Why is President Obama Ignoring Black Africa? by Rabbi Asher Lopatin

May 26, 2011

The most frustrating thing for me about President Obama’s foreign policy is that he is letting his obsession with issues in the Middle East take him away from the most pressing and devastating humanitarian issues going on in the world: Darfur – where hundreds of thousands of people are facing starvation  and bombings – a brewing civil war between North Sudan and the soon-to-be independent South Sudan, including plans for ethnic cleansing and worse, and most of all  the horrific murder and rape campaigns going on now in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  A recent U.S. study, released May 12, estimated that during the study’s one-year time frame, between 2006 and 2007, 400,000 women were raped in the Congo, or 26 times higher than what the United Nations has been reporting.  400,000 rapes!  In one year!

How can anyone excuse talking about the plight of anyone in the world – whether it is the Palestinians or anyone else – when there are 400,000 women being raped in one area in one year.  Shameful!  We are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on helping a unknown group of rebels in Libya while we are ignoring millions of women being raped, and thousands of men, women and children being killed,per  year?

If you are Jewish, whether on the Left or the Right, you have every right to obsess on Israel – that is your religious, cultural and national obligation.  And if you are Palestinian, by all means you can complain about Israeli checkpoints which are forcing people to spend hours in traffic getting to work, or a security fence which is separating you from your friends and relatives.  But if you are not either Israeli, Jewish, Arab or Palestinian, then you have no right to focus on Israel and Palestinians or even Libyans or Syrians or Bahrainis while hundreds of thousands are experiencing death and rape and genocide in sub-Saharan Africa.  It is morally repugnant for our first African American president to be ignoring the worst humanitarian crises in our world, simply because the Arab world and the Palestinians, and many Jews, are “dreying his kup” – are distracting him – for their own interests.  President Obama needs to set the moral agenda of America and prioritize the areas that truly need our humanitarian attention: Sub-Saharan Africa, Sudan – not Israel or the Middle East.

And to the Jewish community I have a message: If we want the Administration to continue to obsess on Israel-Palestinian peace, we just need to remember that we are being selfish; we need to remember that for every hour Obama has to meet Netanyahu to pressure him, that is an hour that hundreds of more women are being raped in the Congo and another hour closer to finishing the genocide in Darfur.  We may feel that getting Israel out of the West Bank is worth it, or ending the occupation for West Bank Palestinians is worth it, but when the tally of deaths and rapes in Africa is taken, I hope it is not on our heads that the leader of the free world ignored his own homeland and left them to continue living in a hell of rapes, killings and destruction. May God open our eyes and hearts to the suffering of our fellow human beings in Africa, and make sure our President is addressing this moral imperative as he should.

Rabbi Asher Lopatin

Jews and the Dream Act: Weren’t we just there? Rabbi Asher Lopatin

May 11, 2011

The Dream Act is being introduced in Congress.    All Jews who immigrated to the United States – that’s all of us! – need to support it if we have any gratitude to God for allowing us and those who came before us enter this country, or other countries of refuge.  The Dream Act would enable tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants who entered this country as children and who are either serving in the U.S. Army or going to college to gain legal residency and eventually citizenship.  The Dream Act failed in its first round, mostly because Republicans in congress demanded that the government deal with securing the boarder before certifying any formerly illegal immigrants.  But this issue has to be a priority for America and for the Jewish Community.  It is a moral matter for Americans, who know that our country is the right place for these people who have lived almost their whole lives here, and who have achieved the American dream – of serving our country and getting an education to enable our country to continue its leadership of the Free World.

Just over a week after we commemorated the Holocaust, where millions of our people died because England and the United States refused entry to our people, and just a day after Israel independence day, our beloved Jewish state which was established to Never Again allow Jews to be refused entry to escape persecution.  Yes, these undocumented children are not refugees; their parents came illegally to our country and brought them in illegally.  But our mothers and fathers came to America for a better life as well, and how can we not be sympathetic to people desperately trying to enter our country to better their lives?  Yes, we did not enter illegally, probably.  But these children are innocent of any crime as well.  They were brought in by their parents or others and had no choice.  They are not responsible for being here illegally.  And now they are part of the United States; they have adopted the best values and visions of our country.  If we Jews do not have sympathy for “geirim” – for strangers – if we do not have sympathy for children, who will?  Didn’t the British at least let in the children to England through the Kinder Transports?  That was in 1939.  If Britain of the thirties could take pity on Jewish children, cannot we Jews take pity on Mexican children who only know life in America and are doing their best to be good Americans.

