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Tisha b’Av, 5777

Monday sundown to Tuesday sundown is Tisha b’ Av, a Jewish fast day that marks the traditional date of the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem (586 BCE and 70 CE respectively), as well as several other disasters that occurred on or near this date.
I was originally going to go to a service with several social justice communities at the Lorado Taft “Fountain of Time” near the University of Chicago Midway, but my recent sciatic flare-up made that impossible, do I posted the following to my faith community , so they would know how I mark Tisha b’Av every year:
Tisha b’Av, 5747
שלום משפחת צדק–
Hola to my Tzedek family; it’s Kate Kinser. As much as I would like to join you all at the Lorado Taft Fountain tonight to mark Tisha b’Av, I’ve had a sciatica flare-up (wow, will I be ready for the Jacob narrative this fall), and I don’t think I can explore the Midway or Washington Park after dark this year.
What I AM going to do on Tuesday is what I do almost every year, no matter what ever else I do to mark the fast:
I’ll drive my car down 290/ The Eisenhower Expressway and get off at Independence Boulevard (3800’West) and head south a few blocks to Douglas Boulevard, and then turn east, to visit what was the heart and soul of Chicago’s Eastern European Jewish immigrant community from 1910 up to the 1950’s:
Along the Boulevard I’ll see buildings that housed synagogues, schools, cultural organizations, the Jewish People’s Institute (a precursor to the JCC’s) and apartment buildings (some occupied; others in disrepair and abandoned) that were home for thousands of people — immigrants and children of immigrants, who spoke Yiddish as a first or second language and who shopped at the kosher butchers, bakeries and other establishments along Roosevelt Road and the side streets. Some of the synagogues are now churches, or repurposed; others are empty, Commercial establishments other than liquor stores and an occasional bodega or laundromat are scarce in today’s North Lawndale and Douglas Park. The population in the neighborhood continues to shrink, and the Chicago Board of Education closed or consolidated public schools that were often the last community institutions left standing.
The opening line of Eichah/Lamentations is apt: “How lonely sits the city that was full of people.. she is like a widow.”
Although many Jews who grew up in “the old west side” will wax poetic about walking down the boulevards on Shabbat, arguing about various varieties of socialism, zionism or non-zionism, debating the future of the Jewish people in Yiddish or “Yinglish”; living with their extended families in a three or six-flat, until the 1950’s, Jews fled Douglas Boulevard and environs as African Americans –themselves refugees escaping the institutional violence, poverty and social discrimination of the American south, as Jews had escaped the pogroms of Eastern Europe–
and left the old neighborhood and its buildings to decay. There were amoral real estate agents and politicians who scared and exploited both the Jewish residents already in the neighborhood and the newcomers moving in.
There is a Talmudic passage that blames the destruction of the Second Temple on “mindless hate.” The destruction of Douglas Park could be blamed on “mindless neglect” or “mindless greed.”
After the destruction of the Second Temple, rabbis and scholars moved away from Jerusalem –both physically and intellectually–to reframe and reformulate the religion of the people Israel from worship based on animal sacrifice and grain offerings to faith communities centered on study, public and private prayer and the performance of Mitzvot.
The poverty and social isolation we witness today along Douglas Boulevard is a call for us to undo decades of neglect and exploitation with the values and deeds that are the best of our ethical heritage.
My pledge each Tisha b’Av is to join with the efforts of communities of faith such as Jewish Council on Urban Affairs and the Old St. Pat’s North Lawndale Initiative to foster renewal and give back to a community that was home to our people and to our communal life as Jews in Chicago.
When I visit Douglas Boulevard on Tisha b’Av or on other occasions throughout the year, I remember the axiom from Pirkei Avot, “Not yours to finish the task, but neither are you free to exempt yourself from it.” –Today and always,
Amén/let it be so.

