Author Archives: Malkie Schwartz

Malkie Schwartz

About Malkie Schwartz

Malkie Schwartz is the Director of the Institute of Southern Jewish Life’s (ISJL) Department of Community Engagement. Malkie joined the ISJL staff in 2009 to complete the mission of the ISJL by ensuring that in addition to educational, cultural and rabbinic opportunities, the ISJL can be a resource to Southern Jewish communities wishing to elevate the role that service plays in Jewish life. Since the department’s launch, the ISJL has introduced T.A.P. (Talk About the Problems), a conflict resolution/peer mediation program; Read, Lead, Succeed, a cross age reading program; and The Health Express, a peer-to-peer health education program, to schools in the Jackson, Mississippi metro area. In addition, the ISJL recently began partnering with a cohort of congregations to begin replicating these initiatives in their own communities. Malkie’s position at the ISJL was preceded by 5 years of experience serving as the founding executive director of Footsteps, a New York City based non-profit organization that provides educational, vocational, social and emotional assistance to people who are seeking to transition from an ultra-orthodox lifestyle into the mainstream world. Malkie is a graduate of Hunter College and Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. She is a Repair the World Fellow and currently lives in Jackson, MS. Malkie serves on the board of Jackson 2000, an organization that promotes racial harmony in Jackson.

Southern Hospitality & Jewish Introverts

introvertAre we doing enough to nurture Jewish introverts?

It’s a fair question. Jewish culture is often depicted as loud, full of debate, everyone cracking a joke or raising their voice to make a point. And here in the South, hospitality is so important – but does Southern Hospitality, and Jewish community, do enough to be genuinely nurturing to the more introverted among us?

Susan Cain is the author of Quiet, a book that challenges cultural biases for and against extroversion and introversion. The term introvert, she points out, denotes a personality style that is often more “reserved, contemplative, and passive” while the term extrovert denotes a personality style that is often associated with “assertiveness, charisma, gregariousness, social dominance.” But, why, she asks, are extroverts viewed as superior to introverts?

My sister sent me this TED talk and—rather than infer whether or not she sent it to me because she thinks that I am an introvert—I have spent some time wondering whether the Jewish community fits Susan Cain’s characterization of many modern day institutions which she suggests are structured for extroverts – including schools, offices and camps. The Jewish community, as a microcosm of the world at large, is made up of similar institutions and places tremendous value on the concept of “community” which seems intrinsically extrovert friendly. (How much more so, those of us working in Community Engagement?!)

Ms. Cain points out that many change-makers would describe themselves as shy, soft-spoken and quiet. She names Ghandi and Rosa Parks as examples. Soft-spoken leaders, she argues, are popular because people know that they are not at the helm because they are craving power and attention. Instead, they are at the helm because they don’t think that they have a choice. They have a mission. She mentions that her grandfather who was a Rabbi—spent a lot of time in solitude. Yet, he led a congregation in Brooklyn and gave sermons in front of large audiences. She shared a suitcase of books written by her grandfather’s favorite authors and talked about how, as a child, reading and wandering off in her own mind, was one of her favorite things to do. When she went to camp, she was encouraged to be more “social.” Ms. Cain acknowledges the importance of being social but believes that the world loses out when introverts are expected to be pretend-extroverts and, like her, are not encouraged to read books at camp. As a girl, she figured out that the suitcase of books she brought with her to camp belonged under her bed.

She ends her talk with three calls to action which made me consider whether there are calls to action that would be particularly appropriate for members of the Jewish community to reflect upon. Here are my calls to action:

-Share ideas on how your Jewish community provides space for people who may be introverts to thrive Jewishly.

-Ask yourself: Does our community make introverts feel guilty for wanting to experience Judaism on their own? If so, how can we change that?

-Ask yourself: What is in your “suitcase?” Why did you put them there? If you are an introvert, on occasion, have the courage to, as Ms. Cain says, speak softly and share your thoughts and wisdom with the community.  If you are an extrovert, share what is in your suitcase and have the courage to recognize the value of the soft-spoken people in your midst.

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Posted on March 10, 2014

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How Many More Years Of Slaves?

12This morning, my friend and co-worker Nonnie asked me if I had seen the Oscars. I told her I had watched some of it.

