Gun Violence is a Social Justice Issue

By Frank Goldsmith, CJJ-West

Let’s talk about gun violence.

Admittedly, curbing the epidemic of firearms fatalities has not been at the forefront of Carolina Jews for Justice’s concerns.  But how can an organization committed to social justice abstain from commenting on this tragic, and largely preventable, loss of life?  

The Torah teaches that we are not to stand idly by the blood of our neighbor:  lo ta-amod al-dam re’ekha (Lev. 19:16).  The blood of our neighbors is flowing all too freely as the result of gun violence, and we must not be indifferent.  Why should American blood flow more freely than that of any other civilized nation?  

Consider the appalling facts:

  • Americans are 25 times more likely to die from gun violence than residents of peer nations;

  • On average, 100 Americans are killed by guns every day;

  • Another 100,000 Americans are wounded with guns each year, often with life-altering consequences;

  • 4.6 million children live in homes where guns are unlocked and loaded;

  • Black Americans are 10 times more likely than white Americans to be murdered with a gun; 

  • Unarmed black civilians are 5 times more likely than unarmed white civilians to be shot and killed by the police;

  • The 10 states with the highest gun death rates have some of the weakest gun laws in the nation;

  • Gun homicides have increased by over 30% since 2014; mass shootings occur with increasing frequency and higher casualty rates;

  • Seven of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in the U.S. have occurred in the past 6 years.  In this year alone, there have been 254 multiple-victim shootings, killing 246 people and wounding 979.  

Here in North Carolina, gun violence disproportionately impacts underserved communities in urban areas, with young men of color being particularly vulnerable. For example, in 2016, over 70% of total gun homicide victims in the state were Black or Latino. In fact, Black men are more than eight times as likely as white men to be the victim of a gun homicide in North Carolina.  Moreover, in recent years, North Carolina has seen a sustained increase in gun violence overall; from 2014 to 2016, gun homicides increased by over 40% across the state. 

Despite the large place they occupy in our public consciousness, mass shootings comprise a small fraction of all gun violence.  Deaths from mass shootings constitute less than 1% of all gun deaths – but the number is still far too high. We must ban civilian ownership of military-style rifles and, perhaps more importantly, high-capacity magazines for all types of weapons.  Weapons of war do not belong in civilian hands. Adopting such common-sense measures would likely save hundreds of lives each year.  

But we have to expand our common sense and consider measures to restrict the availability of all firearms.  Is it too much to require a permit, a waiting period, and an extensive background check before one can acquire a semi-automatic pistol?  Or to require a minimum age, or to limit multiple purchases of guns and ammunition? We regulate any number of things that can cause harm to people, including cars, alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, and exotic animals – why not guns?  In fact, why not require a license to possess a firearm of any kind, as a number of countries do? The 5-4 Supreme Court decision in Heller v. District of Columbia may have determined that the Second Amendment applies to individuals, not militias, but it also left open the reasonable regulation of that right, explicitly including banning possession of military weapons, as well as regulating the “the commercial sale of arms.” 

As Jews, we should support such restrictions.  A number of rabbinic sources prohibit the sale of things that may cause harm to the public.  Selling items to persons who may use them to do harm is, according to Rambam, akin to placing a stumbling block before the blind; one who does so “strengthens the hand of sinners who cannot see the way of truth because of the passions of their hearts.”   

Some claim that the issue is one of mental health.  Such an assertion is an insult to Americans who suffer from some form of mental illness. According to the American Mental Health Counselors Association, “People with serious mental illness are rarely violent. Only 3 to 5 percent of all violence, including but not limited to firearm violence, is attributable to serious mental illness. The large majority of gun violence toward others is not caused by mental illness.” And how are we supposed to predict future violent behavior, a challenging task even for the most highly skilled therapists?  Moreover, the rate of mental illness in America is about the same as in other countries, yet our gun violence rates are exponentially higher. Mental illness is not the answer to the problem of American gun violence; it is a convenient excuse for inaction.  

Since 2004, over 400,000 people have died by firearms on American soil.  We have lost many more people to gun violence in this country than we lost in all of the Vietnam War.  Our horrific reality is that it is safer to send our children into war than to school or the store.  

