Statement on Emanuel AME Church mass murder

We are horrified by the mass murder in Charleston, SC, an act of domestic terror apparently motivated by white supremacy. Our sincere prayers and condolences are offered to the families and friends of State Sen. Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Tywanza Sanders, Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, the Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., and DePayne Doctor. May their memories be for a blessing and may their mourners be comforted.

There are too many guns in America. Our elected leaders’ refusal to make laws that change that reality is the cause of these deaths. In 2013, Senator Pinckney himself introduced legislation that would have increased the efficacy of South Carolina’s insufficient background check system. The South Carolina senate never even voted on it, and now he has been murdered by someone with a gun.

Since 2013, every year it has gotten easier to obtain and use a gun in South Carolina, just as it has in North Carolina.

White supremacy is also responsible for these deaths, especially in the South, where too many white people still will not honestly reckon with the meaning of our history. The shooter pulled up to Emanuel AME Church in a car with a Confederate flag on the front bumper. The following day, Governor Nikki Haley proclaimed that “we’ll never understand” what caused this act of violence from Columbia, which proudly flies that same flag from the capitol.

We understand. Free access to firearms, and a culture of unapologetic white supremacy symbolized by that flag, are the causes. They are a dangerous mixture.

In light of this tragic event, next week’s voting rights vigils will incorporate remembrances of the dead in Charleston. CJJ members are invited to join one of these vigils, or another event listed below.

  • From Durham Congregations in Action: St. Joseph’s AME Church (2521 Fayetteville Rd, Durham, NC 27707) invites us as their neighbors to join in their prayer service tomorrow evening, Friday, June 19, at 7:30 pm.

  • From First Congregational Asheville UCC: St James AME Church (44 Hildebrand St, Asheville, NC 28801) invite you to join faith leaders and congregations from across Asheville for this service in support of Emanuel AME Church.
  • Greensboro: Monday, June 22, 4:30pm in front of the L. Richardson Preyer Federal Building at 316 West Friendly Avenue.
  • Asheville: Monday, June 22, 5pm, Congregation Beth HaTephila at 43 N. Liberty Street
  • Raleigh: Wednesday, June 24, 6:00 pm, Jones St. in front of the General Assembly, immediately following the Moral Monday rally

Statement on SB 2

We join a diverse majority of forward-looking North Carolinians in condemning the General Assembly’s decision to allow state officials to openly discriminate against our citizens. Is this what we want for our state and our shared political future?

With the enactment of Senate Bill 2, North Carolina law now grants special privileges to state officials religiously inclined to deny gay couples the right to civil marriage. This demeans and insults the dignity of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

Controlling legal precedent establishes the Constitutional right of all North Carolina couples, gay and straight, to enjoy the benefits of civil marriage. Magistrates swear an oath to uphold the Constitution in the discharge of their duties. There are no special exemptions to this oath, and any attempt to impose an exemption on the basis of discrimination is plainly unconstitutional, as the Governor said in vetoing the measure. This law will be struck down in court, and will have accomplished nothing except to waste resources sorely needed elsewhere.

Our religious views are premised on the notion that every human is created in the image of God, and that every person should be held accountable to the same law. Our religious liberties are infringed upon by any political order that implicitly or explicitly sanctions systemic discrimination on any basis, be it sexuality, color, or creed.

Notwithstanding our certainty that this law is blatantly unconstitutional and sure to be struck down, we choose this moment to renew our commitment to equality for all people before the law, and our love and support for our LGBTQ neighbors and family. Our liberation is tied up in yours. We reject the misuse of religion to diminish human dignity, and reaffirm our belief in the vision of our prophets, a future in which brothers and sisters sit down together in goodness.

Economic Opportunities and Economic Justice Discussed at Joint Program with Asheville Jewish Business Forum – June 1 at the Edington Center

Economic opportunities and economic justice were at the forefront of the CJJ/West – Asheville Jewish Business Forum program held at the Edington Center on June 1st.  The evening featured presentations by Chef Liam Luttrell-Rowland, director of the Kitchen Ready Program at Green Opportunities (GO), designed to develop a workforce of skilled, highly trained cooks from within a segment of Asheville that’s often overlooked, undervalued, marginalized and downright ignored and to provide them with well-paying jobs with benefits.   The focus of the program is to create well-paying, sustained employment in jobs that increase community and environmental health.  Launched in 2011, the Kitchen Ready program is a non-profit, three-month cooking school founded by Bouchon owner Michel Baudouin and Mark Rosenstein, both highly respected leaders in the local culinary scene. A delicious meal prepared by Chef Liam, and served by the students, was enjoyed by the more than 60 of guests who attended the presentation.

