Monday, June 28, 2010

Quotable Quotes

"“I would venture to say that paying attention to all of this [negative media] and re-reporting this stuff in the black blogosphere is more destructive to our spirits than the issues we face, because these reports tend to foster despair and hopelessness.”

Anna Renee, commenter at Afrospear blog


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Passing Through the Fire

There is much treasures and goods awaiting people. Many need to pass through the fire first. The fire of pride, that is. Allow me to explain. If I may, I'd like to compare knowledge to an orange.

It has a peel. Then there's the real meat of the orange. And there's the inbetween white-ish looking peel part.

Just like an orange,  knowledge can have a peel.

Let's say, Karen thought she was beautiful. She was not entirely sure, but based on many things she's read, many things people have told her, and reason of deduction, she concluded that surely she must be beautiful.

At this moment, that knowledge is only in her head. Her body may not necessarily show this knowledge, meaning it may not necessarily radiate through her actions, but for now, its just in her head. (Karen, unbeknownst to her, has attached herself to the peel of this knowledge).
 Okay. So she has a bit of wisdom.  This wisdom will give her PRIDE.  This pride if left to fester for too long -i.e. no growth- can lead to arrogance, boastfulness and bragging.   Eventually, it may rot and no longer exist.  But that should not be the goal. This knowledge has to go deeper. It has to go to a higher part of her.  After a while, she becomes at ease with this knowledge.  She is beautiful and there is nothing more to say on the matter. As this knowledge sinks in, her actions begin to show it. Her whole body says, "I'm beautiful!" She 's radiating beauty now!! You could say that the knowledge has penetrated into her heart; or you could say, she "grew up" and is "beyond" all that. (Karen is getting closer to the meat of it all).

At this point, Karen has gained humility about her beauty. She is at peace, the knowledge is safely in her heart and she doesn't feel she needs to shout out to the world, "I am somebody!" She knows deep down that she is somebody. Pride gives way to CONFIDENCE.

But how to get to that point? What is it that brings the knowledge deeper, higher? In the religious world, the answer is the fear of God. This knowledge brings Karen to question her shouting. "I know I am all that and a bag of chips, " Karen thinks, "but, how can I shout this out before God? On the one hand I'm not worthless, but God is greater and He blessed me with this good." This expanding thought to God then retracting back to personal, then back to Godly thinking --this running and returning- helps us to grow.

But it should not end there!

There is a deeper and higher level still that we must grow into, that knowledge must penetrate to.

"1 And the man knew Eve his wife; and she conceived and bore Cain," (Genesis 4:1)

There is a connection with knowledge and this intimate act. And knowledge needs to be brought to that level.

If we can rise pass where our emotions and intellect and spirit are all in tuned to this knowledge, we can even transfer this knowledge to the next generation. Confidences brings actuality, new realities. (There is the essence. The new beginning. The meat of the orange!).

There is where we want all the good and positive messages that we select and accept from BWE blogs and various other sources to go. Deep deep within us and out to the next generation.

[Note: this is a very deep process codified in the Kabbalah of the Ari (master Kabbalist Rabbi Yitzhak Luria of  the16th cen.)!  Basically, as any reality, say, one's consciousness, grows, what's really happening is that higher and higher levels of reality are revealed and join together with what existed already. 
The highest level or head of any reality is called its mohin, or mental faculties.  The middle level (paralleling the heart, torso, and arms) basically takes the input of the mohin and works on actualization; the bottom part (paralleling the legs and reproductive system) is the actualization itself.  So, at stage 1 it's all in the head.  At stage two, it gets integrated into the heart (the middle).  But what really happened?  The Ari speaks about how when consciousness grows, the mohin are "pushed down" into the middle.  But on a deeper level what happened is that a new level came in, and the "head" of the old level is on the same level as the heart of the old level.  So, when the Ari says the mohin were pushed down, it means that a new level was revealed, integrated with the old, and the mohin of the old level are now on the level of the heart.  But nothing moved!
Then, at Stage 3, an even higher level gets revealed, and that which was mohin at Stage 1 is now in the lowest part.  This is the stage of complete integration and growth, because the knowledge becomes "second nature".  So, as Karen grows, the knowledge "moves down".  It all happens as two aspects of the same process. -Note by Mr. Blackfirewhitefire]

Quotable Quotes

"In three things man is recognized: in his cup, in his pocket, and in his anger"

(Talmud, Eruvin 65)


Friday, June 25, 2010

Emanuel Beis Yaakov Controversy

The Emanuel Beis Yaakov Controversy
(A repost from Hirhurim blog)

Not far from Atlanta is a theme park called Stone Mountain, at the base of a large mountain that has a massive carving the three Confederate leaders: Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. When, on visiting, I mentioned to a friend my amazement that there would still be a celebratory tribute to people who fought for slavery, he responded that the Civil War was really about states' rights. I responded, "Yes, states' rights to allow slavery." This came to my mind when thinking about the drama surrounding a court case over a girls' school in Emanuel.

