Jeremy Fox. Photo by Rick Poon

Chef finds mental health is recipe for success


The emotionally intense chef is a well-worn trope at this point. Gordon Ramsay’s outbursts are the stuff of legend — and ratings — while Anthony Bourdain, Gabrielle Hamilton and others share their internal struggles on the page and on screen. The public seems to delight in the sometimes mercurial antics of those engaged in the art and craft of making food.

Chef Jeremy Fox of Santa Monica’s Rustic Canyon has written a cookbook that adds to the body of literature, exploring the psyche of this particular genre of creative person. But drama for drama’s sake is not the primary goal of his book, “On Vegetables,” written with Los Angeles chef Noah Galuten. Fox’s raw honesty also blows apart all cliches associated with the myth of the tortured chef.

Fox’s story recounting the journey of “how I finally learned to unite my food and my brain,” as he writes, is the rare cookbook to bring me to tears. Still, above all, it is, indeed, a cookbook, not a self-help book.

“On Vegetables,” published in April (Phaidon), isn’t exactly what Fox, 40, thought he’d write when he got the contract seven years ago. He was still in the afterglow of the media attention he attracted at Ubuntu, the pioneering Michelin-starred, farm-to-table vegetarian restaurant in Napa. At that point, in 2010, he had left the restaurant, and his troubles were worsening.   

“There was a time when everybody told me I was a really big deal,” Fox writes in the book’s introduction, a section he calls “Adulthood, Accolades & Anxiety.” “I was also miserable.”

He lays bare his struggles with anxiety and depression, as well as attention-deficit disorder that was diagnosed while he was a culinary student in Charleston, S.C. An unmanaged prescription drug regimen only made matters worse. The autobiographical portion of “On Vegetables” expands on a story Fox wrote for “Lucky Peach,” the cult favorite and recently folded print publication that retains a website.

Fox’s parents divorced when he was young. His father is from the Chicago area and his mother is from Chattanooga, Tenn., where her parents ran a pizzeria for 25 years. Growing up, he spent time in Philadelphia, Cleveland and Atlanta, where “we had a lot of family.”

“My sister had a bat mitzvah. I never had a bar mitzvah. By then, I was back and forth with my mom and my dad, so there wasn’t stability to focus on that,” he said. “I went to Hebrew school a little bit but we were not very religious.”

Major holidays were spent with his father’s parents, who had moved to Philadelphia. “I always wanted to build a sukkah but never did,” Fox said.

Now a father, he said he is exploring his Jewish roots — “something I think about as my daughter gets a little older.” His wife, Rachael, is the co-founder of Solstice Canyon, an artisanal almond butter company.

While Fox had no inkling of a food career until he saw the Stanley Tucci movie “Big Night” (1996), he credits his grandmother as an inspiration.

“My dad’s mom was a great cook,” he said. “She made slow-cooked veal tongue, chicken dumplings, sweet-and-sour meatballs. She cooked all the time. I don’t think she cooked from recipes.”

Even as a child, Fox said he knew that food was a unique family bonding opportunity. “Veal tongue felt cool because me and my grandfather would eat it, and everyone else thought it was gross,” he said. Otherwise, he was raised on a steady diet of fast food and pizza.

Fox’s emotional life and his cooking are inexorably intertwined. In the book, he describes his food at Ubuntu as “precise and exact … the polar opposite of my mental state, which was scattered and foggy. It was unhealthy and unsustainable.”

That’s not exactly a great match for a restaurant committed to the highest environmental and dietary principles. He eventually went from being Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chef in 2008 to being broke and jobless in Los Angeles.

In February 2013, he found a new career home at Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan’s acclaimed neighborhood restaurant, Rustic Canyon, where he realized that being out of the limelight and cooking in someone else’s kitchen was grounding and healing. His food became more down to earth and less fussy as he lost interest in applying dainty garnishes with tweezers, for instance. The restaurant thrived, and he reined in his self-destructive emotional patterns. Nominations soon followed for James Beard Best Chefs awards.