We must act to reverse this self-destruction of our society.  Do your part by assessing the positions on gun control of candidates for public office.  Write to your current representatives and express your concerns. Consider donating to organizations such as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun ViolenceAmericans for Responsible Solutions, and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.  Affiliate with groups such as Rabbis Against Gun Violence.

Just do not stand idly by.

#WeAreHere: Fighting Hate and Finding Home

A week ago on Shabbat, I found myself on a farm in western North Carolina with 28 other Southern Jews talking about white nationalist mushrooms.

I was sitting on a patch of grass at Yesod Farm and Kitchen, a teaching farm and spiritual center in Fairview, a small town in the Appalachian Blue Ridge Mountains. I was there for the #WeAreHere retreat, a training held by the social action organization Carolina Jews for Justice to teach community organizers from across North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee how to lead workshops on white supremacy, white nationalism, and antisemitism. Light stuff.

But I was also there in search of a home.

I move into my college freshman dorm in a few days and the university I’ll be attending has a Jewish population of just four percent. Although the school is large, the town is small and as such, the options for Jewish involvement aren’t overwhelming. There’s a Hillel chapter, sure, and a shul off campus, but when I spoke to friends of mine who already attend the school, their reports of religious activity were unenthusiastic and a little frustrated.

I’ve always drawn connections between my Judaism and my social activism, but I’ve rarely found communities where I can sit comfortably with both. Even in spaces like Carolina Jews for Justice where everything, including the name, is intent on finding and building bridges between those two worlds, I often discover one half falling back to make space for the other. There are protests, but no text studies; there are prayers, but no direct action.

As I sat in a folding chair in overgrown farm grass and listened to a woman explain prejudiced fungi, I whispered to myself a hope that this weekend would show me a new way.

The mushrooms were part of an extended metaphor that one of the facilitators of the workshop used to illustrate the difference between white supremacy and white nationalism. White supremacy, she explained, is the mycelium (that’s the root-like vegetative part of fungi that often grows underground) that spreads under the forest floor. It’s always there, a fertile foundation lurking under the soil. White supremacy preaches that while it’s fine that people of different backgrounds inhabit the United States, it is ultimately Christian white people that deserve complete and utter power. It’s systemic and institutionalized, a power structure imported from the days of European colonialism that still affects every aspect of day-to-day life.

White nationalism, on the other hand, like a mushroom, is not omnipresent. It requires a trigger, something to wake it up.

When it rains—when a racist, fear-mongering man is elected to an office that gives him unprecedented power to stoke hatred throughout the country—mushrooms spring up from the ground, from that mycelium, and surprise unsuspecting hikers. These fungi are the neo-Nazis and mass shooters we see in increasing numbers on the news. They’re not content to settle for political control. They want a white ethnostate; they want a complete exile, sometimes even elimination, of people of color, members of the LGBT community, and Jews, to name a few. White nationalism is not systemic like white supremacy. Instead, it’s a movement with organizers, propaganda, online radicalization processes, an agenda—efficient and spreading.

Hence, the white nationalist mushroom conversation.

But the weekend wasn’t focused entirely on Biology 101 metaphors. As the time went by, my hope for a space I could see myself in grew. This meeting of Jewish activists was proving to be deeply spiritual; it intertwined the urgency of social justice work in the American Southeast with the soul-stirring beauty of Shabbat prayers and communal song. One hour, we’d wrestle over the issue of being both targets of white nationalism as Jews and benefiting from white supremacy as white people. The next, we’d grapple with Torah portions that clashed with our modern beliefs. In between brainstorming sessions about workshops we could host in our own communities, we sang traditional gospels like “Let Your Little Light Shine.” We stared into the often terrifying face of our current political moment and still made space to love and support each other.

I spent three days connecting with driven, compassionate organizers, some of whom already live in the town I’m about to call home. Most of them don’t have ties to the university, but they’re doing the work I want to be doing, in a way that speaks to me spiritually, in a location I can access. I can organize with them. I can use the knowledge I gained about antisemitism and the threat of white nationalism. I can blend this knowledge together with the fierce strength of my faith, and I can go out into the world a stronger, braver fighter.