I won't go through the whole story because it has been in the news (see the links here: link). It seems to me that there are three separate issues that need to be distinguished:

1. The allegations of discrimination in the school

Is there discrimination or not? The matter is more complex than might appear. While there are Sephardic girls in the Chasidic school and admission is based entirely without consideration of ethnicity, rules can be devised that implicitly and intentionally exclude students from a specific group. Is that the case? Here is a link to an English translation of the Supreme Court ruling: link (PDF). At the end of this post is a relevant quote.

I don't claim to know with certainty whether or not there was discrimination. However, the student body makeup and the initial entry requirements imply that there was a conscious attempt to exclude Sephardim. We also have to keep in mind that there is widely acknowledged discrimination against Sephardim in yeshiva admissions. A friend of mine from YU recently changed all of his Sephardic practices to Ashkenazic to increase his son's chances of admission into a choice high school (his last name is ambiguous and his upbringing makes it easy to pretend to be Ashkenazic).

There is discrimination against Sephardim, including the assumption that they are less intense in their religiosity. While many readers might agree with this assumption, the mere fact that you judge someone's religiosity based on his ethnicity is, by definition, racist. By what justification do you make assumptions about an individual based on the color of his skin or the place his grandparents once lived? Judge people on their own merits, not generalizations based on their ethnicity.

2. The Israel Supreme Court's imprisonment of Ashkenazi parents who refused to enroll their daughters in a broader school

This seems outrageous to me. The parents were not part of the lawsuit and, regardless, why did they lose the right to choose schools for their children? Even though the court acted in frustration, after multiple attempts to enforce their ruling, how does this justify violating the parents' rights? This is extremely heavy-handed.

3. The massive Charedi rally opposing this ruling

Here's the big question: What did this rally accomplish? Was it supposed to convince the Supreme Court to change its ruling? This sort of persuasion won't make them budge. To the opposite, it will cause them to become more entrenched.

To encourage the legislature to change the law? There are other, more effective ways to introduce legislation. To show the general Israeli population that this is an important issue for Charedim? Maybe. To gather the troops and inform them that this is the issue of the day? Probably.

What is the issue? If you ask a Charedi, he will tell you that it is parents' rights. Parents have the right to choose where to send their children to school and with whom their children will associate. In other words, like my friend at Stone Mountain, this is all a matter of rights. And likewise I respond that this is about the parents' right to discriminate. Parents want the right to say that most Sephardim are bad but the few good ones can go to school with my children. The claim that this is really an issue of parents' rights and not discrimination would be more convincing if R. Ovadia Yosef had attended the protest. He did not, nor did he encourage his followers to attend.

Even if I am entirely wrong about this, let's take a look at what the public saw, both in Israel and around the world. The international perception is that the one issue that energizes Charedim above all, that leads to the largest protest rally in Israel's history, is the right to discriminate against people with darker skin. Was the damage, the lessened perception of Torah and its keepers, worth the benefit? Did the little that came out of the rally justify the terrible denigration of Torah that it caused?

At this point we need to declare to the world that the Torah leaves no room for this type of bigotry. If anything, this sort of discrimination violates fundamental concepts of the Torah, as explained at length in R. Joshua Berman's book Created Equal. We are all servants of God, equal in His eyes regardless of ethnic background. We must love each other as we love ourselves, and look past superficial differences to see the beauty in our common goals.

Right now the world thinks that Orthodox Jews support ethnic discrimination.
Excerpt from court ruling:

It is easy to determine that in the case before us the purpose of the rules — some of which found their place in the wording of the separate regulations for the Hassidic track, and some of which were applied de facto without official regulations — as the examination report of Advocate Bas showed, was simply this: the separation of girls of the Hassidic denomination from their Sephardic counterparts. This determination is based mainly on the outcome test, which shows that de facto two wings were operated within the school. These wings — which were initially intended to be two separate schools and were subsequently run as two wings — were characterized by a division of the population that was not coincidental, and it clearly shows the discriminatory intentions of the initiators of the separation, to such an extent that it can be said to speak for itself…

This discrimination is also clearly reflected in the regulations that were submitted for the approval of the director-general of the Ministry of Education, some of which were cited above. A study of the various regulations shows that we are not dealing with a track whose purpose is the study of the Hassidic way of life, but with an attempt to separate different sectors of the population on an ethnic basis, under the cloak of a cultural difference. The preference of students from a certain ethnic group in admissions to the Hassidic track, while placing bureaucratic difficulties in the path of parents of students from another ethnic group who want to register their daughters for the track, seriously undermines the right to equality. The same is true with regard to the school’s requirement that parents of the students should act in accordance with the lifestyle practised in the school, and the request — which was rightly excluded from the regulations — that the prayers should be recited solely in accordance with the Ashkenazi pronunciation. All of these merely serve an improper purpose, which is to exclude from the Hassidic track students from the Sephardic community, solely because of their origin.

