Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
The facts are horrific. Video capture the brutal attack on the side of a busy street. Onlookers and passerby don’t come to the victims aid. Eventually, the bruised, bleeding half-dead body is attended to by medical personal, but it is all but too late. The victim dies.
No, I am not talking about the tragic hit and run of a two year-old Chinese girl - I am writing about the death of Kelly Thomas of Fullerton, California.
Kelly Thomas, a 37-year-old mentally ill homeless man, was brutally beaten by six Fullerton police officers on July 5. Yes, on-duty police. They then tried to cover up the murder. Thomas was beloved, not abandoned, but mental illness kept him on the streets.
Kelly’s beating at a bus stop was done in public. No one came to his aid. Cars and passersby watched. The investigators interviewed 151 witnesses — yes, that is 151 people stared, watched and did nothing — viewed seven surveillance videos and two videos recorded by witnesses on their cellphones. In addition, a recording device attached to leader of the assualt, which all Fullerton officers wear, recorded the murder in vivid detail. Two officers are being charged in his death, four others that took part have not.
Ron Thomas, Kelly’s father, is waging a relentless battle to raise awareness about Kelly’s murder, the police cover-up, and ultimately about the fate of the mentally ill on our streets. And it’s working. Residents of Fullerton are taking their city council to task and the FBI is now investigating the crime. Fullerton just set up a task force in the wake of the murder to look for ways to improve the plight of the homeless in Fullerton.
Paul Orloff, a Fullerton resident, has launched a Change.org campaign to bring the four Fullerton police officers who have yet to be charged in the Kelly Thomas murder case to justice. In just a few days, more that 14,000 people signed a petition for justice in the murder of Kelly Thomas.
While the world gasped in horror at the death of the Chinese girl, in America we walk by the legions of homeless who lie motionless on the side of the street every day.
We are numb to the facts: hundreds of thousands of them call the streets their home every night. They sleep over subway grates, in alleyways and doorways. As the economy worsens, the numbers on the street are increasing.
Those who call the street home are mostly ignored as if they do not exist. From time to time a passerby will show compassion, offering food, money, a kind word. Yet, most of us find ways to harden our hearts to their plight. We dismiss them as junkies, bums, beggars, or mentally-ill. Cities create laws to banish them from our sight. Yet, each homeless person, no matter their mental, physical, or hygienic condition, is a human being endowed with the same soul as anyone else.
In addition to their plight living on the streets of America, literally under our feet, the homeless are also targets of random murders across the country. Kelly Thomas’s murder is just the latest to make the papers. Just in the last week, these cases made the news:
On October 23rd, Allen Harrell Hunter, from West Palm Beach man was arrested for the 2008 murder of a homeless man David Roland Ulmer
On Oct. 19th, in Butte, Montanta, Shane Hans, 35, was charged with deliberate homicide in the killing of a homeless man, Teddy James Hildebrant, in Butte overnight Tuesday.
On October 13th, Casey Daniel Brown was sentenced Wednesday by Sacramento County Superior Court for the second-degree murder of 68-year-old Bernice Nickson, a homeless woman who approached him at a bus stop.
Why are homeless people targeted for such random killing? Often because they are regarded them as less than human, murderers wrongly believed no one would miss these creatures of the streets. Some of the murderers have ready admitted that they calculated that no one would miss these people.
Kelly Thomas’s tragic life and death are causing one city to move forward and continue the soul-searching needed to work on the issue of homeless on their streets. Hopefully it will not take more grizzly videos of a homeless person being bludgeoned, run-over, or stabbed and left to die by the side of the road for America to start taking notice.
11.3.13 at 10:01 pm |
8.16.13 at 9:21 am | The High Holidays need not be awful, they can be. . .
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7.16.13 at 4:26 pm | We should not look at this as an isolated. . .
6.25.13 at 12:05 pm | The debate must be change from the narrow. . .
6.9.13 at 9:27 pm | The recent proliferation of media-inspired lists. . .
