Today’s Child Sacrifice

The following will be delivered as a d’var Torah, reflections on the Torah reading on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, at Congregation Beth Israel, Asheville, North Carolina.

Let’s get straight to it. Child sacrifice.

The akedah, the story of the binding of Isaac, invites us to think about child sacrifice and putting an end to it. But haven’t we already put an end to it? Are children still being sacrificed? In the United States? In North Carolina? In Asheville?

Well, that depends on how you define sacrifice.

What would you call it when a girl is born to a poor mother, whose husband, when he’s around, abuses her, if not physically then emotionally, in, say, Charlotte, North Carolina? Born in Charlotte, that child, according to the Equality of Opportunity Project, has only a little more than a 4% chance of climbing out of poverty in her lifetime. If she is born under similar circumstances in Asheville, North Carolina, her chances improve: 7.1%. Given the miracle of life, this child’s opportunities for life seem severely limited from the day she is born. Is this a kind of child sacrifice? [Read more...]

The March on Washington: A Personal Anniversary

Guest Post

By Christine A. Scheller


“Many of our white brothers…have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.”

— Martin Luther King, Jr., August 28, 1963


I was born on the first anniversary of the day these words were spoken. My black son was buried on the fortieth anniversary of the day their author was silenced. I’ve been pondering this bit of providence ever since.

I didn’t expect to mother a black child and certainly didn’t expect that brilliant, beautiful child to kill himself in the year America’s first black president was elected on a message of hope and change.

Growing up in a small, lily-white New Jersey town, I briefly had a black friend. One day, she came home from school with me and my mother advised me that it would be best if she was gone before my late father got there. My father had grown up in Newark and had gotten beaten up regularly by black boys, my mother says, at least until he became a gang leader and Golden Gloves boxing champion. (Men who worked with my late father in urban ministry in the 1960s have told me they never saw any hint of racism in his interactions with people of all races and ethnicities. I believe that like all of us, he was a product of his time and place, a man who sometimes rose above his circumstances and sometimes did not.)

The afterschool play-date was my formal introduction to the concept of race and it was startling. I had no idea what it meant. All I know is that the girl, whose name I don’t recall, disappears from my memory after that.

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Women Who Make America

Imagine that you’re in grade school in the 1950s. At Thanksgiving, Uncle Richard turns to you and asks, “So, what do you want to be when you grow up?”

Ah, but this is a trick scenario. Uncle Richard will turn to you only if you’re a boy. And you’ll answer “a mailman” or “a doctor” or “a policeman.”

If you’re a girl, Uncle Richard won’t turn to you with this question. As far as his question goes, you’re invisible. Because he already knows, along with all of American society, what you’ll grow up to be. If you’re a white middle-class girl, you’ll become a wife and mother. If you’re a black girl living in poverty (as most black families were), you’ll become a housemaid…as well as wife and mother in your own home.

It’s this reality of women’s lives in the 1950s that the magnificent documentary, Makers: Women Who Make America, begins with. The three-hour film aired on PBS in February, but you can stream it in one-hour segments here.
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Remembering Deacon Patenotte

On Wednesday, June 12, 2013, at more or less the same time that I was standing in a Greek Orthodox cathedral for the memorial prayers honoring the second anniversary of my mother’s passing, the Funeral Mass for David “Deacon” Patenotte was about to take place at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in my hometown of Yazoo City, Mississippi.

I am a longtime Mississippi exile by this point, but I would have given anything to be in both places at once. As Father Steve censed the icon of Christ and asked for my mother’s memory to be eternal, I lifted up Mr. Patenotte’s name, too.

David, or “Deacon,” as he was known by most folks, was the owner of Patenotte’s Grocery on Grand Avenue: the expansive, tree-lined street that led out from the nineteenth century downtown to houses that were gradually newer, and finally to the flat streets of small 1950s and 60s houses that had been carved out of what had originally been the Curran family’s plantation. [Read more...]

Israel at 65: Caught in a Homeland Trap

“People caught in a homeland-trap,” writes the late Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai in “National Thoughts,” a poem from the mid-1960s.

The homeland (Israel) is a trap? In the eyes of hundreds of thousands of refugees who, to escape persecution, fled there from Russia, Poland, Germany, Syria, Yemen, Ethiopia, and…? In the eyes of the many American Jews who made aliyah (rose up! immigrated to) first to the British Mandate of Palestine, later to the modern State of Israel?

I’m watching The Gatekeepers. An Academy award nominee for best feature-length documentary, The Gatekeepers features interviews of six former heads of Israel’s Shin Bet, the secret service charged with overseeing Israel’s war on terror—Palestinian and Jewish terror. [Read more...]