Jews have fought since the birth of America for separation of church and state as the ticket to full citizenship and equal rights in a mostly Christian country. In recent years the principle has been under assault from religious fundamentalists, both Christian and Jewish.
Government and politics are the machinery by which a people collectively makes decisions and takes action. Keeping that power in the hands of the people requires constant vigilance—against corruption, influence peddling, gridlock and intransigence.
Heroes of progressive Jewish thought and action, from Abzug to Zinoviev, Sidney Hillman to Abraham Joshua Heschel, Emma Goldman to Bob Dylan to Lenny Bruce. Teachers and trouble-makers, saints and subversives, community activists and world leaders.
The struggle of half the human race for equal rights is the most sweeping social revolution of the past century. The battle for women’s equality, though unfinished, has opened the door for other groups singled out because of sexual identity and for new understandings of the very idea of gender.
The struggle for freedom and human rights is never-ending—and so, it seems, is the struggle to define them. Franklin D. Roosevelt enumerated four fundamental freedoms: freedom of speech and of worship, freedom from want and from fear. America formally recognizes only three of them, and consistently honors just two.
Health care reform under President Obama was only one step in a long process. America has great questions to resolve over mental health, diseases of poverty, treatment of the chronically ill and the terminally ill. And the Affordable Care Act, though historic, leaves many questions of access still to be resolved.
Society’s understanding of racism and prejudice has changed over time and with it the ways in which they are combated have changed—and not always for the better. New prejudices arise and old ones change form, and biases that once evoked guilt are often cloaked today in righteous indignation.
Tradition urges us to pass our values and life skills on to the next generation—to “teach them diligently unto your children.” It doesn’t tell us how. Looking for answers turns education today into a battlefield.
The most ancient objective of social justice is the right to food, clothing and shelter — that is, the right to survive. Yet it remains the most elusive and hard-fought, pitting need against greed and the many against the powerful, to many minds the defining cause of humanity.
War has its own morality. Philosophers speak of just wars, fought for a legitimate cause, and justice in war, fighting according to the rules of fair play known as the laws of war. Antiwar activism has a similar logic: opposing a given war versus opposing all war, fighting for a cause through militant non-violence versus refusing to fight.
The Nazi genocide of European Jewry continues to be a pivotal moral challenge for Jews and all humanity: Why it happened, why the facts remain a topic of charged political debate and, perhaps most important, why have we not learned to prevent its repetition against other peoples in other places in the decades since it ended?
Caring for the earth has evolved from the Thoreau-era love of nature to twentieth century concerns over polluted air and water to the current state of alarm over the changing climate and the threat to the planet’s habitability.
The architects of globalization predicted that narrowing the distances between nations and peoples would make everyone’s life better. In many ways, however, the new technologies of communication and transport, and the new economics they are creating, only make it easier to divide and control us.
There are many possible paths to social change and many visions of the end goal. And many arguments about which path to follow, dividing activists into rival movements as well as coordinated, interdependent groups. You don’t need a weatherman, but follow the roadmaps.
Primary sources are one of the best ways to gain insight into the minds of the leaders of the past. Reading documents untainted by analysis allows us to see how history was shaped by the people who made it.