Member

A few weeks ago, I joined members of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs and the Downtown Islamic Center in a joint community service event at the DIC.

When I arrived I met a group of lively volunteers. Together we worked in an assembly line to prepare peanut butter, banana and honey sandwiches. We packed them into lunch bags with salads and oranges before setting out across downtown Chicago to offer the lunches to people experiencing homelessness.

I was glad to be working alongside people from different backgrounds on a pic 2common goal of service to our sisters and brothers facing hunger and homelessness.

Both Judaism and Islam stress the importance and the necessity of feeding the hungry and helping the homeless. Both traditions emphasize social justice for the suffering, the downtrodden and the powerless. In the Jewish tradition, to perform acts of social justice is to do God’s will, and we are all called on to act on behalf of God in this world.

Service to our fellow human beings can be a vehicle for bringing us together. When we do service together we grow in understanding with one another, deepen our sense of fellowship, and inspire hope in ourselves and others.

As two new friends and I were walking down the street and offering lunches to those in need, an onlooker thanked us for what we were doing. I could tell that we had inspired some hope in him.

pic 1Now more than ever it is crucial for Jews and Muslims to come together in the name of love, unity, and understanding. We must stand together against all forms of hatred, bigotry, and division.

Amid divisive rhetoric we have an opportunity to show our strength in unity.

We are commanded: “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9). As Jews we know what it feels like to be ostracized and scapegoated, and we must do everything within our power to foster unity and to not allow the heinous crimes of history that we will never forget be repeated on our neighbors.

We are children of Abraham. We can and we must come together in the spirit of love, understanding, peace and justice.

Please join JCUA for their annual social justice Seder: “The 11th Plague – Standing Against Islamophobia” on Monday, April 11 at Beth Emet Synagogue in Evanston. This is a great opportunity for people to come together and learn about ways we can work together to stand against hate. Click here to register: www.jcua.org/seder2016

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