As for continuing the personal narrative he began in “Lucky Peach,” “it felt good to finish the story. That definitely helps explain why the food is the way it is,” Fox said of “On Vegetables.”

“On Vegetables” isn’t “an over-stylized book,” Fox said. “There was no stylist or designer. [It was] just me, Noah and the photographer.” The cookbook has an earthy feel throughout, and even though he’s written a one-page chapter called “I Am Not a Vegetarian,” all of the 160 recipes are. (He’s a proponent of whole-plant, minimal-waste cooking.) He also dedicates pages to farmers at the Santa Monica Farmers Market who inspire him and help inform his menus at Rustic Canyon.

Fox has worked hard to reconnect the concept of food as nourishment with managing his mental health and, in turn, nurturing his creativity. Last month, he opened Tallula’s, a casual Mexican restaurant on Entrada Drive in Santa Monica, in partnership with Loeb and Nathan. 

He hasn’t cooked overtly Jewish dishes at Rustic Canyon, but his grandmother’s spirit infuses his work with a hamish spirit.

“We use schmaltz to cook our chickens, for pan roasting. And making gribenes,” he said of fried chicken skins. “We’re always doing something with it.” 

Here, Fox shares his recipe for a Sunday spread, including Poor Man’s Lox, which substitutes tomatoes for upscale smoked salmon. It’s an old family trick from the days before he had access to some of the country’s finest ingredients.

Poor Man’s Lox. Photo by Rick Poon

POOR MAN’S LOX

Adapted from “On Vegetables: Modern Recipes for the Home Kitchen” by Jeremy Fox.

This spread is inspired by a Sunday morning staple in my house growing up. In my Jewish household — and every other as far as I knew — lox and bagels were just what you ate on Sunday. But quite often we could not afford the steep price tag that real lox carried, so this assortment of toppings was the next best thing. The saltiness of the tomatoes made it pretty easy to close your eyes and imagine it was the real deal.

  • 1 cup Horsey Goat (recipe follows)
  • 6 Jun’s Focaccia (recipe follows), made without rosemary, halved across (like a bagel)
  • 6 orange or red tomatoes, cored and very thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 or 3 shallots, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons drained capers
  • 1 English cucumber, sliced
  • Fresh dill, to garnish
  • 2 teaspoons white sesame seeds, lightly toasted
  • 2 teaspoons poppy seeds
  • 1 teaspoon flaxseeds
  • 1 teaspoon sunflower seeds
  • Flaky sea salt

Prepare Horsey Goat; set aside.

Prepare Jun’s Focaccia; set aside.

Sprinkle the tomatoes with kosher salt. They should be nice and salty, but not inedible. Smear the goat cheese on half of each focaccia, and top with the salted tomatoes. Add the shallots, capers, cucumber and dill. Sprinkle with sesame, poppy, flax and sunflower seeds and finish with flaky sea salt.

Makes 6 servings.

HORSEY GOAT

 

  • 8 ounces soft fresh goat cheese, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons heavy (double) cream
  • 2 ounces prepared horseradish
  • Kosher salt to taste

Using a silicone spatula, gently fold together the goat cheese, cream and horseradish until thoroughly combined. Season to taste with salt. Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week.

Makes about 1/2 cup.

JUN’S FOCACCIA

 

  • 1 1/4 cups water heated to 110 F, plus more as needed
  • 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more as needed, and for greasing
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 4 1/3 cups all-purpose (plain) flour, plus more as needed
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon active dry (fast-action) yeast
  • Flaky sea salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • Fresh rosemary leaves

In a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the warm water, 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and the honey. Add the flour (this creates a barrier to keep the yeast from hitting water right away). Then add the salt and yeast and knead the dough on medium speed for 10 to 15 minutes. You’re looking for dough with a nice sheen and tacky, but not sticky, consistency; it should pull away neatly from the bowl. During the kneading, if you find that the dough is overly dry, add a touch more water. If it is too wet, add a little bit more flour.