On Friday night, we all gathered in the farmhouse’s cramped dining room to light candles and eat. I was sandwiched tight against the wall, the edge of a dry erase board wedging itself into my shoulder blade. I was uncomfortable and my stomach was already growling. All I wanted was to rush through the Hebrew mumbo-jumbo and get to munching. But then we all started to sing.

My heart has rarely felt as full as it did that evening, in that tiny space, smushed between thirty Jews around a table laden with food, our eyes closed and our mouths open in a triumphant song that called out to those oppressed, lost, and hurting.

“Let your little light shine, let your little light shine, there might be someone down in the valley trying to get home…”

That weekend, I found my way home.

By Emma Cohn

CJJ Board Member

This post was originally posted on the Jewish Women’s Archive on August 13, 2019.

Tisha B'av: Transforming Grief into Action

This year on August 11 Carolina Jews for Justice/West sponsored a program on Tisha B’Av, a traditional Jewish day of mourning, at Congregation Beth Israel in Asheville; it is a time when Jews around the world remember some of the greatest tragedies of our history. Tisha B’Av also presents us with the opportunity to reflect on contemporary atrocities, and this year we are particularly compelled to reflect on the violent and dehumanizing treatment of immigrants and refugees in the U.S. – a modern day catastrophe that demands our attention, our voice, and our action. Action steps were discussed to enable those present to become actively engaged in efforts to support immigrants and refugees in our country. Following the service, CJJ/West Steering Committee member Frank Goldsmith looks on as Rabbi Justin Goldstein shows a Torah scroll to Magaly Urdiales, one of the speakers who represented the immigrant communities, and her son Joaquin.


Storytelling and Song: A Response

A response to Keaton Hill’s reflection by Dr. Walter Ziffer

Dear Keaton,

I want to make an observation based on my own experience and by doing so emphatically support what you quote from Adichie, that story telling and song are able to encourage people's lower instincts such as maltreatment of "the other" and all kind of malignant behavior, etc. The Nazis were masters of using false stories and rousing song that influenced even my sister and myself to the point where we admired the SS marching by and singing beautifully, I must admit, songs that aroused within the listeners hatred and Nazi supremacist ideology. What I am trying to say is that the "cognitive" aspect you mention is all important because it is that aspect that determines whether the story telling and the song are for the good or for evil. It is the substance, in my opinion, that is the determining factor whether what is done is for the good or for evil. Singing and singing with passion is the mode of transmission only! Important, of course, but still only the instrument of transmission.

And that, of course, brings me to the mode of how Torah is being transmitted. Rabbi Sacks, kol hakavod, is an important Jewish wiseman whom I respect but...the best way of transmitting Torah is by living it. I am not at all sure that the good rabbi makes a distinction between meaningful and constructive Torah and much that actually tends to be a teaching that encourages dispossession of one's neighbor and dehumanization. That, too, is  found in the Torah. The latter, to my chagrin, is also being chanted, often passionately, on many a Shabbat in synagogues around the globe. So, as Judaism is concerned, let us guard from being over enthusiastic with passionately singing Torah. In my opinion, Torah is a human product (Sacks would not agree!) with much that is admirable and of great and timeless value but also with much that is value limited because of its human and therefore limited outlook.

Let me assure you, that this is in no way a criticism of your meditation. I value your thought and words. This is simply a word of caution from a Jew who has seen the many faces of Judaism.



CJJ Statement on Expanding Public Transportation (Asheville)


The City Council will be voting on the budget on June 11. CJJ strongly supports a move to expand the public transportation service and an increase of the wages of city workers. Please contact the Council and the City Manager to encourage these changes.

More information on contacting the Council can be found here, and all members can be emailed at Additionally, information on contacting the City Manager can be found here. See the letter below for talking points and a general template.

Originally published May 28, 2019

Dear [Asheville] City Council and City Manager:

Carolina Jews for Justice (CJJ) is a statewide grassroots network with a local chapter in the West committed to creating a just, fair and compassionate North Carolina through education and advocacy. CJJ applauds your leadership in prioritizing transit in the 2019-2020 proposed budget. We also thank you for prioritizing all students succeeding at Asheville City Schools.