“Did you see the speech by Steve McQueen, the director of 12 Years a Slave?” She asked. “At the end of the speech, he talked about modern day slaves!”

Steve McQueen’s words, which I looked up this morning, included this statement: “Everyone deserves not just to survive, but to live… I dedicate this award to all the people who have endured slavery. And the 21 million people who still suffer slavery today.”

21 million people who still suffer slavery today. It’s impossible to comprehend the weight of that number. The pain. The lack of human dignity. The violations.

Nonnie was grateful that the issue of human slavery took center stage during this hugely televised event, even if for just one minute. In fact, just the week before, she heard a report about the astronomical number of people living in servitude today, and how not enough is being done.

“What can we do?” She had asked me.

Here in Mississippi, we are abuzz with talk about the upcoming 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer. There is an effort underway to commemorate Freedom Summer and energize people around the four issues the volunteers worked on during Freedom Summer: Voting rights, Education, Health Care and Workers’ Rights. All important issues.

But what about slavery itself? What can we do?

This is one idea came from one of our fellow members of the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable: The Jewish Council For Public Affairs (JCPA) is having its Annual Plenum in Atlanta, Georgia, March 8-11 2014. They will be voting on whether to adopt resolutions proposed by various agencies. One of the resolutions that is up for debate and discussion is the Resolution on Combating Human Trafficking. Many communities in our region have delegates representing them at this conference through their local Jewish Community Relations Councils (JCRC) and Community Relations Committees (CRC).

Let’s let our local representatives know that we want modern day slavery to be a priority of our community and that we want to commit our time and resources to advocating for policies and strategies that will help eliminate this inhumane practice.

Let’s talk about this issue not as something past, but as something real and present today, as we prepare to sit around seder tables next month.

Let’s be a part of ending slavery.

Please share your ideas of what our readers can do to help eliminate modern day slavery in the comments below! 

Posted on March 3, 2014

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr…on Tu Bishvat

What’s the first Jewish holiday we’ll be welcoming in the secular New Year of 2014 (besides Shabbat, of course)? Tu Bishvat!

This holiday is connected to the agricultural cycle of Israel. This year, Tu Bishvat is on January 16th, and Martin Luther King Jr. Day is only a few days later—January 20th. Could there be a connection between these two, seemingly unconnected holidays?

Tu Bishvat has in many ways become “Jewish Earth Day.” We are encouraged to pay attention to all forms of life on our planet including the life of plants, trees and produce. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we celebrate the life of one of our nation’s greatest transformers, a man who did so much to advance the human experience by highlighting the dignity of all people.

In thinking about this exact question, I remembered a clip I saw that helped me better understand racism and the 3 primary ways in which racism manifests itself in our society. I thought I’d share it for two reasons: It describes the depth of racism and what Martin Luther King Jr. was fighting against. It also uses the metaphor of a garden—perfect for Tu Bishvat…

Camara Phyllis Jones, MD, MPH, PhD, according the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, is a family physician and epidemiologist whose work focuses on the impacts of racism on the health and well-being of the nation.  In her article Levels of Racism: A Theoretic Framework and a Gardener’s Tale, she focuses on health disparities between people of different races. This film provides a general framework for looking at racism and can be translated to issues beyond health including education and criminal justice. In honor of both of these days, I encourage you to watch the film (and also read this article):

Maybe this film can help start an important conversation about acceptance (perfect for MLK Day) using the beautiful metaphor of a garden (perfect for Tu Bishvat)!

I also encourage you to host a Martin Luther King Jr. Tu Bishvat Seder/Shabbat supper. You can use this guide published last year by Repair the World and this Sunday Supper guide prepared by Points of Light. Perhaps you want to combine the themes of these two days, look at these questions as a group:

  • How does my community respond to each level of racism? Am I usually pleased by the response of my community?
  • How do I respond when I see the different levels of racism? How would I like to be able to respond to the different levels of racism?
  • What about Dr. Camara Jones’s question: Who is the gardener? Do I want to try and influence the gardener? How?
  • Are there similar allegories that portray different levels of racism?

Share any additional ideas or inspiration you may have for observing these holidays – we’d love to hear them!

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Posted on January 8, 2014

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

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