Turn out the dough ball onto a lightly floured surface and roll it with your hands into a smooth, even ball.

Lightly coat a large bowl with olive oil and place the dough inside. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set it aside to proof at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours, or until the dough ball roughly doubles in size.

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Punch down the dough and divide it into 6 portions of 5 ounces each. Lightly flour your work surface. Working with one dough piece at a time (keep the other pieces lightly covered with plastic wrap to prevent them from drying out.), roll it into a smooth, even ball. Pinch the bottom of the ball to seal it closed, being careful not to trap any big air pockets while rolling it. The texture of the dough should be smooth when rolled. Set the balls onto an 18-by-13-inch baking sheet coated with olive oil. Cover with plastic wrap and proof for another 20 minutes — the balls will increase slightly in size and become much more workable.

Set each dough ball onto a lightly oiled surface and, using the tips of your fingers, shape the dough into rounds while creating a dimpled pattern on top. (Those dimples will trap the oil and other condiments when you serve it.) As you shape the dough, it will get slightly wider in diameter, but don’t worry about trying to spread it out thin. Once you have a round shape with good dimples, you’re ready to go.

Pour the remaining 1/2 cup olive oil into an 18-by-13-inch rimmed baking sheet. Place the shaped focaccias on top and season with flaky salt, pepper and rosemary leaves.

Bake for about 5 minutes, then rotate the pan front to back and bake until the focaccias are light golden on the top and bottom, another 3 minutes. (If your oven isn’t large enough to fit all 6 breads at the same time, divide everything in half and bake in two batches.) If making in advance, you can warm them again in the oven at 350 F for about 2 minutes.

Makes 6 5-inch focaccias. 

Suspect in Virginia TV shooting had history of workplace issues


The suspected gunman in the shooting deaths of two television journalists in Virginia on Wednesday was a veteran anchorman with a history of workplace grievances who had previously sued a Florida station alleging discrimination because he was black.

While authorities said they had not determined a motive, perceived racism appeared to be a factor in the shootings, according to recent postings the suspect is believed to have made on social media and a fax that ABC News said the suspect sent.

Vester Flanagan, 41, who went on the air under the name Bryce Williams, was a former employee of WDBJ7 in Virginia, where both of the slain journalists worked. The journalists, who were both white, were killed during a live television broadcast earlier this morning.

Posts on a Twitter feed by a man identifying himself as Bryce Williams, Flanagan's on-air name, accused one of the victims of “racist comments,” and noted that a complaint had been filed with a government agency that enforces discrimination claims.

In a 23-page fax ABC News said was sent two hours after the shooting, he cited as his tipping point the racially motivated shooting that killed nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, earlier this summer.

Saying he had suffered racial discrimination, sexual harassment and bullying at work, Flanagan described himself as “a human powder keg,” the network said.

Flanagan aired similar grievances in a 2000 lawsuit filed in U.S. federal court against a Florida station, WTWC-TV in Tallahassee. In that suit, he said a producer had called him a “monkey,” and he accused a supervisor of calling black people lazy for not taking advantage of college scholarship opportunities.

The Florida case was settled and dismissed the next year, court records show.

One of his former Florida colleagues remembered Flanagan as “quirky,” but said he never displayed behavior suggesting he would be capable of such a violent crime.

“He had his idiosyncrasies, a little quirky sometimes,” said Michael Walker, the weekend producer at the Tallahassee station when Flanagan was working as a weekend anchor. “It probably wasn't any different than any other on-air personality.”

Walker, who is also black, noted that he had not experienced discrimination at the station.

Flanagan, who accused the station of terminating his contract because he had filed a report of racism with a state agency, said in the lawsuit he suffered emotional distress and financial losses as a result of his treatment at the station.