CJJ is asking you to enact the priorities of student success and accessible transit by:

• Extending public transportation service hours until at least 10pm Monday-Saturday and at least 8pm on Sundays. There are 11 public transit bus routes, of the 18 routes, that have their last trip departing between 5:30 and 8:30pm. That means that students or parents who depend on public transportation to return home from academic, athletic, extracurricular, and civic opportunities are often denied access to these opportunities because they don’t have a way to get home. On Saturday nights there are 10 out of 18 routes that stop running after 8:30pm.

• Increasing wages so that all City of Asheville employees make $15/hour. The City of Asheville is one of the top 5 employers in the city; top 7 in the county. We know that poverty can negatively impact student success. Your leadership in increasing the wage floor provides more security for those who work for you and also sets a model for the other major employers in our region. We were pleased to learn from Commissioner Whitesides that Buncombe County has already shown leadership to ensure that any county employee still making under $15/hour will receive a pay increase in the next budget cycle. We hope the city will follow the county's lead on this issue.

These two requests total $3.7 million out of the $190 million spent by the City. We urge you to allocate the funds necessary so that Asheville students, families, and workers having more equitable access to opportunities.

Judy Leavitt

Board President, CJJ West Co-Chair

Storytelling and Song: A Reflection

By Keaton Hill

Asheville, NC

In the past few weeks a few CJJ events have revealed the power of storytelling and song.

First, my work with the Racial Justice Working Group has forced me to think about how the stories we tell shape the world we exist within. As the group has discussed the content for a Racial Justice Practice Group, we have talked about the narratives that we claim and those unspoken narratives that still have power over us and are part of our cultures. Among other things, this cohort will examine how Anti-Semitism is manipulated by systems of White Supremacy to keep white Jews from examining racism, and thereby maintaining the status quo of racial oppression.

Second, last week, I had a conversation with a colleague of Cole’s who is engaging the New Mexico White Jewish community in antiracism consciousness shift.  Her name is Amelia Paradise, and she spoke of the importance of placing ourselves personally and culturally in a historical context where we can counter false stories and U.S. historical amnesia.  From this place of greater internal, familial, organizational, and systemic knowing, she suggests, we can provide meaningful counter narratives to the dominant stories that uphold racism in the U.S.

And most recently, on Saturday evening, many of us in Asheville saw the power of story and song at Defiant Requiem. The power of the meaning of the song the choir at Terezin sang gave them not only community and bravery, but life itself. The tales we tell mold our culture, have the capacity to change and challenge our reality, and can give us strength to continue.

This all brings me to a quote by celebrated author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. In her TedTalk “The danger of a single story,” she said, “Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.”

This, in turn, reminds me of a story: On the final day of his life, Moses gathered the children of Israel – his people – and he told them a story. He told them their story, the full story of their birth as a people. He reminded them of the great moments – their faith and courage as they stepped into the Sea, unable to imagine would what happen next. He told them of their moments of despair – when they yearned to return to their lives of oppression, for freedom was too hard, too scary. And he told them of his own grief, when he begged God to allow him to enter the promise land. But God, the One who told Moses that God would be with Moses' mouth, the God that would give Moses the words to say to Pharaoh to liberate the people, the God who gave Moses words to say to the people – this God told him to stop talking, to never again speak of this matter.

Deuteronomy 31:19 offers the last of the 613 commandments as this: "But now, write yourselves down this song, teach it to the children of Israel, putting it in their mouths, in order that this song may be a witness for Me among the children of Israel."

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks asks: Why call the Torah a song? He answers: "Because if we are to hand on our faith and way of life to the next generation, it must sing. Torah must be affective, not just cognitive. It must speak to our emotions...If our Torah lacks passion, we will not succeed in passing it on to the future. Music is the affective dimension of communication, the medium through which we express, evoke and share emotion. Music speaks to something deeper than the mind. If we are to make Torah new in every generation we have to find ways of singing its song a new way."

After Moses told his people their story, after he reminded them of the commandment to teach their children their song, right before he ascended the mountain to die, Moses sang. Moses sang the people of Israel his farewell song (Deuteronomy 32).

As Adichie says, “Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.”

