When the newly formed ACCB team met to plan DJJ's first annual Purim Extravaganza in January, ideas were flying around the room. We were envisioning a deconstructed multi-roomed instillation, an epic journey through the megillah and through the injustices that plague our generation. In short, we were thinking BIG.
When we moved from the ideas to the action, we realized we were going to have to scale back and focus - that acts of creation require patience and persistence, boundaries and sacrifice, as much as they require imagination and visionary thinking. As we mulled over the themes of Esther’s story, we were struck by how easy it would be to make Haman the focus of our shpiel, and to depict our modern day leaders as the infamous evil, plotting villain. But we all started to agree that this would be too simple, that to tell a story of triumph that depicts injustice as the evil inclination of a solitary individual would be to miss the whole point of the story - the systemic critique embedded in Megillat Esther, hidden behind the hoops and hollers of a crowd trying to blot out Haman’s name, became the impetus for Pure Shushan - a uniquely Michigan Purim story.
Rabbi Alana Alpert delivered these remarks before the board of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit
Last week during our monthly Brunch & Learn at Congregation T’chiyah, I brought a series of commentaries on the concept of Chametz -- different ideas about the meaning of the Passover practice of cleaning, burning, and refraining from leavened bread. I shared a number of different ideas, many of which, inspired by the chassidic tradition, spiritualize the practice. For example, the Baal Shem Tov understands chametz as anger, pride and arrogance. I heard a resounding rejection of these interpretations. Folks argued that such self-help interpreted the practice in ways that were far away from the core message of the holiday, which is, as the Torah says: “Remember that you were slaves in the land of Egypt…”
The T’chiyah community prides itself on its orientation towards social justice. So they challenged me to think hard about the relationship between this practice and our commitment to justice and freedom.
The practice of ridding ourselves of chametz seems to me to be a very personal practice. As opposed to so much of our liturgy, the language is singular and not plural. At the end of the ritual of bedikat hametz, the search that happens the night before the holiday, we recite:
“Any hametz that is in my possession and that I have not seen, that I have not observed, that I have not removed, and that I do not know about shall hereby be annulled and shall become ownerless like dust of the earth.”Read more
A shortened version of a speech delivered on Thursday in front of hundreds of fast food workers and their supporters.
I’m Rabbi Ariana Silverman and I’m here with Detroit Jews for Justice.
I know that the Bible obligates employers to be fair to their workers. In the book of Deuteronomy we read “Do not oppress the hired laborer who is in need, whether he is one of your people or one of the sojourners in your land within your gates. Give him his wages [in the daytime,] and do not let the sun set on them, for he is poor, and his life depends on them, lest he cry out to God about you, for this will be counted as a sin for you.”
Today we are crying out. Some of us cry out in the words of our faith traditions, for we believe that treating workers unfairly is truly a sin against God. All of us cry out in the shared language of justice. We are crying out with the simple demand that workers are paid a fair wage of $15/ hour. We cry out with workers across the globe to demand that companies like McDonald’s use their power to lift up workers instead of dragging them down. We are crying out because we know that when we do, we all will win.
In the summer of 2010 in Montrose, PA I attended a film screening on “Gasland,” a documentary about hydro-fracking (gas drilling). At the end of the film, a farmer stood up with a jug of “water” from home, which resembled liquefied poop more than it did water. It was terrifying to learn how vulnerable our communities are.
At DJJ’s Purim Shpiel on Thursday March 31st, we retold the story of Esther to be a modern day story of water as a human right, and drew on the themes of power, sovereignty, and activism we saw in the megillah. The shpiel was called Pure Shushan, a riff on the well known Michigan ad campaign - Pure Michigan. In essence, it sought to shed light on how our communities’ health rests on what our legislators seemingly fail to understand. How can we live in a time when using corroded old pipes is ok? How can we live in a time when residents' water is shut off while back-tax owing corporations are allowed to keep functioning, business as usual? How can our leaders stand by when hydro-fracking results in jugs in farmers' water supplies turning into liquefied poop?