The NBC affiliate, which stopped broadcasting newscasts in late 2000, said at the time of the lawsuit that his contract was not renewed due to “corporate belt-tightening,” according to an article in the Tallahassee Democrat at that time.

Representatives from the station could not immediately be reached for comment.

Flanagan's 20-year career in journalism included stints at local news stations in San Francisco; Savannah, Georgia; and Midland, Texas, according to his LinkedIn profile. It said he also worked briefly outside of journalism as a customer service representative.

He graduated from San Francisco State University in 1995 with a degree in radio and television, the school confirmed.

According to a Facebook page believed to belong to the suspect, he was originally from Oakland, California, but most recently living in Roanoke, Virginia, where WDBJ7 broadcasts.

There, he gained a reputation as someone who was difficult to work with because of his anger, station manager Jeff Marks said during a live broadcast.

“Vester was an unhappy man,” Marks said, adding that he had to be escorted out of the building by police after he was terminated from the station in 2013.

“He did not take that well,” he added.

Obama’s eulogy: Stirring words, disturbing theology


Am I the only one who had a problem with the stirring eulogy President Barack Obama delivered recently for the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.? The speech has been hailed as a masterpiece. The New York Times called it “remarkable” and “eloquent.” The Atlantic hailed it as “his most fully successful performance as an orator.” Forbes marveled that “his speech soared rhetorically and emotionally.” 

I read these gushing appraisals and began to question my own sanity. I rewatched and listened and read the transcript of Obama’s eulogy. At the beginning, he had me in the palm of his hand. He morphed before our eyes from President Obama to the Rev. Obama. He became our pastor and we all became his congregation. As a rabbi and speaker myself, I paid close attention to the way the president achieved this shift. He gave us permission to identify with the mourners assembled before him. He allowed us to empathize with the victims of hate and violence. Yes, I thought. We are all one nation and we are all members of “Mother” Emanuel Church. 

But, midway through the sermon, something went awry. Suddenly our Pastor-in-Chief began offering up a theology that I believe isn’t just wrong, but dangerous. He began by describing the hate and racism that led a homicidal young man to gun down nine innocent people in prayer. And then in a crescendo of confidence, Obama went on to speak about God’s intentions: “Oh, but God works in mysterious ways,” Obama said to an applauding audience. “God has different ideas.” Then, speaking of murder suspect Dylann Roof, who confessed to the killings, Obama said, “He didn’t know he was being used by God.”

The congregation applauded wildly — but that’s where our president lost me. If a preacher had uttered those words at the funeral, I could have lived with his or her statement of faith — it’s their church and their faith. But when our president asks me to believe that a suspected killer was “used by God,” then I feel left out of his flock.

Drawing on the lyrics of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” Obama pressed his point. He preached that God used an unspeakable crime to give us eyes to see the truths we’ve been blind to: “As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind.” Obama went on: “For too long, we were blind to the pain that the Confederate flag stirred in too many of our citizens. … For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation. We see that now.” Obama moved on to guns: “For too long, we’ve been blind to the unique mayhem that gun violence inflicts upon this nation. … The vast majority of Americans — the majority of gun owners — want to do something about this. We see that now.” 

Yes, I see why Obama’s theology is tempting. Suddenly the dead weren’t victims of a senseless act of hatred. Their deaths had a higher purpose, divinely ordained. But I cannot give in to that temptation. 

Is it the stiff-necked Jew in me? The skeptic? Or is it the thinking mind of any person of faith who refuses to identify God’s hand with acts of evil? When theology flies in the face of sanity, we must choose sanity. We must reject assertions of faith that attribute horrible acts to God. 

Did God use Adam Lanza to shoot the children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., so that we could learn to love children more? Or so that we could pass more stringent laws banning the sale of semiautomatic weapons?

Did God use James Eagan Holmes to mow down innocent moviegoers so that we could learn some lesson about mental illness?

Did God use the Columbine shootings to teach high school jocks to be more compassionate to the freaks? Or was God trying to teach us to curb the use of violent video games?