Following dinner, Vicki Meath, Director of Just Economics, spoke about how economic justice makes good business sense.  She encouraged those present to understand that a “living wage” is the minimum amount that an employee must earn to afford their basic necessities, without public or private assistance.  She encouraged everyone to support employers by “Shopping Living Wage Certified,” a model program launched by Just Economics.  Buncombe County has more Living Wage Certified businesses than any other county in NC.

According to Vicki, the Living Wage Certification Program rewards living wage certified employers by; providing incentives to pay a living wage; encouraging consumer support for living wage certified businesses; and decreasing turn-over, training costs, absenteeism and recruiting costs.  It also increases productivity and improves the morale and health of employees. Additionally, it increases dedication and expendable income and decreases reliance on tax-funded programs.

The evening concluded with a tour of the Edington Center, which highlighted other curriculum programs offered by GO including:

  • Green Construction
  • Urban Agriculture
  • Building Science and Weatherization
  • Sustainable Landscaping
  • Culinary Arts

Contact information for the following organizations:

Green Opportunities

Just Economics

Asheville Jewish Business Forum

Carolina Jews for Justice/West –

CJJ/West Is Working to Eliminate the Medicaid Insurance Gap

Carolina Jews for Justice/West is part of the WNC Medicaid Expansion Advocacy Group, working to eliminate the insurance coverage gap caused by North Carolina’s refusal to expand Medicaid coverage.  Myths about Medicaid abound.  Please read and share this document answering those myths, as well as the facts set forth in the info-graphic sheet below.  For additional information, go to

Medicaid Expansion Fact Sheet - w-header

Click the link for a detailed fact sheet. Top Myths Against Medicaid Expansion

Duke Will Retire the Asheville Coal Plant

Thousands rallied in Asheville and in Charlotte at Duke’s shareholder meeting. Tens of thousands more have signed petitions, written letters to the editor, and generally kept Duke accountable. Our grassroots movement has never been stronger, and it is because of people like you.

This retirement means people across Western North Carolina can breathe easier and we can fix the water contamination problems associated with coal ash.

Tell Duke’s CEO Lynn Good thank you for retiring the Asheville coal plant. 

We can declare victory in securing closure of the plant, for it means an end is in sight for the air, water, and carbon pollution from this plant, but Duke’s announcement to build new gas is inconsistent with the clean energy vision we have called for.

But Duke failed to hear what people wanted in its place. Folks want a bright future that supports clean energy, not a giant gas plant polluting Asheville for another 30 years. 

Tell Lynn Good to invest in clean energy, not gas.

North Carolina has the opportunity to be a leader in clean energy generation through aggressive investments in solar power and energy efficiency, and Duke Energy must be a partner in that effort – but moves like this deeply undermine the ability to bring online clean, reliable 21st century energy options that will create good jobs right here at home.

We’ve taken on Duke every step of the way and we will continue the fight. 

Tell Duke’s CEO Lynn Good thanks for retiring the Asheville coal plant, but now to replace it with clean energy, not another dirty fossil fuel. 


Parshat Emor and Sanctifying of God’s Name through Fair Trade

This d’var Torah was given by Bruce Brown at Congregation Beth Israel (Asheville, NC) on Fair Trade Shabbat – May 9, 2015.

Welcome to my d’var debut.

This is the first time I have volunteered to offer a d’var Torah. It is far beyond my comfort zone to stand here in this capacity. If the topic had to do with shul finances, the kitchen or food, I could speak endlessly without notes, but as you can see today is different, and I am relying on my prepared notes. While other kids wanted to be firemen and policemen, when I was young I told everyone that I wanted to be a rabbi. Maybe 60+ years later these are my 5 minutes of fame.

