Tuesday, April 5, 2016

HB-2 Consumes NC Shine a New Light

Rabbi Lucy H.F. Dinner                                Temple Beth Or
Shabbat Shimini                                           April 1, 2016

I Never Expected to Talk About THAT From the Bemah

An alien offering before God! Nadav and Abihu spurned their father’s authority, spurned God’s command, and were immediately consumed by fire. This is a difficult portion to explain, one of the more challenging for B’nai Mitzvah students, like our Bat Mitzvah this week, to have to grapple with.
Frankly, most years I choose to teach from other parts of this particular parasha. It is not that I shy away from difficult issues. You know me too well than to think THAT would dissuade me. Nadav and Abihu offer AISH ZARAH an alien offering, an offering so offensive that it morphs into the Hebrew label for idol worship: AVODAH ZARAH. This alien offering caused God’s immediate and irreversible wrath resulting in the spontaneous combustion of Nadav and Abihu.
I never thought I would have a salient reason to teach about this portion, until the convergence of North Carolina’s House Bill 2 and Parshat Shemini. A week and a half ago, a special session of the legislature convened to deal with what they deemed a clear and pressing emergency: the legislation of what bathroom one is allowed to enter or not enter. HB2 has set off a firestorm in our state. It has consumed the media, from North Carolina, to around the nation. It has elicited the wrath of several states and municipalities who have banned official business travel to the state.
 And, perhaps the biggest fire bomb of all to our particular state, it has threatened the future of the religion to the masses of North Carolinians – NCAA basketball.
Now, I know that there are some who will say: Rabbi I don’t come to temple to debate politics. I come for a spiritual sanctuary from a screaming, violent world. The spiritual sanctuary of Shabbat, of the rituals of our heritage, are not meant to be an escape from the world. Rather, they are a platform on which we hone our ideals so that we can bring that “light unto the nations.” Albert Vorspan, renowned, director emeritus of Reform Judaism’s Commission on Social Action, teaches: “Of course Judaism is more than a passion for justice, but Judaism without that passion is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms, a failed mission, an exhausted and caricatured promise.”

