Archives for posts with tag: Justice

My relationship to Judaism has always been weird. When my parents were still together (they split when I was 4), we must have observed many of the rituals in the home, even though Fullerton, CA was a long way from the New York and DC locales of the rest of our family and heritage. Why do I say we must have? My Bobe (my mother’s mother – second generation American) relished telling a story of some early visit we made to see her and Zade (my mother’s father, first generation – arrived from Ukraine in 1912 or so, I think). It must have been when I first visited them in DC as a walking, talking person (as opposed to a toddler). The way she told it, I walked around the table, and looked at the candlesticks and wine glasses and large pictures of a pair of ancestors from the shtetl, and asked in all innocence, ‘Are you guys Jewish?’ My grandparents found this hilarious.

Nowadays. Between then and now, I’ve gone through periods of greater and lesser connection. At the moment, I’m starting to learn a little about Yiddish culture and taking a Yiddish class online. It’s a period of greater connection, let’s say. Last week, I was listening to The Shmooze, a podcast from the Yiddish Book Center. The interview subject was Judy Batalion, a playwright and author from Montreal who recounted the sources of her latest book, The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos. She grew up knowing about Hannah Senesh, as I did – this one incredibly brave Hungarian Jewish woman living in Mandatory Palestine who parachuted into Nazi-occupied Hungary, was captured, tortured, and killed by firing squad in 1944. Batalion was researching other such women and found an entire book published in Yiddish in the US in 1948 or so, which told of other such brave women. And that book sank into obscurity, and Szenes (to use the original spelling) became the synecdoche in Hebrew school history for all those incredible women. This book one book sent Batalion on her own path, resulting in a 500-plus page book on the subject.

In that Shmooze interview, Batalion makes the point that those women did what they did out of a certain necessity, and for the simple reason that they risked less than the men by doing it. Men who were caught would have their trousers dropped, because only Jewish men were circumcised then. The women and girls had often gone to school with the non-Jewish girls, so their Polish was that spoken in the general populous, not the Polish of the yeshivabuchers who went to schools within the shtetl an mostly spoke Yiddish and Hebrew.

And this got me thinking about how we think about heroes, about Israel and its very male leadership. And, oddly, I read today about a female-created female superhero, Miss Fury, who had a 10-year run that ended in 1951. Not the same as actual heroes of the anti-Nazi resistance, but categorically similar, in that Fury’s creator, June Tarpé Mills, is another woman whose work was subsumed by the mid-20th century’s habit of glorifying the masculine and shutting away all the women who dared.

I think there’s a group psychology that comes into play in groups that need to be rescued. And I fear diving into what the survivors of the Holocaust had to deal with who then moved into a world where they could actively defend a new homeland but knew that they hadn’t been able to defend their previous homes. I’m an armchair psychologist at best. But hiding the stories of those girls and women who ran explosives between the ghettos and went out on other missions against the Nazi occupation serves to make a monolith of all the victims of the Holocaust. If all were victims, then the ghetto uprisings, and subsequent liquidations, were anomalies, rather than the rule. (Sometimes you hear someone say, ‘If I’d been in Germany, I would have fought back. Why didn’t the Jews fight back?’ The answer is, We did.)

There are a lot of people who study these matters of language and culture and history who know these things better than I do. But there’s one connection to draw about the decline of Yiddish and the loss of these stories. When Jews were settling in Palestine before World War I there were discussions of what the language of this new country (still a dream, but עם טירצו and all that) should be. Hebrew won out over Yiddish and there are a few what ifs regarding what that society would be like if things had gone the other way. I fear that the psychology of powerful men taking power would still fight for society to forget women who fought back.

A lot of people who have thought about and lived the Black experience in America will have better and more cogent responses to the current situation. What with another unarmed black boy killed this week, more needs to be done. The hat of a young woman on the train with me reads “Comme der Fuckdown” which would be a good start. Again, I’m checking my privilege poorly, but I don’t think riots are the way to go. I’m also aware that if the media is showing a riot, that does not mean There’s a Riot Goin’ On. More needs to start with law enforcement. I recall a quote posted after Mr Brown’s murder that read something like “Why are Black boys considered problems before they are considered people?” I don’t think there’s a blog post solution to endemic racism and police militarization.