Today we read Parshat Emor, and today is also World Fair Trade Shabbat. With my work in the kitchen and on the Social Action Committee, this was the perfect opportunity to prepare this d’var Torah.  What is World Fair Trade and how does it relate to Parshat Emor? defines Fair Trade as a movement that promotes economic partnerships based on equality, justice and sustainable economic practices. Fair Trade connects consumers in the West with producers from other countries, by emphasizing fair value return, environment protection, human rights and workers’ rights.

Fair Trade Principles Include:

  • Fair pay
  • No child labor allowed
  • Creating worker independence and participatory workplaces
  • Safe and healthy work conditions
  • Gender equality
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Creating opportunities for low income producers
  • Transparent management and commercial relations

The Benefits of Supporting Fair Trade:

  • Fair Trade producers decide democratically how to invest their fair trade revenues. Profits are re-invested in local community projects, like health clinics, child care, scholarship programs, and organic certification.
  • Artisans and small farmers are guaranteed prices that exceed their production costs, providing adequate income to feed their families, stay out of debt, send their kids to school, and keep their land.
  • Producers are able to reduce costs, gain direct access to credit and international markets, and develop the business capacity necessary to successfully compete.
  • Workers enjoy freedom of association, safe working conditions, and living wages. Forced child labor is strictly prohibited.
  • Women are assured equal rights and responsibilities
  • Environmentally sustainable methods protect artisans’ and farmers’ health and preserve valuable ecosystems and natural resources for future generations
  • Cultural identity is preserved through the production and development of products based on producers’ cultural traditions, as adapted for Western markets.

Fair Trade provides us the opportunity to spend our dollars in way that promotes our own individual values and our values as Jews, and at the same time, provide opportunities for people around the world to earn a living that allows their families to thrive. Basically “put your money where your mouth is.”

Why is it fitting that we observe World Fair Trade Day this Shabbat when we read Parshat Emor?

Emor is part of the Book of Leviticus. Many scholars call this part of the Book of Leviticus the Holiness Code because the text emphasizes holiness (kedushah) as the central goal of the Jewish people. Parshat Emor begins with the rules of the Kohanim (priests) in order to preserve holiness.

In Leviticus 21:6, we read:  They shall be holy unto their God, and not profane the name of their God; for the offerings of the LORD made by fire, the bread of their God, they do offer; therefore they shall be holy.

While this text seems to talk specifically to the observances of the Kohanim (priests) – in the Mishneh Torah, Maimonides writes: All of the House of Israel is commanded concerning the sanctity of the Great Name…and are warned not to profane [God’s name].

In other words, there are two commandments in this verse: “Sanctifying God’s name (kiddush HaShem) and not desecrating God’s name (chillul HaShem)”

Maimonides further cites examples of chillul HaShem in our lives – such as late payment for purchases, indulging in food, drink and luxuries in an immoderate way and otherwise rude behavior towards others. Such behaviors constitute chillul HaShem, because they cause the image of Judaism to be diminished in the eyes of others.

In contrast, the opposite person leads an upright, praiseworthy life.

In other words, when one acts beyond what the community expects in a way that brings goodness into the world, that is kiddush HaShem, sanctification of God’s name.

It is also fitting that we read Parsha Emor on the 2nd day of Passover and the first and second days of Sukkot – two of the Shalosh Regalim (three pilgrimage festivals).

In a drash given by Rabbi Edward Bernstein on the FairTrade web site – he offers the following:

We as Jews must bear witness to the deplorable use of slave labor in the production of the commodity sources of chocolate and coffee. Our society’s craving for these products has driven the corporate manufacturers to source their products in the cheapest possible way in order to provide consumers with competitive pricing.

It is estimated that half the cocoa in the world is grown in the African nation Ivory Coast, and there is strong documentation of trafficked child labor in that region and in this industry. This practice violates international law as well as a compact signed by major chocolate manufactures not to source products from child labor or forced labor. Also of concern, in the coffee industry, there is evidence of child labor, unsafe working conditions and low wages. Despite increasing awareness, these practices continue unchecked.  Manufacturers look askance when their suppliers use unfair and illegal labor practices. It is enough of a chillul HaShem that such practices occur at all in our age. It is even more of a chillul HaShem when we know what is happening and do nothing to stop it.   

