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.

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

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In The Words of Chuck Selber, Part 3: In Memorial

selber_quilt

Chuck Selber’s Square (AIDS Memorial Quilt)

Today marks 22 years since the passing of Charles Paul “Chuck” Selber.

In honor of his yahrzeit, and to conclude our three part series on his life and work, we wanted to share his own words, as well as a few words about him.

In his own words
Chuck left behind many words, in the form of letters, essays, and a play called “In Defense of the Committee.” His play was described as “a tragic comedy about gay civil rights, AIDS, religion, sex, government, and medicine.”

It received a staged reading at the Turner Art Center in Shreveport, Louisiana, while Chuck was still alive to direct it. The premise of his play is that an underground coalition of AIDS activists sabotaged U.S. government officials, infecting their children with HIV in order to motivate them to find a cure. An excerpt follows:

REPORTER
Had your brother belonged to any underground or terrorist groups before he formed The Committee

SPEAKER
My brother is not a terrorist and The Committee never accomplished its mission as you will hear later. If I had a picture of Laurence’s bedroom with me tonight, you would know my brother like I do. You would see a bedroom that looks like an AIDS Souvenir Shop. You would see a PWA Silver Bracelet to be melted when the epidemic ends. It’s on his dresser. His tennis shoes from the AIDS walk are on the floor in front of the dresser. A sleeve from a designer jeans AIDS jacket is nailed to the wall. His “Torch Song Trilogy” stubs are also on the dresser…

The play is still in draft form, as Chuck passed away before it could be completed.

A Tribute to Chuck which hangs in his mother Flo's home.

A Tribute to Chuck, in his mother Flo’s home.

Remembering Charles Selber
When Chuck Selber passed away, his obituaries spoke to who he was as a person. This one in particular seems to capture his spirit: “Our community is sadly diminished this Christmas Day because of the death of Chuck Selber. The customary phrase is: He died after a long battle with AIDS. The customary phrase is much more a fundamental truth in Mr. Selber’s case, because he carried the battle to the enemy. It was not AIDS that was after him, but Chuck Selber who pursued his for with relentless zeal…”

His memory lives on in the hearts and minds of his mother, siblings, nieces, nephews and all who knew him. His fight lives on in the fight of the Philadelphia Center of Shreveport, Louisiana against the spread of AIDS and for the rights and improved quality of life for people living with AIDS. His words live on in his writing. May we see a final victory over AIDS and may this disease and others be driven from our earth.

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Posted on December 22, 2013

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In The Words of Chuck Selber, Part 2: A Jew, A Writer, And So Much More

This post continues our December series on the life and work of AIDS activist Chuck Selber.

Chuck was, as his mom Flo Selber puts it, “ahead of his time.”

chuck selber protest

Chuck Selber and fellow protesters at an anti-David Duke rally when the former KKK leader ran for Senate.

In Shreveport, Louisiana, in the late 1960’s and 1970’s, the Selber family had a clothing store for men, women and children. Chuck was in charge of the fashion show and included black citizens as models. This was one of many times when Chuck stood up to discriminatory norms.

In 1988, he wrote a letter to his family: “In the event that I, Charles Paul Selber, predecease my father and my mother, I would appreciate that upon both my parents’ death…. [my nieces and nephews] shall be asked to donate volunteer time to a human rights organization other than a Jewish one on a regular basis.”

He was never one who cared only for “his own” group. Chuck was an AIDS activist and a human rights advocate and he often tried to engage others in this holy work too.

chuck selber macy hart

Chuck’s SOFTY Days

Chuck did attribute his deep commitment to human rights to his Jewish upbringing. He was, as he explained, taught to never forget the Holocaust, and to never let it happen again. “I took that Judaic instruction very seriously, and I have based my entire consciousness on it,” he wrote. In addition to regularly attending religious school, Chuck was First Vice-President of the Southern Federation of Temple Youth, SOFTY (now NFTY-Southern), a regional Reform Jewish teen network, and took his role very seriously. He served alongside Macy Hart, founder and President of the Institute of Southern Jewish Life.

Chuck was a writer, and like many writers, he wrote with the goal of bringing about social change. Chuck clearly believed in the power of writing. According to his mother Flo, he was always at his typewriter—feverishly writing. In 1990, he wrote to Dr. Louis Sullivan, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, requesting that he consider certain medical expenses to be approved as itemized deductions. In a collection of his writing, a pile of responses to letters he wrote to people in positions of power demonstrates his commitment to bringing about systemic change.

Chuck used his writing skills, his experience as a director, and his work in the entertainment and film fileds to advocate on behalf of people living with AIDS. He wrote a play, “In Defense of the Committee,” based on the premise that if policy makers were affected by AIDS, the treatment of AIDS would be a greater priority. In the first scene of his play we learn about “the committee” that went around infecting the sons and daughters of politicians with the AIDS virus. The message is clear: when we feel that we are being treating unjustly, we take greater responsibility for bringing about change.

Complacency, he seems to say, is the outcome of having little, if any, connection with the issue. He distinguishes people with AIDS from people who retired and infers that people who have retired receive more generous benefits because every congressman knows that they will be in the position of a retiree one day. It’s inescapable when it’s personal.

Do you have ideas about how to raise awareness among people who are not directly impacted by an issue? What are your ideas?

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Posted on December 13, 2013

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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