Does God use only certain special murderers or is God behind all murders? If so, do murderers belong behind bars or should we forgive them because they were just tools of God and didn’t act of their own volition?

If you extend Obama’s theology to all murders, you’d say his thinking was positively nuts. God doesn’t use shooters to teach us lessons about love or to influence policy change.

God doesn’t use racists; God loses them. 

God lost Dylann Roof when he entered a Bible study group and opened fire.

God didn’t use a suspected killer as a wake-up call to our nation so that we could overcome hatred or gun violence, so that we could pass better gun control laws or so that we could remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina state house. And God did not work through an assassin so that we could finally learn to love one another. God has nothing to do with heinous slaughter. Why teach people to hate God when we can teach them to love and to emulate God?

Here is what I wish President Obama had said about God at the Rev. Pinckney’s funeral:

“You might have thought that God would extend some extra compassion to the men and women who were studying the Bible and praying in a church. That somehow God would have stopped the shooter, struck him down with a lightning bolt. But God did nothing of the sort. God’s ways are a mystery. Unfortunately, God is not in the evil-prevention business. That is the sacred mission God has placed in our hands. The Rev. Pinckney understood that. He became a state senator because he wasn’t waiting for God to fix our world. He understood that God was waiting for us! His faith moved him to dedicate his life to improving the lives of others. I wish God would save the 21,000 innocent children who die each day of poverty, hunger and easily preventable diseases. I wish God would provide them clean water to drink. I wish God would heal racism and violence. But that’s our job. God has planted amazing grace in our souls. That’s why we are here. It’s our job to care for one another. That’s what God is praying for every day. That we will take care of the sick. That we will put an end to violence and racism and hatred. That we will find solutions to hunger and homelessness. God’s amazing grace is in our hands and we’ve been blind to that fact for long enough. The Rev. Pinckney could see it. He taught his parishioners to see it, and his death was not in vain because his life and the lessons he taught are leading us to see that same truth.”

My faith teaches me that God has given humanity the sacred power to create and to destroy. Free will is our greatest blessing and our greatest curse. God does not intervene in human affairs to perpetrate evil — even with the best of intentions. Yes, I do believe God works through people. We can see God’s hand in acts of compassion and kindness. My faith teaches me that God was indeed inside Mother Emanuel church on the night of the massacre. God was inspiring the Rev. Pinckney as he taught his Bible study class, and God was weeping with the dead and the dying, gathering their innocent souls into a shelter of peace. God was speaking words of comfort in the ears of the survivors and the mourners, just as God is whispering words of comfort to our entire nation: “Do not fear, for I am with you.”


Rabbi Naomi Levy is the founder and spiritual leader of Nashuva and the author of “To Begin Again,” “Talking to God” and “Hope Will Find You.”

Suspect in Charleston church shooting indicted on nine murder counts


Dylann Roof, the suspect in last month's massacre at an African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina, has been indicted by a grand jury on nine counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder, the prosecutor said on Tuesday.

Roof, a 21-year-old white man linked to racist views, is charged in the June 17 shooting rampage at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where nine black people were killed.

Roof had already been charged by state warrants with the nine murder counts and one count of possessing a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. Three additional attempted murder charges related to people who survived the shooting were presented to the grand jury, prosecutor Scarlett Wilson said in a statement.

Wilson declined to comment further.

Authorities say Roof spent an hour in an evening Bible study group at the church before opening fire.

Federal investigators have been examining a racist manifesto on a website that appears to have been written by Roof. The site featured a white supremacist screed and photos, apparently of Roof, posing with the Confederate battle flag at Civil War landmarks.

The massacre has brought fresh attention to the divisive issues of race relations and crime in the United States and reignited a debate over gun control in a country where the right to own firearms is protected by the U.S. Constitution.