Slyfam-riot1My first thought after reading of the murder of Tamir Rice in Cleveland this week, however, was that police forces need to act more like machine shops. I want news reports that start ‘{insert city here} has gone 21 days without the death of an unarmed suspect. Without the deaths of a men or women just going about their business. Without a presumption that being Black is being Guilty. Without police forces conflating their work with that of the justice system.

And how about a competition that rates police forces on how well they protect and serve their entire communities?

And how about funding municipal governments in such a way that (unlike Ferguson, MO) they don’t rely on fines imposed unfairly on one group?

It’s not much of a start, but I’d love to see the result.

Police cautions to be scrapped in England and Walesn

The warnings in question are those sometimes offered to minor offenders rather than charging them with an offence.

The reasoning offered is that ‘victims shouldn’t ‘feel that criminals are walking away scot-free.’

I definitely appreciate that the recommended new system includes making apologies and restitution to victims. This is a step in the right direction. As is scrapping verbal warnings for violent offences including rape. That the current justice system hasn’t taken rape seriously enough to prosecute consistently in Britain makes my skin crawl.

Much to be said on that.

What worries me, however, is a trend towards giving victims a say in how punishment is administered. I think it undermines a push towards a system of properly blind justice. Because the systems in (to be fair) most of the world don’t actually work as they should, we might think that giving the victim a say in punishment will make it more fair, more just. The fact is, however, that someone who has been victimised is likely to want something harsher for the perpetrator than the crime might merit.

Less probable is the likelihood that victims might face retribution from the perpetrator’s circle if they are seen as having had a hand in a criminal’s sentencing.

To be honest, the article seems to be a bit of a hodgepodge. The new program is a pilot to see how better to prosecute low-level crime. This I can support, I think. The last line of the piece is possibly the kicker: 230,000 cautions were issued in England and Wales last year. How does that compare to the number of crimes reported? To the number of not guilty verdicts in crimes that went to trial? To the number of wrongful accusations?How about the speed of trials? Recidivism rates of first-time offenders over time. One of the only quotes in the article comes from the shadow justice secretary. This is an issue because it’s an extended attack on prosecution policy under the Cameron government. This doesn’t help the reader understand the new programme and the writer doesn’t do anything to challenge the bias of the speaker who is trying only to score points against the Cameron government.

Another story in the news this weekend is about a push to get photos of politicians wearing t-shirts that read ‘This is what a feminist looks like’. In theory, I think this idea is fine. Cameron would’t put one on and took flack for it. This, I think is less fine. Don’t give a non-feminist a hard time for not putting on a shirt that publicises a campaign in which he obviously and honestly doesn’t believe. Give him flack for not doing things in his rather huge power that don’t benefit women. The t-shirt campaign is throwing soft balls to politicians who aren’t doing the work of making people’s lives better. It’s easy for Clegg and Miliband to jump on the bandwagon, because women, theoretically are a more important part of their constituencies than they are of Cameron’s.

When we’re after some substantive discussion on the subject, who jumps in but News Corp. No love lost between me and the Murdoch empire, but it’s not as though they work to make the discourse clearer and policy differences more stark. No. What does the Daily Mail report, as reported on the BBC this morning?

The Mail reports that the shirts (which retail for 45 quid, profits donated to charity) are made by women paid 62p per hour in Maurtius sweat shops. The charity in question, The Fawcett Society claims they were promised the shirts were made ‘ethically in the UK’. Halfway down the BBC article a Fawcett rep is quoted as saying “At this stage, we require evidence to back up the claims being made by a journalist at the Mail on Sunday.” The Beeb might have started their article on the matter the same way. When reading anything published in a News Corp paper (or spouted on their TV stations – Fox News to start with), your first question should always be, ‘In what way is this person lying to me?’

(I wish I had jotted down a recent Wall Street Journal piece that Rachel Maddow quoted. She goes all out against Fox News several times a week, but just because the WSJ used to be respectable doesn’t mean it still is since its takeover by News Corp a few years ago.)