1.17.13 at 2:07 pm | Despite controversy in 2008 over Nazi memorabilia. . . (6)
6.25.12 at 10:34 am | From the moment that Matisyahu’s new album. . . (4)
11.3.13 at 10:01 pm | (3)
October 25, 2011 | 4:20 pm
Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
Based on the Torah Portion Parashat Bereshit (Genesis 1:1-6:8)
The story of creation begins again this week in synagogues around the world. The Jewish people make a global reset and roll-back our Torah scrolls. Fresh and new, our world is set in motion with organic divine harmony, only to be disrupted by human folly.
This annual cosmic rewind and the rereading of Genesis gives each of us a chance to deepen our thinking about the stories we heard as children about the dangers of snakes and fruit trees, about curiosity and sibling rivalry. The sages enjoined us to reread the Torah and look at it with fresh eyes in every generation, freeing us to be creative while demanding our direct engagement with the text.
This year, what comes to my mind after a successful and inspiring Jewlicious Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Days of Awesome experience is how much those involved with the Jewish community, and those on the periphery, want to connect to something enduring in the face of an uncertain economic future. I see young Jews more willing to revisit ageless questions about the meaning of life, and less satisfied with traditional ways of experiencing our highest holy days.
With this in mind, I opened the Torah to reflect upon the connection of Genesis, a new year, the Arab spring, European summer and the growing season of discontent branded an American autumn. What I found in this fresh reading of Genesis is the far-reaching effects of personal and collective responsibility.
When confronted with the result of our actions in Eden, and even afterward, humanity quickly began pointing fingers. No one wanted to accept responsibility for breaking the matrix that kept the world in a state of harmony. Not Adam. Not Eve. Not Cain. No one would own up to their lust for personal gain - even at the expense of others.
Instead, we are introduced to how humanity upset God’s perfect world with dishonesty, withholding information, jealousy and accusations.
Jewish tradition teaches that God created the world to infuse it with goodness. However, this stands in contrast to the world we see. Even with the rose-colored glasses of privilege and faith in humankind, we have to admit that the world is full of misery and suffering. Finding God in this mess becomes difficult, if not impossible, for many of us.
The Jewish mission of repairing the world, tikkun olam, uncovers the goodness God uses to sustain the world. Healing wrongs, promoting justice, equality and sustainability becomes a process of repairing creation. Tikkun olam taps into a deep-seated yearning for a revealed world of goodness, a return to Eden, and why so many of my tribe are drawn to movements for social change.
These latest movements for vast social change on the left and right can learn an important lesson from this week’s portion. They can learn that a critical mistake for which humanity was expelled from Eden in the first place, and one of the ills that affects our collective future, is a failure to accept personal responsibility for our actions.
What I see in the latest activist movement, Occupy Wall Street, is in some way a manifestation of a primal yearning for a world in balance that we see at the start of Genesis. The economic disparity and disillusionment that seems to be at the heart of this social upheaval is led by young people who yearn for myriad causes, some contradictory and some difficult to ascertain. Yet at the core is a yearning for an “Eden” world, a world that is healed and at peace. It’s a beautiful mission that hearkens to our yearning for redemption. Therefore, I hesitate to dismiss the eruption of protests across the United States and now in Europe as a pointless exercise in anarchy, hypocrisy, or a new call to eat the rich.
Occupy Wall Street understands that this millennial generation is not responsible for the mess we are in. This generation knows they are not responsible for setting up the systems that are broken. Yet they feel compelled to do something about it.
Yet I also hear the message from some Occupy folks as recognizing that they, like most of us, are marked by the faults of this generation. Facing the reality that they too have been complicit in the errors of this generation - such as vanity, apathy, materialism and a lack of acceptance of responsibility.
Genesis falls on the heels of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. These Days of Awe are a process of owning up to our communal shortcomings and asking God’s assistance in helping fix them. It requires us to accept responsibility for our own mistakes, and the mistakes of our entire community and the world. Only then can we begin to start over.
October 12, 2011 | 10:01 am
Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
As the sun sets on Wednesday, October 12th, the Jewish community begins the Festival of Sukkot, a spiritual harvest festival commemorating the historic journey of the ancient Hebrews across the desert, the bounty of the fall harvest, and our reliance on God. However, Sukkot is much more than a way to commemorate this ancient journey, it evens the playing field between rich and poor.
