Welcome! I am Rabbi Jonathan Biatch of Madison, Wisconsin. "Pulpit Perspectives: My Observations as a Congregational Rabbi" is published every two weeks to reflect my observations about life in my congregation and with my members. The opinions expressed here are solely my own. I invite you to join the dialogue!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Invocation at the Rally in Opposition to the proposed Right to Work legislation, Madison, Wisconsin, February 25, 2015

Good day.  Yesterday I offered an invocation at  the rally, held on the steps of the state capitol here in Madison, which protested in opposition to the proposed Right to Work legislation now on its way to the second house of Wisconsin's legislature (having been passed by the Senate last evening).  My remarks are below: They followed the pledge of allegiance and the singing of the Star Spangled Banner.

I am Rabbi Jonathan Biatch from Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice, a statewide coalition of people of many faiths.  We strive toward “creating a state whose people and government address the real needs and raise the dignity of the hungry and poor; care for and heal the sick; and truly listen to the voices of all citizens.”

As people of faith, we are the heirs of a prophetic tradition that has ever sought to perfect the world that God gave to us.  The book of Genesis reminds us that we are each made in the Divine Image, and that no one person is inherently better than another.  That is why we honor the dignity of each person: for being a member of the human family, and for their chosen work in the world.

The biblical books of Exodus , Leviticus  and Deuteronomy  set forth civilized guidelines through which humanity engages in work that supports their families.  “Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight.”  “Do not take advantage of a hired worker…Pay them their wages each day before sunset…”  These commandments resound with the spirit of fair treatment of the employee.

But there is more.  Our evolving Jewish and Christian traditions have long supported collective bargaining rights.  Even as our ancient texts direct us to engage in our individual labors with genuine effort and complete spirit, they also provide the sanction for workers to organize for their benefit and safety.  Guilds and associations of trade-workers have characterized the history of work for more than 1,800 years.

These worker organizations – especially in the last century – have striven to achieve safe working conditions, fair wages and overall dignity for those who produce the goods and services that fuel our economy.  Collective bargaining has brought security to the middle class, and has allowed us to provide adequate food, shelter, and happiness to our lives.  Nothing could be better than a society that is anxious to improve itself, doing so through the efforts of the work of our hands and the sweat of our brow.

That is why our efforts here this week are so important.  The weakening of unions, one objective of so-called “right to work legislation,” will have disastrous effects on the lives of working people in Wisconsin.  So as we today gather “peaceably to assemble” and address our elected officials, I offer this prayer to the Source of Power and Dignity in the universe:

May God bless us in our efforts to maintain and achieve a dignified work environment for all workers in Wisconsin!  May the Spirit of Human Endeavor continue to strengthen us in our chosen professions!  And may the Spirit of Right and Justice prevail through all our undertakings!  And we say, Amen.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Response to Anti-Semitism? Band Together with Others

Over this past weekend, anti-Semitic and racist epithets were painted on homes and driveways on the west side of Madison.  This is the note I sent to my congregation in response:

Anti-Semitic graffiti, as well as other defamatory tagging, has appeared again on the streets of Madison, and we are reminded that hatred and ignorance exist even in our progressive Midwest community.  News reports provide the evidence.  Each of us must now consider the repercussions and our actions.

I wish to express appreciation for the leadership of the Jewish Federation of Madison who spent the weekend with local and federal law enforcement officials reviewing the situation.  All of them are there for our welfare, and I believe they have been engaged, concerned, and present for us.

I do not believe this is a moment for panic or anxiety.  But in my opinion – to paraphrase the book of Exodus (12:42) – this is a time for watchfulness and preparing for engagement.

For these local incidents must also be viewed against the backdrop of other recent anti-Semitic acts.  The shooting in a Copenhagen synagogue this past Saturday, the desecration of a Jewish cemetery in France on Sunday, and the recent attack on a kosher market in Paris last month underscore the threat that our European cousins confront each day and that are increasing.

And sadly, there is more.  In our country, religious minorities suffer attacks by extremist groups.  North Carolina Muslims are targeted for indiscriminate shooting.  A Sikh temple in Milwaukee faces an attack from a racist killer.  Jewish facilities from Kansas City to Seattle to Los Angeles endure assault.  There is a pattern of hatred that we must recognize, even as we search for answers.

The disturbing words and images painted on residences on the West side should compel each of us to strive mightily against intolerance, and not give in to hopelessness.  It is a joyful and necessary challenge to do the work of prejudice reduction; assembling intergroup coalitions is long and arduous work.  But to confront bigotry, to rally against extremist and radical forms of religion, and to demonstrate the solidarity of our Madison community against any form of prejudice: these are challenges that we must undertake.

Let us stand by with one another as we face these challenges in the future!  Let us stand unified against prejudice, hatred, and any form of intolerance!  And let us strengthen one another as we face the future as proud Americans and Jews!