An interview from Crossroads with Dr. Stan Bratton, broadcast on Sunday, March 12, 2017.
On Tuesday evening, hundreds of Charlotteans gathered for an Interfaith Vigil to remember the murdered and injured from the horror of last Saturday night and Sunday morning in Orlando.
Initially, I could come up with no words but these for that evening:
The litany is too painful. Our powerlessness seems overwhelming.
Judaism reminds us that, in the face of unspeakable loss and horror, we must start with the words we utter in grief and mourning - so on Tuesday evening with all of those people of many ethnicities, faiths, and identities, I chanted Eil Malei for those who were struck down:
Eil Malei Rachamim
Exalted, compassionate God, grant infinite rest, in Your sheltering Presence, among the holy and pure, to the souls of our sisters and brothers murdered by senseless hatred and violence in Orlando, who have gone to their eternal homes.
Merciful One, we ask that our loved ones find perfect peace in Your eternal embrace. May their souls be bound up in the bond of life.
May they rest in peace.
And let us say: Amen.
We mourn and then we work to transform death into something else, to find meaning, create life from the dead bodies of those whom we mourn, to devote ourselves to improving the world. At the minimum, we can sum up a Jewish ethic as a campsite morality:
We must leave the world better than we found it.
On Tuesday, I concluded with this poem, to help us all move from mourning into action, so that the memories of all whom we have lost might be turned into a blessing.
Dirge Without Music
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains—but the best is lost.
The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love—
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
I am not resigned to a world of unrestrained senseless hatred and violence. I have faith that we will all stand together and make sure that we do something - we cannot be paralyzed by the status quo.
First and foremost we must make true common cause with each other, and everyone who stands for civil decency.
We are united by more than divides us. We must stand together now.
"We are consistently finding things to do rather than doing things that need to be done."
- Jeffrey Benoit, Community Activist
(On the bus to begin walking for Journey for Justice, from Selma, Alabama, to Washington DC, Wednesday morning, August 26, 2015)
There really is no "us and them", there is only one human family.
A spectator asked if we marched for "black power". Someone responded, "We march for all of our power".
These two ideas echoed in my mind during the 16 miles we walked on Wednesday's leg of the Journey for Justice in South Carolina.
We aimed to fulfill a physical promise of togetherness. We have so many miles to go, on the ground and in our hearts and minds, and when we undertake some of them together, when we share journeys and stories, we more easily remember the fundamental fabric into which we are all woven as Americans and humans.
We just entered this season of reflection - the month before Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur - let us take note of things of real importance. Let us look at what needs to be done and begin the task together. Walk a few miles with someone and hear their story, especially if it is new to us and significantly different from our own. Overcome the discomfort of reaching out to someone new. And then ask one another what we can do to make the year to come one blessed with more justice and fairness for everyone.
May this Elul, the month before the High Holy Days, help us find the strength to overcome barriers and the patience to listen when we do.
Here is the video of our Press Conference on Monday, April 28.
I speak at around 29:10 :-)
[Here is my statement from yesterday's Press Conference announcing the filing of the law suit filed by clergy, religious denominations, and couples, seeking same-sex marriage on First Amendment, Freedom of Religion, grounds]
Our traditions teach: “Justice, justice, you shall pursue.”
I am honored and blessed to stand here today on the right side of history.
As a rabbi of both the Reform and Reconstructionist Jewish movements, supporters of equal rights and marriage for same-sex couples for decades, I am humbled to be in the company of this noble community of plaintiffs and lawyers striving for justice and equal rights for all Americans.
We stand here today as representatives of mainstream religious organizations seeking to help couples create and maintain healthy and principled families.
Judaism calls upon me as a rabbi, and the Jews as a people, to provide communities that support strong families, communities in which all those who belong may celebrate marriage.
Americans trust our religious communities to decide how best to create a wedding ritual and to determine who in our communities receives the blessing of marriage.
Please support this lawsuit that will bring fairness back to our State of North Carolina, and allow all of us to create communities of high principles and moral character; communities of diverse people from all walks of life; communities that celebrate the sanctity of couples in love, through marriages available to same sex couples and heterosexual couples alike.
Here is our letter to the Editors from yesterday's Charlotte Observer:
Plea to McCrory from 75 clergy, others: Accept Medicaid money
Seventy-five concerned N.C. clergy, religious leaders, state representatives, organization leaders and citizens have signed a letter urging Gov. Pat McCrory to accept federal Medicaid funds so the neediest uninsured North Carolinians can get health care.