Firstly, why do Jews rough it in the Sukkah for the Festival? Wouldn’t it make more sense to celebrate in a pub, club, or frat house?
On Sukkot there is a special mitzvah, an obligation, to rejoice and be happy. What makes me truly happy? Is it a new car, season premiers or the iPhone 4S? Sukkot is a remedy for my faith in possessions to make me happy. Surrounded by the walls of our temporary dwelling place, I remind myself that focusing on our friends, family and relationship with God can sustain my happiness.
More recently, as Jewish communities do not feel the constant threat of tyrants and anti-Semitism, Sukkot encourages me to help the many people who live on a constant basis without permanent shelter.
Another deeper lesson of Sukkot can best be understood by another name of the Festival. The holiday of Sukkot is also called the Festival of the Harvest - commemorating the time when we gather our crops and fill our storehouses.
If one has been blessed — our profits outweigh our expenditures, our portfolio has grown and our wine cellars are full and satisfaction and trust fill our soul — it is at that moment that the Torah tells us to leave our home and dwell in a Sukkah. The frail booth teaches us that neither wealth, good investments, IRA’s or even real-estate are life’s safeguards. It is God who sustains us all, those in palaces and those in tents. Any glory or wealth we posses came to us from God, and will endure so long as it is God’s will.
And if our toil has not resulted in great blessing — our investments went south, we lost our job and nest-egg, our cellars are empty, and we face the approaching winter with mounting debt and bills, living off credit from month to month, forlorn and fearful for how we will survive— then as we enter the sukkah we find rest for our troubled soul. Divine providence is more reliable than worldly wealth which can vanish in an instant. The sukkah will renew our strength and courage, and teach and inspire us with joy and perseverance even in the face of affliction and hardship.
Sukkot humbles the rich, for it can vanish in an instant. Comforts the Poor, a week to enjoy the embrace of the sukkah.
Sukkot hit at an interesting time, just as #OccupyAmerica is gaining steam.
October 7, 2011 | 12:49 pm
Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
Concluding the “Ten Days of Repentance,” also known as the “Days of Awe,” Yom Kippur is a day where few Jews venture further than home and a house of worship. Expect that most Jews you know will forgo their usual weekend routines. Instead of holding tickets to movies or concerts Friday night, they will have tickets for seats at a Kol Nidrei Service.
Before Yom Kippur Jews seek out and reconcile with friends, colleagues, family members and even enemies. Yom Kippur is the time to forgive and move on. “If we cannot forgive others,” said the Hassidic Master Israel Ba’al Shem Tov, “how can we expect God to forgive us?”
Jewish tradition outlines three paths to help along this process of fixing our lives leading up to and during Yom Kippur:
Tzedakah (Charity) - The ethical imperative to contribute our resources to support the needy, our communal organizations, and to make the world a better place.
Teshuvah (Repentance)- Acknowledging our shortcomings, showing regret for what we did, and resolving to not make the same mistakes again, reconciles our relationship with God.
Tefillah (Prayer)- Opening our hearts, putting thoughts into words, we pray in the plural, asking for the good of all, not for our own personal needs.
Some perform the ritual of kapparot, where we symbolically transfer our sins to an object which is then donated to charity. Even if we gave tzedakah before Rosh Hashanah, now is the time to double-down, and give more. At home our dining tables are prepared with white linens and before sun sets we will light candles as if for a festive meal.
For the next 25 hours, adults refrain from food or drink. We wear simple shoes without leather, forgo bathing and intimacy, and don’t even watch the playoffs. We congregate in temples and synagogues around the world in the evening to hear Kol Nidrei, a moving prayer which begins a day-long dialogue with God.
Most Jews dress to show the solemnness of the day, wearing white prayer shawls and yarmulkas. The very pious wear a special garment called a kittel which reminds us of burial shrouds. The Ark is covered in white tapestry and all the Torahs are taken out and held around the dais.
We pray for many hours, confessing our mistakes to God and striking our chests over the sins we and our community have committed. We chant the moving verses of the Unetaneh Tokef:
“On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed, how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die…who by water and who by fire…Who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquility and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted.”