What is the story you’re telling? What is the story we’re telling? What is the song that we’re singing?

GOP Math Doesn’t Add Up: A Letter to the Editor

There are many humane and moral reasons to expand Medicaid in North Carolina. However, it is the Republican opposition’s refusal to acknowledge the financial benefits of Expansion that is completely confusing. The Republicans in the North Carolina legislature argued that our state Medicaid budget was too unpredictable, so we needed to reform Medicaid. That legislation was passed and Medicaid is now transforming into a managed-care system. Why then, is the current Republican leadership ignoring the billions of dollars, the thousands of jobs that would come to North Carolina if we were to expand Medicaid? Why are they ignoring that new enrollees under expansion would be covered at a 90% Federal dollar reimbursement rate as opposed to the current enrollee reimbursement of 67%? Why is the leadership ignoring the fact that North Carolinians’ tax dollars are used to pay for Medicaid Expansion in the 37 states that decided the working poor deserve health insurance? It makes zero sense. Beg your Republican legislators to Expand Medicaid. The time is now.

Marlene Jacoby

CJJ West

Originally published in the May 14, 2019 edition of the Asheville Citizen Times.

"A Better World" Interview

On May 9, our board president Judy Leavitt and board member Frank Goldsmith were interviewed on McNair Ezzard's "A Better World" segment on WPVM 103.7 Asheville. The segment looks at people and organizations across the globe who are working for a better planet. It explores efforts being made in all manner of areas, from hunger to education to spirituality. Judy and Frank talked with McNair about the Torah’s influence on CJJ's mission and the ways in which Judaism commands us to do the social justice work we do.

Click here for the interview: 

Click here for show page's archives where you can find the CJJ interview and description, as well as previous interviews:

From Queer Spy to Community Organizer: Fighting for Justice in Many Forms

Before joining the staff of Carolina Jews for Justice as one of our new statewide community organizers, Cole Parke spent five years working as the LGBTQ & Gender Justice Researcher at Political Research Associates, a Boston-based think tank dedicated to researching, exposing, and interrupting the Right Wing. Of the many insights gained during their tenure at PRA, one lesson that repeated itself over and over again was this: it's all connected. The Christian Right's attack on LGBTQ people and reproductive justice is fundamentally linked to the antisemitism, anti-Black racism, and Islamophobia fueled by White Nationalists. During a recent presentation at Judea Reform Congregation in Durham, NC, Cole discussed these connections and the imperative for greater unity across the many struggles for justice. What follows is an adaptation of their remarks from April 5, 2019.

People used to call me a “queer spy,” which should tell you right off the bat that I wasn’t very good at my job. Generally speaking, spies are supposed to be secretive, so telling people that you’re a spy all but eliminates any chance of stealthiness. Nonetheless, for five years, I worked at a place called Political Research Associates, where my official job title is “LGBTQ & Gender Justice Researcher.”

PRA is a social justice think tank that researches the Right Wing. The purpose of my work there wasn’t to simply study up on the myriad reasons why the world is an absolute trash can fire or to ensure that my therapist and I had a regular supply of new material to work with; PRA’s mission is to understand and analyze the Right in order to provide organizers and activists on the Left with information and analysis that supports the development of effective strategies for resistance, intervention, and movement building.

My work primarily entailed tracking the work of Christian fundamentalists who, despite the fact that marriage equality did not bring about the apocalypse, remain unrelentingly convinced that LGBTQ people are out to destroy the world.

As you might imagine, the subject matter could be depressing, exhausting, and deeply demoralizing. It also demanded a constant interrogation of my own beliefs and values — not because I ever questioned whether or not queer and trans people are fabulous, abortion should always be accessible without barriers or shame, capitalism is harmful and antithetical to the beloved community we are called to live into, and white supremacy is a disease. If anything, immersing myself in the rhetoric and ideologies of the Right only served to strengthen my commitment to radical liberation of every kind.

The thing that was regularly challenged is my belief that we all hold a piece of the divine. This is one of the things that drew me to Carolina Jews for Justice, where I now work as one of two statewide community organizers.