As a teacher, I know that education is the key to anyone’s future. Everyone got to where they are today at least partially because of their schooling. Many can remember a teacher who inspired them and helped shape who they are. I chose to work in Detroit Public Schools because I believe in public education as a necessary part of ensuring a bright future for the next generation and for our city. Everyone deserves opportunities to succeed. It starts in our schools. And we have a lot of work to do to improve them. I continue to fight for DPS, because I believe that the children and teachers of Detroit deserve a quality public school system.Read more
When I was a kid and had to stay home sick from school, my mom always made me the classic challah toast with cinnamon and sugar and we would watch movies together. When I got older, and had just gotten back from a Jewish youth group weekend and was overwhelmed with homework, every now and then I would take a day off school just to have a break. My mom called it a “mental health day.” Now, through the MI Time to Care initiative, I’m learning that not every child is blessed to have a parent that can stay home and care for them when they are sick, and not every adult has the flexibility or financial stability to take the day off if they or their children are ill.
Our upcoming DJJ Purim party promises to be as complex as the social issues we take on: the event will include a potluck banquet, a shpiel, a costume/dish contest, musical performances and a dance party.
Rabbi Alana shared that "we're taking inspiration from sister organizations in New York and Boston who have been doing raucous, politically poignant Purim parties for years, The holiday lends itself perfectly to talking about fighting injustice and the power of organizing. And it's super fun, which is so important for building community and doing justice work for the long haul.”
The 2016 shpiel, written by me, Phreddy Whischusen, and DJJ staff Blair Nosan, uses the story of Esther to highlight the water crises in Detroit and Flint. Phreddy shared that, “Last year’s shut-offs in Detroit and this year’s Flint crisis are intrinsically linked — to the Emergency Manager Law, It’s miraculous how a story that is over 2,000 years old seems better at demonstrating that connection than much of today’s media.”
People power. That’s my personal mantra for the Organizing Team, and a two word explanation for why I love Detroit Jews for Justice. Just when I’m feeling at my wits end about the political landscape, I get to show up for a meeting with my Organizing Team co-chair, Oren Brandvain, and DJJ’s organizer, Eleanor Gamalski and together we navigate the complexities of this work through laughter, French fries, yoga, and wildly stimulating conversation. I have to end each meeting letting them know just how smart I think they are.
Organizing Team is made up of much more than Eleanoren though (Eleanor, Oren, and Nora…get it?!). Our work is steeped in the leadership and planning of Rabbi Alana Alpert and Blair Nosan as well as our burgeoning TEAM! We’ve had two gatherings so far, and (as you’ll find out if you keep reading) we are diving head first into shaping and implementing the political work of Detroit Jews for Justice.
Hello to our DJJ family! It's probably a little overdue for me to introduce myself, but better late than never!
I jumped into my position as DJJ's Community Organizing Intern at the beginning of the year, and two months in, I'm feeling pretty great.
A little bit about me: I grew up in Bloomfield Township and went to the Roeper School for nursery through 12th grade. I'm so indebted to Roeper and my incredible parents for raising me with social justice values and a relationship to Detroit -- two things that have come to shape my life trajectory. I didn't often attend Temple nor did I do much Torah study, but my family did give me a sense of what it meant to be an American Jew. I always felt this was a central aspect of my personal identity and my place in the world - but I had yet to really ask why.
"Enjoying" the weather while representing DJJ at the MLK., Jr. Day rally!Read more
by: Anna Kohn
As the former Director of the last freestanding synagogue over the past three-plus years, I’ve had an opportunity to witness a lot of the different Jewish movements around social justice in Detroit, but none were so close to my heart as that of December’s “Festival of Rights” sponsored by Detroit Jews for Justice.
A lot of my Jewish peers struggle with identity and purpose. Hell, even my non-Jewish peers struggle with identity and purpose. That’s the beauty of Detroit Jews for Justice. In the face of that struggle, DJJ offered me a safe space to express those social justice causes that I feel most connected to – and in the case of the “Festival of Rights,” I was so honored to be presenting a Jewish take on MY most passionate passion, prison reform. (Pirkei Avot 1:6) Yehoshua ben Perahia says “make for yourself a teacher, acquire for yourself a friend, and judge every person with the benefit of the doubt.” Because what if, in Judaism’s culture of community-oriented thinking, we as Jews, had not?