A special prayer, Yizkor, is recited to remember our departed loved ones. We read aloud the Book of Jonah about a man who thought he could outrun God, and learn a lesson about compassion. Yom Kippur concludes with a final prayer called Neila, before the figurative Gates of Heaven close to our prayers. We shout out seven times our holiest prayer “Shema Yisrael” and sound one long blast of the Shofar.
There is also a majestic and universal message of Yom Kippur which is undoubtedly the basis of many self-improvement books: no matter what we have done wrong this past year - there is an opportunity to fix it. Each of the main elements of the external observance of the Holy Day refer to a deep spiritual message.
Fasting on Yom Kippur helps us put our spiritual life before our physical needs and wants. We prove to ourselves and to God that we are the masters of our own destiny. We realize that we are more than flesh and bones, we are also spiritual beings that need to be nurtured and nourished. Fasting also helps us empathize with those who do without enough food and water every day. Our day of self-denial and asceticism is by choice, whereas millions are forced to endure hunger every day.
Communal worship reminds us that our lives do not transpire in a vacuum. Rather, our actions and deeds affect each another and the whole world. Wearing white invokes the memory of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, where the the High Priest in ancient days sought forgiveness for the Jewish nation 2000 years ago.
Just observing Yom Kippur cleanses our souls from the spiritual dirt that has accumulated and prevents us from enjoying each moment of life. Yom Kippur literally renews our lives and gives us a clean slate for the coming year. The mistakes, errors in judgement, and selfishness that got us in trouble last year, can be forgiven by humanity and God on Yom Kippur.
If only our credit scores could also be forgiven.
May the lessons of Yom Kippur inspire us to show compassion, forgiveness, and love to ourselves and each other, and renew our souls.
Yonah Bookstein, a leading voice of the next generation of American Jewry, is a frequent contributor to JewishJournal.com, Jewlicious.comand HuffingtonPost.com and now WashintonPost.com. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiYonah.
October 6, 2011 | 10:50 am
Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
I must admit, I was skeptical that the rag-tag protests that started in NYC would spread as fast as they have. But as we saw with 1968, and now in 2011, protests in one country can easily spill over to other countries. Now protests in one city, have spread around the country.
Led by idealistic young people intent on changing the status quo we are on the cusp of nationwide upheaval. Lack of jobs, corporate greed and government corruption are at the top of the lists of complaints.
As the protests intensify, I have compiled these 20 tweetable lessons from my years in non-violent protests and movements. Please feel free to tweet and Facebook these.
1) The police are not an enemy, treat them like friends, they are just doing their job #occupywallstreet
2) Non-violence means non-violence. Never use violence, even when treated with violence. No broken windows! #occupywallstreet
3) NEVER resist arrest. Just go limp. #occupywallstreet
4) Plane arrests to happen on your terms. #occupywallstreet
5) Singing is always heard louder than shouting #occupywallstreet
6) Treat each other with love and respect, even when you have disagreements on tactics #occupywallstreet
7) Change takes time and patience, one march cannot change the world, but 1,000 will. #occupywallstreet
8) Appoint spokespeople for media, and don’t claim to speak for everyone unless you do. #occupywallstreet
9) VERY important - you need marked peacekeepers to intervene btw cops and protestors #occupywallstreet
10) Handout rules of non-violence to everyone, tweet them, text them, live them #occupywallstreet
11) Don’t dehumanize your opponents, teach them #occupywallstreet
12) Don’t demonize the media, get them on your side. #occupywallstreet
13) Keep your eye on the prize, don’t be distracted by counter-protestors #occupywallstreet
14) Never give over to hate and anger, love looks better on TV #occupywallstreet
15) Be considerate of everyones personal space, including guys in suits. #occupywallstreet
16) Signs work. Signs that can be read from far away work really well. #occupywallstreet
17) Don’t make it “us against them.” We all need to find a way in this world together. #occupywallstreet
18) Encourage clergy to join you by being peaceful. People will notice. (think MLK) #occupywallstreet
19) Act righteously if your cause is righteous #occupywallstreet
20) 450,000 Israelis marched peacefully. Learn from them. #occupywallstreet