Complete Discussion of “Lansky to Madoff: Talking About Jewish Criminals”

As promised, below you will find links to either stream or download the entire Rapid Responsa. Just a little reminder that this event as well as the Podcast are free to you, but not free for the Washington DCJCC to produce. Given that we’re living through the era of Madoff and AIG, consider making an online gift to support the programs both virtual and real, of the Washington DCJCC.

To re-set the scene: On March 12, we had a great discussion as part of our Rapid Responsa series entitled, “From Meyer Lansky to Bernie Madoff: Talking About Jewish Criminals.” Over 150 people turned out on the very day of Bernie Madoff’s guilty plea to discuss prominent Jewish criminals past and present. On the panel that evening were attorney Abbe Lowell, writer Susan Fishman-Orlins and Professor Gery Kauvar. We’ve made available below a recording of the entire discussion which is broken down into two parts. Both parts will eventually be available as podcasts on iTunes.

Just a note: the recording is edited, as some people chose not to ask their questions with the microphone, resulting in some long empty silences which we have excised in the name of brevity and maintaining your interest.

Part 1:
Part 2:

You can download both parts as an MP3 by right-clicking on each link below and saving to your computer:

Part 1

Part 2

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From Meyer Lansky to Bernie Madoff

Last Thursday we had a great discussion as part of our Rapid Responsa series entitled, “From Meyer Lansky to Bernie Madoff: Talking About Jewish Criminals.” Over 150 people turned out on the very day of Bernie Madoff’s guilty plea to discuss prominent Jewish criminals past and present. On the panel that evening were attorney Abbe Lowell, writer Susan Fishman-Orlins and Professor Gery Kauvar. We’ve made available below a recording of the first part of the discussion and hope to have the second online soon. Both parts will eventually be available as podcasts on iTunes.

Just a note: the recording is edited, as some people chose not to ask their questions with the microphone, resulting in some long empty silences which we have excised in the name of brevity and maintaining your interest.

You can download the the first part as an MP3 by right-clicking here and saving to your computer

Shabbat Surfing–Go Nats!

NationalsJeremy Burton, writing at J.Spot overreacts to Bush’s “christening” of the new National’s ballpark. Trust us. President Bush notwithstanding, the opening of the ballpark was a giant Bar Mitzvah for the District. The Lerner family, owners of our beloved Nats, have even included a special column dedicated to Jewish slugger Hank Greenberg (a Detroit Tiger) in the new ballpark, plenty of Kosher food options and davening during the seventh inning stretch. This is not to say that there is not a susbtantial evangelical Christian presence in baseball, but not every example of religion in the public sphere need be interpreted as hostile to other religions.

DC’s LGBTQ magazine Metro Weekly has an issue entirely dedicated to queer Jewish life around the coming holiday of Passover. Highlighted in the issue is a feature article about GLOE’s Stonewall Seder which was held this past Sunday at  the HRC. Also given substantial ink is Congregation Bet Mishpachah which meets for services regularly at the 16th Street J.

Have you been over on the Theater J blog? Ari Roth has been at the forefront of reaction to a poll question put out by American Theater Magazine regarding a proposed cultural boycott of Israel (although it’s not clear anyone is currently advocating for one). Ari’s strong response to the ridiculousness of the exercise and the dozens of responses he received in return grabbed the attention of The Forward. The weekly newspaper is featuring the kerfuffle on the front page this week.

We seem to be all over the press this week, with a great write up of the Rapid Responsa in the Washington Jewish Week.

Briefly noted: Virtual Talmud shuts down at beliefnet.com.  The British chief of Formula One auto racing makes Eliot Spitzer look wholesome. Organic Bacon lollipops–both treyf and disgusting. Heeb presents its own zombie film with a NSFW Night of the Living Jews.

Report from the first Rapid Responsa: Race, Resentment and the “Obama Moment”

Stephen Stern, Director of Dialogues and Public Affairs writes: 

Nine days after Presidential candidate Barack Obama delivered his “A More Perfect Union” speech, I had the privilege of facilitating a discussion on “race and resentment” at the Washington DCJCC.  Chief Program Officer Joshua Ford and I organized our first Rapid Responsa to address what seemed a rare cultural moment, to have meaningful personal dialogue about what had become a hot button public controversy, touching on very raw societal nerves.  We got the first word out Sunday night, and on Thursday we had gathered thirty some people in a circle of chairs in the Community Hall, a grand mixture of generations, men and women, perhaps 25% of African-American origin, and a large number of people (not all) from our Jewish community.  I was constantly astonished as participants spoke with restraint and depth; profound respect, but real passion about differences – and speaking about those differences as if they were gifts in which we all might share.  Our participants opened their hearts and minds to look at people forming themselves in the face of anger and resentment, but did so without speaking to each other with anger and resentment.  

We read aloud brief excerpts from Senator Obama’s speech, which Josh and I grouped under headings i) The Personal: Encountering “Cringe” Moments in Black and White Communities, and ii) The Societal: Anger and a Path to Progress?  We asked participants to look at this not as an opportunity for political advocacy or opposition, but for frank encounters on how we identified and connected as community.  We turned to our special guests to launch the conversation — Ira Forman, Executive Director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, not speaking for the NJDC or for any candidate, but as someone who had been responding to rumors and attacks on Senator Obama that were circulating in the Jewish community; and Jonetta Rose Barras, commentator on local politics for WAMU and newspaper columnist, who had written an Outlook front page commentary in the previous Sunday’s Washington Post on black churches, African-American identities and her path in life.  The following is from my notes taken while I participated in the discussion, as well as moderated with an eye to seeing that everyone was given an opportunity, and a prod, to speak.  Any distortions in my account are invitation for you to correct me in the comments section.

