Demonstrators in Nairobi, Kenya rally against wave of anti-gay legislation in Africa. Photo: Getty Images.
The ancient rabbi Hillel famously asked: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?” I feel it is important to answer the first two questions in the way Hillel hoped—that we must stand up for both ourselves and for others. (After 40 years as a legislator, my answer to the third is “as soon as we have the votes.”)
On Purim, Jews remember the oppression we faced and overcame in ancient Persia and throughout our history. With Hillel’s questions in mind, we must rededicate ourselves to combating anti-Semitism throughout the world and to combating the oppression of others.
Like millions of people around the globe, we are mourning the loss of Nelson Mandela, whose leadership as a peacemaker and human rights activist transformed our world.
Our partners in Africa have been writing to us to share their reflections on Mandela’s legacy. Here are a few: Read More
Last year, as part of an alternative Rosh Hashanah service I attended, we discussed one of the central themes of the holiday—kingship. It was interesting to note how many of us ‘moderns’ struggle with the concept of an external authority who is judging us and then determining our destiny. Many of the participants spoke about the contradiction between the Jewish liturgy, which depicts an external God as the source of authority, and the more contemporary idea that our internal conscience should guide our actions. I, too, shared this discomfort, so I found it interesting that Parashat Vayelech, read between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, offers a more balanced perspective on the various loci of power in the Torah.
Oscar Pistorius, South African runner in the 2012 London Olympic Games
With only a few days before the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, one Olympic athlete has my full attention: Oscar Pistorius. He’s the first double-amputee runner to compete in track at the Olympics with a chance to win South Africa’s 21st gold medal! Oscar’s achievement is a milestone for inclusion. But this is only one step in a larger effort to ensure that people with disabilities are fully integrated into social, political and communal life.
The United Nations estimates that over 650 million people around the globe are living with disabilities. More than 500 million of these people live in developing countries. Unlike Oscar, most disabled people in marginalized societies do not have a chance to participate in communal events. When they do, their contributions often go unnoticed. People with disabilities are subjected to many forms of discrimination and bigotry including sexual abuse and heightened vulnerability to HIV and AIDS. In most cases, they are seen as people who do not have rights and certainly as people who do not have sexual or reproductive rights. Read More