Refusing Medicaid expansion threatens 500,000 North Carolinians’ health and would increase deaths in the state by 2,000 people per year.
All 500,000 eligible N.C. citizens must have access to Medicaid. Failing to fully expand Medicaid threatens many rural clinics and hospitals.
We ask Gov. McCrory to bring our money back to our state, and give more North Carolinians access to desperately needed health care. It will be better for all of us.
Rabbi Jonathan Freirich
Rev. Dr. Rodney S. Sadler Jr.
Editor’s note: Freirich is Associate Rabbi at Temple Beth El. Sadler is an associate professor at Union Presbyterian Seminary.
Read more here:
I was honored to join a great group of people of all faiths to commemorate the events of March 1965 - the march from Selma to Montgomery that helped raise the awareness needed to pass the Voting Rights Act. Here were my words:
As people of faith, we share a tradition of protest and change, and faith in humanity to eventually embrace justice. Even in the Wilderness of Sinai, the Israelites brought forward their protests about unfairness in the system established by God.
In the Book of Numbers, the Daughters of Tzlofachad protested that they would not inherit according to the system laid out by God through Moses. Moses brought their protest to God, who in turn changed the law to allow daughters to inherit. Later on, others in Tzlofachad’s tribe pointed out that should these daughters inherit, and marry outside of the tribe, that the inherited lands would end up outside of the tribe as well. Moses again went to God, who again amended the law to make it more just.
Many of us share a tradition of protest that challenges injustice. When we imagine even the divine rewriting the rules of society to make them fairer, we understand that we must always rise up against violations of justice wherever we find them. It is upon us to bring concerns of justice to all authorities – even the highest laws must adhere to the highest standards.
We stand together here today, in commemoration of those who placed fairness over even their personal safety. In this Passover season of re-commitment to freedom, in this spring season of renewal, may we also renew our commitments to continue to pursue fairness and justice for everyone.
Join us for song, meditation, reflection and prayer in honor of Pride week and gender and ethnic inclusion.
4pm, today, Sunday, August 21, at Caldwell Memorial Presbyterian Church, 1609 E. 5th St., Charlotte, NC 28204.
Despite six years into high-flown “Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005–2015” initiative,Roma (Gypsy) people of Europe still reportedly live in apartheid like conditions, Hindus and Jews stress.
Hindu statesman Rajan Zed; and Rabbi Jonathan B. Freirich, prominent Jewish leader in North Carolina; in a statement in the USA today, said that almost everybody involved in Roma upliftment programs would agree that Roma continued to face deeply embedded institutional discrimination and social exclusion. Concrete steps were immediately needed to improve their plight, which traces back to the Ninth Century CE.
Zed, who is president of Universal Society of Hinduism, and Rabbi Freirich argue that in spite of this much publicized “Inclusion” initiative involving political commitment by governments of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, and Slovakia to improve the socio-economic status and social inclusion of Roma, they unfortunately reportedly continue to suffer from human rights violations and brazen structural discrimination.
Rajan Zed and Jonathan Freirich further say that on paper, Roma are fully covered by European Union legislation, which prohibits discrimination on grounds of ethnic origin in employment, social protection and education as well as access to goods and services, including housing. But in reality, Roma reportedly regularly face a litany of institutionalized mistreatment, including: racism, substandard education, social exclusion, joblessness, rampant illness, inadequate housing, lower life expectancy, unrest, rights violations, discrimination, appalling living conditions, and human rights abuse.
Zed and Freirich urged Macedonia, which took over Presidency of “Roma Decade” initiative starting July 1, to deliver effective implementation, firm commitment and strong political will to improve the Roma plight. In the past, policies on paper to tackle Roma discrimination and exclusion had proved very weak in dealing with their day-to-day sufferings. It is simply immoral to let nearly 15 million Europeans continually suffer and face human rights violations.
Hindus and Jews have strongly criticized the reported initiative oferection of a wall around a Roma (Gypsy) neighborhood in northern Romania, calling it a clear sign of apartheid.
Hindu statesman Rajan Zed; and Rabbi Jonathan B. Freirich, prominent Jewish leader in North Carolina; in a statement in the USA today, said thaterection of this concrete wall in Baia Mare town was an attempt at ghettoization, humiliation, degrading and segregation of Roma. This is clearly racism, separating Roma from the rest of the population.
“Could this be 21st century Europe?” Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, and Rabbi Freirich, asked.
Rajan Zed and Jonathan Freirich further said that the condition of Roma in Romania had most of the signs of apartheid and Romania should urgently do something of substance to stop their maltreatment. According to reports, between 1.8 and 2.5 million Roma live in Romania and about 75 per cent live in poverty.