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My city neighborhood (Rogers Park/Chicago) has had three nights in a row of booming fireworks ( en español, cohetes) until 2 or 3 in the morning. A much more meaningful activity on Tuesday morning would be to listen to Morning Edition  on your local NPR station for their annual recitation of The Declaration of Independence. Listen carefully for not only what was included in the Declaration, but what is missing: No abolition of slavery or denunciation or human trafficking; no equal rights for women; no ultimate economic justice for all, including universal suffrage. After 241 years@, we still have much to do. Rest up and have a great holiday. But on Wednesday we all have to get to work. 

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“Ha  Lachma Anya”

This is the phrase that is proclaimed at the Passover Seder when the leader of the seder raises a piece of matzah for the first time.  The usual translation is, “This is the bread of affliction,” or, “This is the bread of poor people.”  But it can also be translated, “This is the bread of ANSWERS.” And today, as we gather at theBroadviewDeportationCenter, we have questions, and we are looking for answers from the Obama Administration.

In the Seder ritual, the youngest person present asks four questions, that are subsequently answered during the evening.  We also have four questions today:

 Why are deportations continuing at a rate of 400,000 a year, when the vast majority of detainees are law-abiding residents, working productively, and raising families of American-born children? Y

Why are detainees continuing to be held as a prisoners, under draconian conditions, when government officials have promised that detainees will be treated as status offenders, NOT criminals? Y

WHY ARE FAMILIES STILL BEING TORN APART, impoverishing spouses and children, creating social chaos and burdening local governments and social services? Y

WHY DOES THE PRESIDENT NOT HAVE THE COURAGE TO SIGN EXECUTIVE ORDERS THAT  WILL STOP DEPOR-TATIONS & PUT A     BRAKE ON THE PRISON INDUSTRY? Y

Four years ago, when President Obama was CANDIDATE Obama, a small group of his young Jewish staffers gathered in the basement of a hotel to share a impromptu Passover meal.  As they were about to begin, Senator Obama entered the room and asked, “Where’s the Seder?”  And he stayed to celebrate the Jewish holiday of freedom with his staff.  Since then, the Obamas have hosted a Seder at the White House each year, inviting friends, colleagues and various Jewish leaders.  THIS PRESIDENT UNDERSTANDS, as few presidents have, the meaning of the Passover Seder, and how the values embodied in the Passover holiday propel us to take up the cause of those who are enslaved, who are marginalized, who are scapegoated for being “strangers.”  On this Passover holiday, we call on our President to be a MOSES, not a PHAROAH: To care more about those who are enslaved under our present immigration policies, rather than cater to the oligarchs who  will disrespect him NO MATTER HOW MANY PEOPLE HIS ADMINSTRATION DEPORTS.   The Passover Seder traditionally ends with the words, “Next year in Jerusalem.”  Let us add: “Next year may we celebrate an end to useless deportations and  an end to America’s version of the Nuremburg laws, as we rededicate ourselves to that Biblical verse engraved on the Liberty Bell:  PROCLAIM LIBERTY THROUGHOUT THE LAND!”  CHAG SAMEACH  —May we continue to ask questions, and create the answers that lead to freedom.

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Broadview Deportation Center: Friday, January 6, 2012:

          This Saturday, at synagogues around the world, we complete the reading of the Book of Genesis, and conclude the story of Joseph and his family:  Not Joseph of the “Technicolor Dreamcoat,” but also Joseph who was thrown into a pit and taken forcibly to Egypt and separated from his father; Joseph the indentured servant; Joseph who was unjustly imprisoned and who languished there for years.

          The Hebrew word for prison is “beyt tzor,” a place of narrowness:  And the beyt tzor could have killed Joseph, but what kept him alive and ultimately saved him was his DREAMS.  Because he shared his dreams, he was remembered by a fellow prisoner who told the Pharaoh of Joseph gifts, and ultimately he was freed, he rose to great power and was able to save his whole family from the famine that gripped the whole region.