CJJ’s work is guided by four core principles, the first of which is B’tzelem Elohim (In the image of God) — the idea that all human beings are created in the divine image and as such should be treated with dignity and respect regardless of physical, philosophical, political, or cultural characteristics which make them different from ourselves.

In a room like this, that might not be hard to believe. Look around at one another — even if you don’t know anyone here, it’s pretty easy to believe that the folks around you are pretty great, right?

Trying to hold the people I used to research in that same gaze proved to be much harder. When I try to see God’s image in those who are responsible for coordinating national campaigns against the right for trans people to use a public bathroom, or the Alt Right media makers who mock and mobilize violence against women, or the political leaders who shamelessly promote Islamophobia, anti-Black racism, and antisemitism … I admittedly struggle.

The challenge is two fold — I find that it can feel impossible to love the people whom I see as opponents to justice and equality, but I also know that I can’t hate them. I’m unable to hate them — or perhaps more accurately, I’m unwilling to hate them — because I know that once I demonize someone else, I’ve dehumanized both of us. I’m also unable to hate them because I know that we aren’t actually very different from one another.

As part of my work I used to occasionally go undercover at a right-wing Christian conferences. In the course of my “infiltration” work, I once found myself face to face with a woman named Candi Cushman. Candi works for Focus on the Family, a powerful right-wing Christian organization based in Colorado Springs. One of her roles there is to coordinate a project called Day of Dialogue, which takes place every year on the day prior to the National Day of Silence. Unlike the Day of Silence, when young people in schools across the country demonstrate solidarity with their LGBTQ peers by remaining silent throughout the school day, on the Day of Dialogue, Focus on the Family equips students with the tools to minister to their classmates who “suffer from same-sex attraction” and “transgenderism.”

From my perspective, this sort of ministry is a form of spiritual violence, and it feeds into the myth -- the lie — that LGBTQ people are somehow unworthy, unacceptable, undesirable, and less divine than they truly are. It’s the kind of lie that fills me with rage, because it’s the kind of lie that has convinced too many young LGBTQ people to end their lives prematurely. And yet here I was, sitting next to the woman in charge of propagating that very message.

So I took a deep breath, smiled at Candi, and said, “Are you by any chance related to the Robert Cushman lineage?” Indeed, she was, and she was delighted to learn that I was too.

You see, my father’s name is Robert Cushman Parke, named for our ancestor, a man who helped fund the Mayflower voyage. He and his son were two of the earliest white settlers to colonize this land. They were part of the first wave of Europeans to journey across the Atlantic, initiating an ongoing era of violence, genocide, theft, enslavement, and untold horrors.

Candi wanted to know, “Are you as proud of our heritage as I am?”

No, Candi — I wouldn’t say that I’m exactly proud of our heritage. (But in that moment we needed to discuss her use of the word “transgenderism.”)

In one sense, it’s funny to realize that some distant cousin of mine is working toward the antithesis of my life, essentially standing in opposition to my humanity as a queer and trans person. But it’s also profoundly unsettling, because I can’t simply write her off as “the other.” She is, in truth, my family. And family or not, Candi (like all of us) was created in the image of God — she contains a spark of the divine.

As if that wasn’t hard enough to wrap my head around, I’m also challenged (in a good way!) by another of the values that I share with CJJ: V’ahavta L’reacha Kamocha (Love your neighbor as yourself).

Love and hate are often framed in contrast to one another, so I think that it’s useful to examine both.

One of the things that distinguishes PRA from the far more famous Right Wing watchdog, the Southern Poverty Law Center, is that PRA refuses to use the “hate frame” in our work. While I deeply respect and appreciate the work of SPLC, and have often found their “Hate Map” to be a useful point of reference, I believe that the designation of “hate groups” has actually done a disservice to the broader movement toward justice and liberation.

When we conceptualize “hate” as a thing that’s isolated to particular groups and individuals who are guilty of ugly prejudices and heinous violence, we erase hate’s systemic and structural forms and the way that it exists inside all of us. The ideology of white supremacy, for example, is in the air we breathe, and it permeates everything; consequently, even if we were to eliminate all of the people affiliated with White Nationalist hate groups, racism would still exist.