The characteristics of the discrimination in this case can also be seen in the atmosphere that has enveloped this case from the outset and that is discernible in the respondents’ conduct. In other words, the main discrimination in this case was discussed above, but it is also reflected in the fact that the Independent Education Centre and the school did everything that they could in order to satisfy the requirements of the Ministry of Education on an institutional level, but they did not really implement their solutions. In practice, their undertakings had little effect on the lifestyle in the school, and in this regard it has been said that: It should be remembered that discrimination always — and maybe today more than in the past — conceals itself and goes underground, but achieves its goals by using valid arguments.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Yin and Yang of Black Folks

Hassadim and Gevurot.

I wonder if that's just the Jewish version of yin and yang.

Hassadim is the force in the universe that unites. Gevurot is the force or pull towards separation. Just like yin and yang, hassadim is denoted by the color white, and gevurot is denoted by the color black. Also, hassadim is viewed as masculine whereas gevurot is feminine. In addition, just like yin and yang, you can't have one without the other. Its alot more complicated than that, but I'm simplifying for brevity's sake.

I always muse with myself when people ask, “what do Black folks have in common?” Are we a community? A monolith? Sometimes I think we are the personification of the gevurot forces. Black personified. We can separate, and boy do we separate alright! Be it tribal, shade of color, etc., I don't need to go into details about our non-unifying skills.

It makes me think of the Purim story I just read. About Mordechai and Esther. King Xerxes searched high and low for a new wife (after doing away with his previous one) and who did he find but Esther- who also reminds me of gevurot because she endures being separated from Mordechai and she is feminine. Mordechai, on the other hand, reminds me of hassadim because he is masculine and also because he tries to maintain unity by hanging around the court of the palace to be close to Esther. As for the king in the story,-sometimes we don't know if the author means King as in God, or king as in the human king Xerxes. So too with Black folks, the trials we've gone through seems man made (slavery, discrimination) but at times it seems like Someone Above is out to get us!

And so the story goes, Haman wants people to submit to idol worship. He attacks the hassadim side of the pair which is Mordechai. Just like nowadays, anything we try to do which is beneficial to ourselves- but involves unity such as wanting marriage, conforming to rules (snitching-reporting crimes to the police, speaking a proper English to conform to the rest of society) is called "acting white" by the opposers and derailers. Said in a way that means, "don't do that, its not for you."

Esther is not sure what to do. She is afraid to come before the "King", but realizes that the fate of Mordechai and all of her people may perhaps also be her fate as well. So, she unites with Mordechai and all of her people in fasting and atoning for their past sins. Then she boldly separates and goes before the King -too much is at stake to play meek. It’s time for some holy boldness!

It’s interesting that Esther was the one taken by King Xerxes. Esther, gevurot, has a more likely chance of falling into the wrong simply because of its nature. To be constantly in motion, to be separated-thus without much allies, to be seen as feminine and thus more vulnerable, etc. We should take good note of this and understand it well.

She boldly goes before the King. Coming before the King without being summoned was guaranteed a bad outcome. In the same way, we look at ourselves, full of wrong both accidental and intentional, full of character traits that could use repair, full of cravings and habit that we need to control and wonder, can I still come before the Creator of the universe? Can I still make requests?

Just to pray requires a bit of boldness indeed.

Nevertheless, Esther pleads her case....

.... and is granted favor!

I could expound more but there is simply not enough time. But suffice it to say that in the story, Haman –the bad guy- is destroyed, Esther and her people are granted life, another cause to eat and celebrate is created and it’s the end of the story.

I urge you all, to take a look at these concepts marriage, reporting crimes, and so on and so forth, and see that perhaps -just perhaps- there is good in it and be strong. The key is oscillating between the unity and the separating powers. My friends, stay strong enough to defy the derailers who try to keep good from you.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Back to Life

This was a nice hiatus.

I didn't think I'd be back, but it seems I am.

Okay. Checking my compass as to the next direction.