On Tuesday, the South Carolina Senate passed legislation to remove the Confederate battle flag that flies at the statehouse grounds and has long been denounced by critics as a symbol of white supremacy. Supporters of the flag deny it has a racist meaning and say it symbolizes the South's heritage.

The bill must pass the state House of Representatives before it can be enacted.

Obama to deliver eulogy Friday for slain South Carolina pastor


South Carolina will take a step forward in healing the wounds of last week's mass shooting when President Barack Obama arrives on Friday to deliver the eulogy for the pastor of the historic church where the attack took place.

Reverend Clementa Pinckney, a widely admired state senator and pastor of Charleston's Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, was among the nine people who died when a gunman opened fire during Bible study.

The massacre has sparked an intense dialogue across the southern United States over the legacy of slavery and its symbols, centering on the Civil War-era battle flag of the Confederacy.

Addressing the shooting last week, Obama said it raised questions “about a dark part of our history.”

Nicknamed “Mother Emanuel,” the Gothic Revival-style house of worship is the oldest A.M.E. church in the southeastern United States, and was founded by slaves.

Obama will be accompanied by both First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden for the funeral in a Charleston college arena where he arrives at 1:45 pm ET (1745 GMT). All three knew Pinckney personally.

Thousands of mourners began gathering outside the indoor arena before dawn. Many never made it inside the 5,400-capacity venue where seating was set aside for Pinckney's church members and the entire state legislature who arrived on buses from Columbia.

“It's all about Jesus, thank you Lord,” sang a group of 60 Baptist women who drove through the night from Atlanta. “This is a monumental moment for us to come together as one and live peacefully as a community and a nation.” said model Niki Nicole McClain, 45.

During his presidency, Obama has spoken at half a dozen memorial services for victims of mass shootings in Texas, Arizona, Colorado and Connecticut.

“I’ve had to make statements like this too many times,” a visibly upset Obama said from the White House last week. “Communities like this have had to endure tragedies like this too many times.”

Obama repeated previous calls he has made for tougher gun laws, a politically thorny issue in the United States where the constitution guarantees the right to own guns.

PINCKNEY MOURNED

Married with two children, Pinckney was a talented orator with a baritone voice and began preaching at 13. A Democrat, at 23 he became the youngest African-American in South Carolina history to be elected to the state legislature.

Several thousand turned out on Thursday evening for Pinckney's wake at Emanuel, the line of mourners stretching for three blocks, including 200 college fraternity brothers, friends, politicians and members of the public, both black and white.

“I cried when I got here,” said Katharine Moseley, a Texas bus driver who drove 20 hours from Austin. “I was raised in the A.M.E. church.”

Lutheran bishop Mike Rhyne also drove down with his wife and three children from central Pennsylvania to pay tribute to his friend and fellow seminary student. “He was one of the best men I have ever met,” he said.

Pinckney's high school friends Kevin Riley, 41, and Lachandra Colbert, 42, traveled from Maryland for the funeral. “We wouldn't miss this. He was our classmate,” said Riley. “He was on track to be someone really important,” Riley added.

Mourners universally echoed the words of forgiveness by relatives of their slain churchgoers for the white man, Dylann Roof, accused of the murders.

“We are not the ones to judge, we leave that to God,” said Maxine Frasier Riley, 65, a retired school guidance counselor.

The Department of Justice has opened a hate crime investigation into the shooting.

Roof posed with the Confederate flag in photos posted online and allegedly made racist remarks to his victims as he opened fire.

In the aftermath of the slayings, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and other Republicans have called for the flag's removal from the State House grounds, saying it is divisive.

The controversy has spread across the country, with politicians adding to voices clamoring for the removal of Confederate symbols and names, and major retailers removing merchandise with Confederate images from stores and websites.

Jamie Masada: We must teach our children love, not hate


Like most Americans my heart broke when I saw the news about the massacre at the AME church in South Carolina.  After my initial shock and tears, I felt anger and I wanted some answers. Where did this hatred come from? What sort of poor parenting precipitated the poison of race hatred or the use of violence to spread its venom?
 