The Jewish community can and must respond to this injustice. Our tradition calls upon us to stamp out chillul HaShem with kiddush Hashem. We must speak out against corporations exploiting child labor to produce our food products, and we must raise awareness. At the same time, we should vote with our wallets. 

This Shabbat is Fair Trade Shabbat. Jewish communities across the country are not only studying and raising awareness of the problems, but they have also purchased the food served in their institutions from fair trade sources that do not permit child or forced labor in their production chain.  

For those of us who enjoy chocolate and coffee, they are not staples in our diet. They are luxuries that bring us great pleasure. How much pleasure do you receive consuming these products when you know they were produced by the hands of slaves?  

Several months ago, we at Beth Israel took the Fair Trade coffee pledge to only purchase and serve Fair Trade coffee at any of our functions. Be have partnered with Dynamite Roasting (a local Black Mountain roaster) to provide the synagogue with the Fair Trade coffee that we are serving today. How much better does this coffee taste knowing that our purchase of Fair Trade coffee reflects our values as Jews? And the cost is no different that purchasing any other premium brand coffee – $8.99 a pound. While we purchase this coffee in bulk directly from the roaster, it is available at the retail level at many local grocery stores.

Fair Trade Judaica is making a huge impact particularly with cocoa growers – but I encourage you to think even beyond this to many of the imports from Asian countries.

You may be surprised to learn that I did have a life and career before coming to Beth Israel. During my career as the owner of an educational publishing company, I had many of our products printed and manufactured in China. The prices were great and it provided us a competitive edge in the market place.  My buying trips to Hong Kong did not give me insight into how and where the actual products were being made. As you might suspect, it was no different that taking a buying trip to a New York City corporate office – all suits and ties.

After several mistakes (dealing with less than reliable manufacturers), I did some online research  about the practices of other US companies and their buying practices with Asian countries – especially China. During my next (and all subsequent buying trips) to Hong Kong, I took tours of any China-based factory that we were considering dealing with.  A totally eye-opening experience!

While China has made great strides in worker rights and enforcing child labor laws – if you were to see first hand what I saw, you would shudder beyond belief. Workers sitting shoulder to shoulder in a tight assembly line doing repetitive task after repetitive task. The blue caps get a work break at a certain time, the yellow caps at another time – and only at that time. No chance to get up from their chairs if a break is needed in between. No opportunity to slow the pace.

And when the workday is finished, the workers live in dormitory style housing on the factory premises.  They are provided with food and medical care and a moderate pay (much of which is sent home to help their families in the more disadvantaged parts of China). If you are envisioning your child’s dorm room at college – this is a far cry from that. Our college dorms are like the Taj Mahal as compared with factory dorms in China.

No, this isn’t officially slavery. Workers are free to apply for work in other factories and in other cities – although they do need to apply to the government for permission to move from one province to another. But, look at the suicide rate statistics. They are staggering. I saw many factories with netting hung from the dorm roof tops to discourage the “jumpers”. Some workers just don’t see a “way out” from this way of life.

But, does this reflect our values as Jews – especially Jews living in a country where we often take our freedom for granted? Would you want to do business with this company?

Consider the name Emor (today’s Parsha). It Hebrew, it means to speak. Your spending choices speak for you and about you. It speaks about the merchants you choose to support, the types of food you choice to buy, and the lifestyle you choose to lead.

We are all trained to read labels in the grocery store. We look for gluten free items, organic items and items with a hecksher. Now, consider paying attention to those items with the Fair Trade symbol. . Your purchases are a way to voice (speak/Emor) your values as Jews – kiddush HaShem – the sanctification of God’s name.

When you are back at your computer, please Google and learn more about Fair Trade. Take the Fair Trade coffee pledge for your home and business. See what other Fair Trade products are available.

I will close my remarks with a prayer from Rabbi Deborah Silver of Adat Ari El (Valley Village, CA)

God, let us be mindful of what we consume. 

Help us to understand 

that nothing in Your world is without a story 

and that the choices we make build the stories of the future. 

Help us remember that behind everything we buy stands a person 

with human needs and human dignity. 

Help us to value your gifts 

To bless them with compassionate hearts 

And to look for the spark of You in everything


Shabbat Shalom.