In its annual “Human Rights Report” about Romania issued in the recent past, the US State Department said: “Roma faced persistent poverty and had poor access to government services, few employment opportunities, high rates of school attrition, inadequate health care, and pervasive discrimination.”
Zed and Freirich argued that it was now time for European Union to urgently intervene in Romania and do something “concrete and real” to improve the situation of European Roma.
Europe’s most persecuted and discriminated community, Roma reportedly regularly encountered social exclusion, racism, substandard education, hostility, joblessness, rampant illness, inadequate housing, lower life expectancy, unrest, stereotypes, mistrust, rights violations, discrimination, marginalization, appalling living conditions, prejudice, human rights abuse, to name merely a few of their horrific treatments, Rajan Zed and Rabbi Freirich pointed out.
Only 42% of Roma (Gypsy) children complete primary school in Europe compared to a European Union (EU) average of 97.5%, according to an EU release.
“Europe's 10-12 million Roma continue to face discrimination, exclusion and the denial of their rights”, EU release says and adds, “Roma – Europe’s largest ethnic minority – have been part of Europe for centuries, but frequently face prejudice, intolerance, discrimination and exclusion”.
Hindu statesman Rajan Zed and Rabbi Jonathan B. Freirich, prominent Jewish leader in Nevada and California, and soon to be North Carolina, in the USA; in a statement issued in Nevada today, strongly condemning Europe’s continuing maltreatment of Roma, said, “It was time for Europe to wake-up and do something concrete to end Roma apartheid”. It was simply unacceptable in contemporary Europe, supposedly the paragon of the world's civilizations.
Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, and Rabbi Freirich argued that Europe went from one “ambitious paper plan/project/strategy/framework/taskforce” to another, and instead of showing signs of improvement, Roma apartheid continued to worsen. European politicians needed to exhibit a strong will, commitment, intention and responsibility to bring concrete and lasting results on the reality of the Roma population, instead of just weaving dreams in capital boardrooms. What was so hard of ensuring that most of the Roma children completed at least secondary school (currently only about 10% attend secondary schools) if Europeans seriously intended it to happen?
Europe needed to clarify to the world where it stood on the issue of Roma and how long it would let the clearly visible Roma apartheid continue throughout almost every European locale, Rajan Zed and Jonathan Freirich asked.
Hindus and Jews call out Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi for reportedly using Gypsies (Roma) as a scapegoat in Milan mayoral elections.
Hindu statesman Rajan Zed and Rabbi Jonathan B. Freirich, prominent Jewish leader in Nevada and California in USA; in a statement issued in Nevada today, said that it was time for Berlusconi to talk on issues instead of blaming Gypsies for all the ills and apparently playing the race card.
Berlusconi ally, the incumbent Mayor Letizia Moratti, is contesting the elections. According to reports, Berlusconi warned that Milan would be turned into Gypsytown if his mayoral candidate is defeated.
Terming it as “misplaced attitude of Italian authorities towards Roma population”, Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, and Rabbi Freirich stressed that Italy should come out with long-term solutions on Roma issue. Crackdowns, forcible evacuations and frequent dismantling of Roma campsites without offering proper alternatives was simply inhuman and a dark stain on Italy and Europe and did not solve anything. Italy should show responsibility and arrange housing for all Roma where they could live their lives with dignity. About 150,000 Roma reportedly live in Italy, with about 100 camps in Rome alone.
Rajan Zed and Jonathan Freirich further said that religion clearly told us to help the helpless, defenseless and downtrodden and love them, but His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, whose Vatican City is in the middle of Italy and only about 370 miles from Milan, had hardly ever come out with a strong statement supporting the Roma cause.
Zed and Rabbi Freirich argued that Roma maltreatment in Europe was like an undeclared apartheid. Roma reportedly regularly face terribel conditions and treatment including: social exclusion, racism, substandard education, hostility, joblessness, rampant illness, inadequate housing, lower life expectancy, unrest, living on desperate margins, rights violations, discrimination, marginalization, and appalling living conditions.
Rajan Zed and Rabbi Jonathan Freirich also criticized the management of Vatican’s ancient Roman Catholic basilica St. Paul's Outside-the-Walls for not properly sheltering the Roma displaced by dismantling of their camp in Rome in April. In February, three brothers and a sister, aged 4-11 years, perished while asleep when fire swept through their shack, while adults were out running errands in a Roma settlement in Rome outskirts, according to reports.