We are facing a moral fight that looms larger than one hastily enacted law. Nonetheless, this law is a microcosm for the fear and greed that is overtaking our state and nation. HB2, the alien offering of our state, is framed in the guise of protecting North Carolinians from people who choose which public bathrooms to enter based on their gender. Earlier this year the city of Charlotte had passed a measure making it more welcoming and safe for transgender persons to use the restroom. State legislators called the “emergency” session to override the city of Charlotte’s ordinance.
Have you ever accidentally walked into the wrong restroom? Women, tell the truth. (A few men too perhaps) Have you ever used the wrong bathroom because the line to get into the right one was so long and there was no line to get into the wrong one? All of us who have done this and thought we could still be upstanding citizens are living in the wrong state. That behavior now constitutes a citable, legal infraction.
While I speak sarcastically about the threat the law brings to almost every person at one time or another, HB2 brings real and present danger to transgender persons. Discrimination has spawned an alarming suicide rate among transgender teens and adults. The 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS). It found that in the U.S., 41 percent of transgender … people had attempted suicide, compared to a national average of just 4.6 percent.
The suicide rate directly correlates with the level of discrimination that trans people face. Journalists Zack Ford reports:
(From a new study from Canada:) There, the suicide attempt rate for transgender people was similar to what other studies have found: about 18 times higher than the general population. But the study found that some factors greatly reduced the attempt rate. For example, when transgender people had affirming parents, the rate dropped by 57 percent. Access to legal documentation consistent with their gender identity dropped rates by 44 percent. Trans people who experienced low levels of anti-trans hate were 66 percent less likely to attempt suicide. And perhaps most importantly, the further along individuals were in their transitions — i.e. the closer they were to having a body and outward identity that matched their internal gender identity — the less likely they were to attempt suicide.
“There is significant evidence to suggest that transgender identities have a biological origin, and there is already consensus among medical professionals that the best way to support transgender people is to affirm their gender identities.” (http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2015/06/22/3672506/transgender-suicide-rates/)
HB2 is legalizing discrimination that threatens the lives of North Carolina’s transgender citizens.
Nonetheless, this is not the only deleterious impact of HB2. Last night on a conference call with clergy across North Carolina Bishop Tonya Rawls, a Black, lesbian, woman, clergy member, and social activist from Charlotte, said that the bathroom part of this bill is not even the most significant part.
Beyond regulating restrooms, the bill codifies prejudice by making it illegal for any county or municipality to enact legislation protecting those in the LGBT community from discrimination and hate crimes.
Though seemingly unrelated to the restroom emergency, the bill also makes it illegal for cities and counties to require their contractors to guarantee their workers a living wage above minimum wage.
Further, it makes it takes away recourse for employees facing discrimination of any kind. Up until HB2 employees could file a state suit alleging discrimination against employers. HB2 denies all state law suits for discrimination for race, sex, religion, nationality or disability.  
Our legislators have served up an alien offering. Now our state is being consumed by the fire of this immoral bill.
Economically: 100 CEOs and counting have signed a letter to Governor McCrory calling for repeal of HB2. Cities and states across the country have banned official government travel to North Carolina.
* The NCAA and NBA are strongly considering moving basketball tournaments and the all-star game out of North Carolina.
* Lionsgate entertainment, the production company filming the remake of Dirty Dancing in North Carolina is reconsidering all future filming in our state. They have already abandoned rentals and hiring for a comedy pilot show that was in the early stages of filming, and moved production to Canada.
* Theatre composer Stephen Schwartz is encouraging a boycott of the state for all composers’ works. From Schwartz’ works alone that means no theatre in North Carolina can produce his shows including the likes of Wicked, Pippin, & Children of Eden.
* Brailburn Pharmaceutical Company, who recently announced they would build a $20 million plant in Durham, is putting those plans on hold and considering cites outside of North Carolina because of the bill.
This is a real and serious setback to the economic well-being of North Carolina’s citizens. HB2 threatens the livelihood and welfare of our State.
EDUCATIONALLY: Beyond the economics and discrimination HB2 threatens the loss of $4.5 billion in Federal education funding. School districts that comply with the law will be in violation of Federal Title IX legislation. In addition to the Title IX funding loss that puts school districts at risk for massive law suits and loss of funding from other federal agencies as well.
HB2 has unleashed a fire threatening to consume our state. It is an alien offering, alienating our citizens, alienating corporations, states, and even the President of the United States. The law causes real and measurable harm. It is the perfect fire-storm of the dual towers of fear and greed.
I urge you to contact your legislators and the governor. Demand an immediate repeal of HB2. Let them know that we will not be silent in the face of the desecration of the moral, economic, and educational values of North Carolina.
Our prophetic call is to quench the alien fire. Our task as Jews, as human beings is to reduce the pain and suffering in our world, to replace the tower of greed with tzedakah and loving kindness; to supplant the tower of fear with compassion and hope.

 Copyright 2016
Rabbi Lucy H.F. Dinner
Temple Beth Or, Raleigh, NC

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Why I Stayed In The Room for Trump