          And today we stand here in front of another beyt tzor —another narrow place—here at Broadview.  And if you doubt this is a prison, I hope you saw the agents leaving while we were praying the Our Father, carrying the chains and handcuffs back to the sheriff’s van parked across the street.  And we pray for those imprisoned within this deportation center, that they will continue to dream and to re-form their lives after the trauma they have experienced, and will especially experience today.  And let us pray for ourselves, and the prison walls that surround us all:  the walls of racism, of xenophobia and fear of the immigrant; of anti-immigrant legislation; of mindless hate that diminishes us all.  Let us all HOLD FAST TO DREAMS, especially in the coming ten days, as we prepare to honor the life and message of our country’s GREATEST DREAMER: For it is in our dreams that we keep hope alive.

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Quelino Ojeda died on New Year’s Day.  The Cause of Death, frankly, was Christ Hospital, Oak Lawn.  Ojeda didn’t die at Christ Hospital, but the policies of Advocate Health Care, which administers Christ Hospital, killed him just as surely as the cardiac arrest, brought on by septic infection, bed sores and inadequate care for his quadraplegia, as listed on his death certificate.  Quelino was only 21 years old:  He had come to the Chicago area in 2010 in search of work, to support his family back home in Oaxaca.  And he found employment in the construction industry, working near Midway Airport.  He had a terrible, terrible accident at work, falling 20 feet and suffering massive spinal injuries.  He was sent to Christ Hospital, and for the months he was at Christ, he received state-of-the-art care, which gave him and his friends and appointed guardian hope for some long-term recovery.

     Although Quelino was undocumented, his employer would have contributed to Workmen’s Compensation in his name, and therefore his care would be covered by the Workmen’s Comp trust, but Christ Hospital didn’t see it that way.  It appears they viewed Quelino as a debit on their accounting ledger, and so  —without the permission of his guardian, his Chicago friends or Quelino himself, he was sent back to Mexico, to languish in an inadequate medical center, attached to a ventilator, still away from family and without the assistance of the friends who were his advocates here in Chicago.

The Chicago Tribune and Hoy, its sister publication in Spanish,  wrote a number of articles about Quelino’s situation.  Advocate Health Systems finally “apologized” and vowed to do better next time, but it didn’t save Quelino:  Although he was transferred to a more technologically equipped facility in Oaxaca, his condition deteriorated and he died  just a year after leaving Chicago.  He was on the cover of Hoy Tuesday, January 3rd, and the Tribune wrote a final article the following day. 

Advocate and its hospitals operate with a 501C(3) tax exemption and are ostensibly not-for-profit, charitable institutions.  Under this tax stipulation they are required  to provide care for people who cannot pay.  And, as a faith-based institution, they are morally required not to lie and not oppress and exploit the poor and the stranger.  Advocate flunks all requirements.

For those of us who work for faith-based institutions, it is our responsibility to police our own:  When our places of worship, our charities, our traditions exploit the poor, it is our duty to stand up and say:  NOT IN MY NAME. NOT IN THE NAME OF MY GOD: This is not the way we live out our ethical promise.  Rest in peace/descanse en paz, Quelino.  May the angels lead you into paradise.  You will not be forgotten. 

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Now that Rod Blagojevich has received his justice, perhaps things can go back to normal here in Chicago, but not quite yet:  Some of you may have seen the new item in the June 22nd Chicago Tribune or elsewhere about the catty remark made by writer Margo Howard (aka: Ann Landers’ only child) who wondered why Telemundo (one of the Spanish language television networks in the U.S.) was sending out tweets about deliberations in the Blagojevich trial.  Margo’s response was,”Not sure why Telemundo cares.  their soap operas off?”  Illinois State Rep Patty Mell (aka: Blago’s sister-in-law), retweeted, “Wow,that’s so racist.” Margo’s reply was that she didn’t think “people in Mexico” would care about the Blagojevich trial.