What that means is that resisting hate necessitates work that is both internal and external. It’s important to rise up and speak out against White Nationalists and other extremist manifestations of oppressive ideologies, but it’s equally important to do the work of identifying, interrupting, and dismantling the oppressive ideologies that exist in our families, in our workplaces, in our congregations, in our communities, and within our own minds.

In addition to resisting hate, we need to practice love, and that begins by learning how to love ourselves. Assimilation is one of the things that often stands in our way.

My friend Dara Silverman once pointed out to me that when people who are accustomed to moving through the world with relative ease and privilege come up against some sort of oppression, they will often lean into whatever sources of power are still accessible to them.

This dynamic of leaning toward power is fueled by fear, and it’s part of what feeds the pattern of assimilation by marginalized groups into long standing hierarchical structures. My freckled (Irish) skin, for example, wasn’t always seen as white. Similarly, gay and lesbian people didn’t always have access to marriage and military service. Increased access might in some cases look and feel like a victory, but it also represents a reassertion of the status quo, which is generally invested in upholding white supremacy, capitalism, heteropatriarchy, and capitalism.

But here’s the good news in all of this: we don’t have to play their games! When we subvert the status quo — when we refuse to assimilate and instead love ourselves and one another more than the false sense of safety that power tries to tempt us with, we win. Whether resistance is the intent or not, those of us who already live outside the status quo (as queer and trans people, as people of color, as Jews, as Muslims, as people with disabilities…) we function as huge threats to the maintenance of the Right’s formula for domination. That’s why we’re targeted by the Right, and that’s also why we hold so much potential as leaders in the struggle for liberation.

The struggle for liberation is central to Tikkun Olam (Repair the world), CJJ’s third core principle.

Understanding what’s broken in the world is essential to figuring out how to fix it. So what is it that keeps us from love, and what stops us from seeing the divine in one another?

The late Jean Hardisty, who founded PRA in 1981, coined the phrase “mobilizing resentment” in her efforts to explain the mechanizations of the Right. She was a keen observer of this age-old strategy, in which the Right “mobilizes resentment” toward strategically selected (and ever-changing) scapegoats.

In one way or another, most all of us have had the experience of being scapegoated. Whether we’ve been targeted because of our race, sexuality, gender, religion, class status, size, or some other characteristic or identity, scapegoats of all varieties are our comrades, and our survival depends on us figuring out how to be in solidarity with one another.

Intersectionality is key to the work of allyship and solidarity. Generally speaking, intersectionality means understanding and respecting that we all navigate a myriad of different lived experiences and identities that affect our ability to access rights and opportunities. Beyond that, intersectionality insists that no one should have to prioritize one element of who they are at the expense of another, equally important element of who they are.

It’s both super simple and super complicated. The simple part is that it’s undeniably real — not all Jewish people are white; not all queer people are wealthy; not all Duke students care about basketball… we all hold a myriad of identities! (Some of which can feel contradictory!)

The complicated part is that the myth of scarcity often dominates our thinking, and so our equally important, equally valid diverse identities, experiences, and issues are often in competition with one another. The Right has closely tracked these tensions, and successfully manipulates our own conceptual aspirations to weaken our movements, effectively taking advantage of internal conflicts and rifts to further advance an agenda that does deep, deep damage to all of us.

Case in point: gay and lesbian people may have gained some more rights in recent years, but HB2 here in North Carolina was a perfect example of how the Right is so skillful at strategically pivoting toward new and different scapegoats in their ongoing campaign of mobilizing resentment based on who they anticipate mainstream America is still willing to view as disposable.

So while the Left attempts to work at the intersections of racial justice, LGBTQ justice, gender justice, economic justice, etc., the Right is working at the intersections of white supremacy, capitalism, and Christian hegemony.

These are central pillars of the Right and key ingredients to the rise of authoritarianism. They work in concert to uphold and expand the supremacy of some over others, namely White people, men, heterosexual and cisgender people, Christians, able-bodied people, wealthy people, etc. The Right’s intersectionality is so powerful that it’s often successful in mobilizing people against their own self interests; for example, when poor and working class white people are convinced to support the erosion of the Affordable Care Act by painting its benefactors as undeserving, exploitative, lazy, and “illegal.”