Ira started by reflecting on a formative time when race and rage were tearing America apart, April 4, 1968 and Robert Kennedy arriving in an Indianapolis black community to inform the gathering of the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr..  RFK spoke of anger and division, the tragedies befalling his own family and country, and the seeking of community and rights across divisions.  The parallels to some of Obama’s themes were raised and Ira quoted from Obama’s passage on how our current age often sees race as spectacle, with cynicism and conflict.  He outlined Obama’s call to construct an alternative politics, which Ira deemed in many ways a response to a political problem for Obama.  There are real issues for Jews and others raised by what can be seen as Reverend Wright’s unacceptable fulminations, but Ira sees some currents within the Jewish community that to him often seem unfair and paranoid (though “even paranoids often have real enemies”).

Jonetta began with Obama’s singular experience of both white and African-American communities that he identified himself with (and against). She found his speech filled with the personal, and offering a special opportunity to look at what community and family mean for all Americans, and as context for our journeys encountering formative figures in our varied American lives.  She spoke of “kinships”, people in her life who were critical at some stage, and that after personal growth to another stage, there is no way you just “cut ties to them without cutting yourself”.  Jonetta expressed a vision in which race is too often a block (or obstacle) to looking at inherent realities, which for her are more importantly about class, economic disparity, and inequity in opportunity.  She sees a new stage, a fresh wind in African-American political leadership, growing from a newly-experienced  “grassroots”, in part from the “Alinsky School” of community organizing across racial lines – some exemplars being Senator Obama, Representative Artur Davis of Alabama, and Mayor Adrian Fenty of the District.

The roomful of participants jumped in, first with a concern that there is cynical and manipulative use of racial polarization to attack Obama and undermine community-building possibilities.  Continue reading

Taking the Opportunity to Talk About Race

An interesting article from last week’s New York Times covers the national response to Senator Barack Obama’s speech on race outside the context of its political success or failure. The article quotes Rev. Joel Hunter, the senior pastor of a white evangelical mega-church in Central Florida, who described Obama’s speech as a kind of “Rorschach inkblot test for the nation…It calls out of you what is already in you.” As a clergy member he wants to be part of the healing and reconciliation that the moment affords, but adds, “unless it’s raised in a very public manner, it’s tough for us in our regular conversation to raise it.”

So we’re raising it in a very public manner. And we’re not alone. Why? Because, as the article details, around the country there is a sense in many quarters that there is a window of opportunity to talk about these issues like adults–this coming from personalities as divergent as the crew from The View, to Bill O’Reilly to Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun Magazine. The Time’s article quotes a student from Tufts University in Boston as saying, “We need to have some sort of follow-up conversation…even among groups that do no interact on a daily basis, and this speech has created a space for that. Whether individuals choose to engage is their own choice, but the opportunity is still there.”

It is heartening to see that our instinct to provide a public forum to react to the substance of Senator Obama’s speech is one that is being echoed country-wide, as detailed in the article. I hope that if you’ve been seeking the opportunity to Jonetta Rose BarrasIra Formanwrestle with what has been “called out of you” by the speech, you’ll join us on Thursday, March 27 for our dialogue on the themes of the speech with Ira Forman, Executive Director of the National Jewish Democratic Council and Jonetta Rose Barras, political commentator at WAMU-88.5.

Rapid Responsa: An Open Discussion About Barack Obama’s Speech on Race & Resentment takes place Thursday, March 27 at 7:30 pm at the Washington DCJCC. Click here to RSVP.

Rapid Responsa: An Invitation to Meet on 3/27 and Talk About Obama’s Philadelphia Speech on Race and Resentment

This Thursday, March 27, the 16th Street J invites you to join us at 7:30 pm in the bricks and mortar world for a discussion about race, resentment and the cultural moment signified by Barack Obama’s speech on race. We will use Obama’s speech as a “source text” and an opportunity to move beyond political advocacy or opposition to share our individual reactions, how it applies to our communities, adjacent and related communities and what we might have to say to one another. This is an attempt to step outside the predominant conversation of how Obama’s speech affects the campaign horse-race, and rather respond to how the content of Obama’s speech reverberates–or falls short–with each other.

Initiating our discussion will be special guests, Jonetta Rose Barras, political commentator for WAMU-88.5 FM and Ira Forman, Executive Director of the National Jewish Democratic Council and Research Director of the Solomon Project.

This program is free and open to all members of the Washington community.

Rapid Responsa is a new program of the 16th Street J. It seeks to periodically provide a forum, as public events warrant, to shape a quick, civil discussion on ideas that have immediate cultural relevancy and about which average citizens ought to be able to speak with one another. Responsa have a long history in Judaism, and concern themselves not only with religious matters, but increasingly with contemporary issues, beginning as early as the 14th Century. What we are embracing with this title is not the stamp of authority that a responsa from a learned rabbi brings with it; rather we are embracing the dialectical approach which characterizes a great many of them. In these cases there is a willingness to discuss thesis and antithesis, a participatory Socratic method, and while we expect we will raise more questions than we answer, our hope is that something can be learned.

RSVP to join the conversation.

Read the text of Senator Obama’s speech.

Read Jonetta Rose Barras’ article, “He’s Preaching to A Choir I’ve Left” from the Outlook Section of the Sunday, March 23 Washington Post.

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