Why I Stayed In The Room for Trump
Rabbi Lucy H.F. Dinner
This week the largest gathering of Jews in North America AIPAC swept into the vortex of the presidential campaigns in the aggregate and the Trump campaign in specific. AIPAC has decades of experience in bipartisan support for Israel. AIPAC's advocacy has propelled support for the State of Israel into one of the few areas that garners agreement across the American political divide. The invitation by AIPAC to all the presidential candidates to speak, inclusive of Donald Trump, brought a distinct challenge to AIPAC's longstanding policy and to the 18,000 participants in the conference.
Trump's appearance presented an acute dilemma for the 700 plus rabbis and cantors in attendance at the conference as it did for many of the delegates. Trump has used his campaign as a bully pulpit to incite violence, malign Muslims, slander immigrants, and ignite disdain for everyone from the President, to his fellow candidates, and anyone who dares to speak up against him. Many rabbis, cantors, and attendees chose to walk out of the session rather than to honor Trump with their presence. Some rabbis from the Reform and Conservative movement organized alternative study sessions on pertinent Jewish values. A few chose to cancel their attendance at the conference in protest. I was among those who felt compelled to witness Trump's session. I wanted to bear witness: to demonstrate respect for all human dignity, including Trump's, though he denies it to all others; to not remain silent in the face of evil; and to be able to respond first hand to both his presentation and the reaction of those present.
The Torah commands: "Thou shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor." I stayed in the room precisely to uphold this commandment. Trump, who has maligned so many and literally encouraged violence against his detractors, can only be stopped if we stand up to him and if we call him out for his derision. My presence in the room preserves the respect I have for the dignity of the office of the President of the United States and for America's great democracy, where every citizen deserves a voice even those with whom I vehemently disagree. My presence in the room gives me the right and obligation to take a stand against the abject hatred Trump spreads. My presence in the room proclaims I will not let the bigotry of one individual usurp my right or anyone else's to full participation in democracy. 
As for Trump, he was classic, narcissistic, Trump. He opened with an insult to Muslims, reminding the majority Jewish crowd that it was Muslims who perpetrated 9-11. He claimed that he was The Authority on the Iran Agreement saying: "I have studied this deal very much believe me more than anyone else in the world and it is a bad deal." In Washington, DC, in front of 18,000 people, many of whom worked for weeks and months around the clock against the Iran deal, he claimed that he studied that deal more than anyone else in the world. He anointed himself the top deal maker in the world since he wrote a book that had the word deal in the title -- and since that book was, he said: "the number one best seller in the world, or one of the number one, yes, number one." He was so disrespectful of the Office of the President and of President Obama particularly that AIPAC felt morally compelled to issue an apology distancing itself from Trump's remarks. No facts, no plans, only wild unsubstantiated assertions about the state of the country today and promises without substance, depth, or form, of where the country will be when he is in charge.
The audiences' response to Trump was what transformed the bombastic, overblown remarks of the candidate and elevated his egocentricity into a volatile and pathogenic blow to the democracy of the United States of America. Upon Trump's entry to the arena the crowd sat fairly stoic. It did not take long for Trump's absurd claims to elicit open laughter that could be heard all the way to the hallways of the sport's arena. And then when the crowd was loosened up with his absurdity Trump turned to his charismatic, bullish charm to draw people into his vortex. With much the same promises, (i.e. The United States will always be Israel's greatest partner) albeit in much simpler language than the other candidates, Trump managed to whip the crowd to excitement, until many were off their feet in one standing ovation after another. This is how he transformed a crowd believed to be so hostile to Trump that AIPAC had at least three times before Trumps' appearance exhorted the crowd about proper respect for guest speakers. And there they were on their feet in unbridled, spontaneous support for this man.
The way that Trump charmed that crowd took me back to a buried memory from a high school civics project. I was doing a report on the KKK and went to gather research material from a freestanding KKK bookstore in my hometown. When I entered the store I was struck by the lack of books. Instead, tables were strewn with pamphlet after pamphlet of outlandish propaganda. At first I was shocked that so much of the material was anti-Semitic in nature - at least 50%. Nevertheless, I took comfort that the poor quality of the writing, the clearly outlandish claims, and the exaggerated cartoon illustrations of Jews, Blacks, and Mexicans, would hardly be convincing to any rational person. The pamphlets were almost laughable, so clearly devoid of any shred of truth or fact. Then the door of the store opened and a seven year old boy walked in and greeted the salesperson, his mom. Who would believe those outrageous pamphlets that I was almost laughing at minutes before-- that little seven year old boy, whose world was surrounded by those pamphlets and the people who propagated them.
Why is Trump a threat to our democracy? He is a threat because he has that combination of bully and charisma that draws people in, who are one minute laughing at his bravado and the next cheering wildly for his feral promises. Trump is the instigator, but the real danger is an American public so desperate for an easy answer, so afraid of their own shadow, that they grasp at the elixir of a modern-day, snake oil, salesman.
Staying in that room gave me not only greater insight into Trump, but also keener understanding of the desperate fears affecting so many Americans. Staying in that room gave me the perspective to work for a more just answer to the alleviation of those fears. In order to "not stand idly by" we have to understand the trepidation of our brothers and sisters. We have to acknowledge those fears and seek an alternative to saving oneself at the expense of the blood of the other. May the voice of the prophets guide us on that path: "to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before God."