 As pointed out by a Telemundo staffer, Telemundo (like Univision and others) is an North American network that broadcasts in Spanish, primarily to an audience that lives in the U.S.  But beyond that, the BBC, Deutchewelle and many other international radio and television enterprises and the foreign print press have covered the Blago case from the beginning.  Clare Balderson and the other BBC anchors have become quite adept at pronouncing Blago’s name correctly, without a stop or start.  And if you want to talk about soap operas, well Rod and Patty and company can give any television drama in any language a run for their money in terms of plot twists.

I don’t watch Telemundo, because my little antenna tv doesn’t pick up the signal, but I do watch the news every day  —usually twice a day—-on Univision.  Both its local (5-5:30 and 10 t0 10:30 PM) and national/international (5:30-6:00 PM and 10:30 to 11:00 PM) is excellent.  Its coverage of the “Arab Spring” was serious and thorough.  Its weather reports, sports and entertainment reporting is as good as anything youwould see on Chicago’s other outlets, and in terms of soccer/futbol, MUCH BETTER.  I no longer read the Sun-Times or Chicago Tribune on a daily basis: I get most of the print new I need from Hoy, the Spanish language daily (owned by the Tribune) that is available free all over the place.  Blago and Patty were on the cover today, and on the inside was a detailed list of all the criminal counts  and the verdicts on each one.  Like the Forverts (aka: Jewish Daily Forward) and other serious journalism for immigrants currently or in generations past, the Spanish language press in the United States takes current events all over the world very seriously. If you look at the pictures from Blago’s post-verdict press conference, you will see the microphone from Univision right up there with all the other American networks.

I recently sent an e-mail to NPR after All Things Considered had a piece on Spanish television that reduced its product to the overly dramatic soap operas that are only a PART of what is offered on the Spanish stations.  I didn’t call NPR racist, but I said it was a shame they weren’t really examining what was broadcast on Telemundo and Univision.  I also told them that when Univision began its afternon news hour, I switched off NPR, because there is news on Univision (including immigration updates, foreign news and local happenings) that I can’t get anywhere else.  If you are at all able to understand Spanish, I suggest you watch the news on Univsion or Telemundo anytime you can.

Now back to Margo Howard:  I briefly knew her, when I was a teenager and she was in her late twenties, over 40 years ago, when she and my parents were working on a political project together.  She was  —and is— a witty, talented writer with a sharp intelligence, but back in the late 60’s she also had a great sense of social justice.  She also was trying to make her own way as a creative person, not judged by her beauty or her status as Ann Landers’ daughter or her life as a young society matron.  The Margo I knew understood how deadly preconceptions about others were and how harmful sterotypes of anyone can be.  Margo made an escape from the world of the “ladies who lunch,” and became a working journalist and writer.  It’s just too bad she doesn’t remember that struggle now.

 

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8 Murders a Day

Last week there was a short article in Hoy, the free Spanish language daily paper owned by the Chicago Tribune, about a new documentary film, 8 Murders a Day,  a damning portrait of  life in Juarez, Mexico, where the  “war on drugs” waged by both the Mexican and American governments has resulted in incredible levels of violence on the streets of Juarez, a city of 1.2 million people where an average of 8 people –often innocent bystanders or good people being punished for standing up to the narcotraficantes–are murdered every day.  In 1990, before the escalation of drug trafficking, before NAFTA, before the related economic collapse for the poor and middle classes, there were 40 murders in Juarez for the whole year; now there are 40 murders in five days.

The film is remarkable, compelling, totally bilingual, yet there were only ten of us watching the film on a Wednesday night, prime time, when the other theaters in the complex were full of people watching Kung Fu Pandas and other current hits.  I am hoping it will be distributed more widely in the Anglo community, either in commercial venues or shown in churches, synagogues and at gatherings of immigrant advocacy groups.  Go to YouTube or the film’s web site and at least watch the trailer…and weep.

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