The Right is actively working to pit us against one another, but we have to resist their divide and conquer tactics that ultimately only serve to weaken the Left.

Which brings us to CJJ’s final guiding principle, Kehillah (Community).

Even though I’m no longer spending my days totally immersed in the Right, I’m still very aware that the world is a mess. One of the things that keeps me from sinking into total despair, though, is the fact that the journey toward justice is never walked alone.

One of the people who trained me in the theory and practice of nonviolence was Rev. Phil Lawson, a minister in the United Methodist Church and a long time civil rights leader and activist. One of the many things he taught me is that freedom is not the opposite of slavery, because freedom experienced in isolation isn’t true liberation. Pastor Phil insisted that the opposite of slavery is community.

I’m deeply invested in the work of building beloved community, and I want to admit that I’m not immune to feelings of overwhelming isolation and loneliness. I doubt that any of us are.

I think that one of the things that feeds isolation and keeps us from community is shame.

Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston’s Graduate School of Social Work, where she studies vulnerability, courage, empathy, and shame. In 2012 she have a TED Talk on “The Power of Vulnerability,” which quickly became one of the most popular TED talks in the world with over 39 million views. It’s no secret that I have a total researcher crush on her.

Brown calls shame “the most powerful, master emotion.” ... “It’s the fear that we’re not good enough.” She says that “Guilt is just as powerful, but its influence is positive, while shame’s is destructive.” Guilt is what we feel when we think we’ve done something wrong. Shame comes from the feeling that we are wrong — that we are innately bad and unworthy.

Brown says, “Shame derives its power from being unspeakable” … it “fuels disengagement,” and “corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.”

So rather than face the ways in which we are complicit in the violence of our society, we choose to blame others or disengage. Rather than risk the challenges of intersectionality, we cut off whole parts of ourselves and whole segments of our community. Rather than seek out the image of God in our enemies, we label them as haters and unfriend them on Facebook. Rather than learn to love ourselves and one another, we intellectualize the heartbreak that permeates everything around us and try to pretend like it doesn’t hurt.

Which is part of why I don’t work at a think tank anymore. Because it hurts. It hurts a lot.

But I firmly believe that we can heal, we can change, and we can be free. As we journey in that direction, I’ll conclude with some advice from Dean Spade: “Let’s be gentle with ourselves and one another, and fierce against oppression.”

CJJ supports the Holocaust Education Bill

Carolina Jews for Justice supports the Holocaust Education Bill (HB 437), and affirms Holocaust education as a necessary part of opposing antisemitism, white supremacy, and intertwined systems of oppressions. We stand at a liminal moment, when soon there will be no living Holocaust survivors to share their experience firsthand. A major atrocity is moving from memory to history, and we see it as a moment to ask publicly: what is our role in remembering and teaching about genocide, fascism, and violent nationalism?

The Torah shares a story of the Israelites at a similar historical junction. As the Israelites prepare to build a society after slavery in Egypt, God issues what seems like a paradoxical commandment regarding the Amalekites, who were oppressive enemies of the Jews and are often representative of systemic antisemitism. God orders us to “Blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!” For centuries Jews have asked how we can possibly erase the memory of our oppressors but not forget it?

Today, Carolina Jews for Justice understands that the cycles of oppression that repeat and damage us and our allies are interrelated, and we must both end and learn from them. We can never forget the Holocaust; indeed, it was a tragedy that irrevocably and permanently changed what it means to organize against antisemitism. We know its memory still hurts us when neo-Nazis march in Charlottesville and swastikas are spray-painted on our places of worship. Every single member of our society should learn the clear lesson of the Holocaust: that antisemitism can erupt with massive deadly consequences. But we also say that blotting out the legacy of the Holocaust alone – fighting against neo-Nazis, but not Islamophobia, teaching about Nazi genocide, but not about white supremacy – is not enough. We are given a two-part commandment: to erase and to remember. CJJ applauds this effort permanently to include Holocaust education in our state’s curriculum, and we also name this as one step on a path we are excited to keep walking with our allies. At the end lies a time when we will have blotted out the name of our shared oppressors, and when we will remember the ways we each brought our specific histories to help fight collective enemies.