Undoubtedly there were those in Britain who said that if you let  in Jewish children it would cause all sorts of social ills.  Thank God the voices of morality overcame those foolish utilitarians.  Today there may be voices against the Dream Act: American Jews of all political persuasions need to step in and say, Even though this act will only help our country, it is first and foremost a moral act, and we who understand what it means to go from servitude to freedom, know what it means to go from the poverty of Mexico or so many other countries to the freedom of the United States of America.

Because our parents and grandparents got lucky and worked hard to get into this country, we Jews of America are in a position to influence American policy.  Let us not show a lack of gratitude to our predecessors or to God for giving us a position of privilege to be American citizens.  Thank God for America, and thank God their are children who grow up, unrecognized and undocumented, who love our country and are willing to serve it with their lives and with their minds. Let us learn from the tragedy of a world so panicked that it did not let Jews into the bastion of freedom – the USA – nor into our own homeland – Palestine at the time.  Let us commit that it never happen again, not just to us, who suffered so egregiously from that panic, but to any people, and, especially, to the innocent children of this world.

Rabbi Asher Lopatin

The Pope’s Exoneration of the Jews: A Step Back from Real Interfaith Encounter -By Rabbi Hyim Shafner

March 14, 2011

I was deeply offended by the Pope’s recent book quote in which he freed the Jews from responsibility for the killing of Jesus (I know it’s just a restatement of Nostra Aetate but that was before I was born).   Here is why -consider the following scenario to which, to me, it felt akin:

Suppose in 2011 a white president of the United States wrote that African Americans, after his examination of their biology and history, are not less than human than whites, as many in our country once thought.   Why would that offend me?  Firstly, it’s anachronistic and just not relevant to our world today, secondly, it would seems to imply that had the white slave owners been correct slavery would have been justified, and thirdly, the President is not a biologist and so instead of being considered science or history it would smack of a political agenda.  The only thing such a white President could do that would not seem absurd would be to apologize for the past and shed tears for all that might have been and was destroyed though bigotry and hatred.

I believe that if the goal is better interfaith relations, (which almost all Jewish leaders lauded the pope for in light of this statement last week), then this will not get us any farther on that path.  Real interfaith work requires that we each see the other fully as they are, not as we would like to see them.  Only when we put ourselves in the shoes of those whom we have hated and see the world through their eyes can we learn from them.   Tolerance is easy, especially if the other is a bit whitewashed, but tolerance is not deep or interesting.   Really understanding the other through their own eyes is the first step toward being able to understand them and the world as they see it, only then can true learning from each other begin.

When I was a Rabbi at Washington University, all the clergy would meet together each month.   Evangelicals, Catholics, Protestants, and I would sit and discuss students and religious life on campus.  One year we decided to spend some time learning from each other about our individual theological worldviews.  Much of the time the conversation was prevented from becoming truly deep, as we walked on eggshells careful not to offend the other since we valued our friendship and collegiality.   At a certain point though I realized that we would never really respect each other, understand each other, and learn from each other, if we were not willing to truly encounter the other fully.

At the next meeting, I said the following to the most fundamentalist Christian pastor among us, a young man I really did like and respect as a person and colleague:  “Scott, unless we can really express who we are with each other, until you can tell me you think I am going to hell and until I can tell you I think you worship a Jewish heretic, we will never be able to truly break though the armor that protects us from seeing the world through each other’s eyes, and never really learn from each other’s theology.”

It was eye opening.   Only then were we able to really lay out what we believed, only then were we able to really present how we see the world and why it is so important to us.  Why we would be willing to die for it.  Only then did we really learn from each other’s vision of the world, religion and God.

If the pope were looking through Jewish eyes he would realize it does not matter to Jews who killed Jesus, and to even talk about it in light of the rivers of Jewish blood that have been spilt over two millennia in its name, is absurd and profoundly offensive.  May it be that we all learn to look through each other’s eyes, to garner from each other’s world views and understandings of the Divine, to come closer spiritually to the Infinite One and to each other.