Every time – Columbine, Newtown and now Charleston – there seems to be a lack of proper parental guidance.  I have become an advocate for parental responsibility laws. I think that parents should be held accountable when their children act out their hatred or misguided sense of right and wrong. This hatred must come from somewhere and the place where manners are instilled – and character formed – remains the home.  Whether or not this kid's parent gave him the gun or the money to buy the gun, violence as a solution to hatred had been planted during the formative years, and now 9 souls have been taken from their families in a most horrific and brutal – and  conscious – way. He sat there for an hour, praying with them in their holy sanctuary, calculating who he would shoot. 
 
Then he ran, because he was sane enough to know he had done something wrong.  This wasn’t an act of someone crazy, this was an act of someone full of hate. I don't need a shrink or a defense attorney to tell me that there is “mental illness” involved; there is a hatred, no question. But that hatred has been fed to the kid and nurtured the same way other parents give books for birthdays and encourage reading.  I think we need a law holding parents equally responsible for their children’s criminal acts and I call on the president and other top officials to please do something.
 
I have been running a comedy camp for underprivileged kids at the Laugh Factory for over 30 years and many of these kids do not have parents to teach them right from wrong.  These are at-risk kids and they have little – or no – support from family and friends.  Most of them are in “the system.”  During the 3 month comedy camp, I, along with the wonderful comedians, give these children our support and confidence.  We show them unconditional love and care, and by the end of the camp these children can tell the difference between love and hate.  Teaching young people that difference is the easiest thing to do. One doesn't need a village to raise a child, one simply needs to care about right and wrong when raising them.
 
The acclaimed documentary by director Michael Apted (“52 Up”) illustrates the concept–“give me a boy till he's 7, and I'll give you the man.”  It is time we hold people responsible who are in the business of having, and raising, children. By the time the youngster is “in society” many of the concepts of right and wrong have already been instilled. My take is that a neo-Nazi home will produce neo-Nazi kids.
 
I have experienced my share of witnessing hatred. About 15 years ago, Michael Richards from “Seinfeld” fame, broke down on the Laugh Factory stage and exploded into a racist tirade. I saw first-hand how hate operates.
 
Not only did I see the discomfort of patrons attacked for the color of their skin, I started getting threats – not from people hurt by what happened, but from skin heads and white supremacists telling me that I better let him back on the stage.  For a while, young people would drive past the Laugh Factory on Sunset Blvd and do the Heil Hitler sign. I'd think to myself, who raised these kids? Where did they get that instinct? Even today, near the
 
Laugh Factory in Chicago, I have one couple as neighbors, who because of our different races, ethnicities, and accents, treat me, my family, and some of my employees as second class citizens.
 
Recently I received the Presidential award and letter of recognition from George H.W. Bush called the “Points of Light” for the work done with Comedy Camp.  While I was honored and humbled to receive this award on behalf of all of the wonderful comedians, I'm now starting to think that awards like these should really go to responsible parents – the ones who raise their kids right and teach them the difference between right and wrong and the difference between love and hate.  Perhaps First Lady Michelle Obama, who has done so much for children, will create such an award.
 
Our young people are our future and they need our love and affection and more importantly they need our wisdom.  Without guidance, children will find value in gangs and horrors like ISIS.
 
Our parents and grandparents have passed to us the torch of responsibility and it is our duty to pass it on. If we are to survive as a country, we have to return to the basics: love, care and compassion.  And these start at home.
 
Jamie Masada is the founder and CEO of Laugh Factory Inc.

Charleston church gunman Dylann Roof’s manifesto calls to ‘destroy the Jewish identity’


Dylann Roof, the alleged Charleston church gunman, said in a racial manifesto that the Jewish “problem” would be solved “if we could somehow destroy the Jewish identity.”

Roof, 21, who has been charged with killing nine worshipers last week in the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in the South Carolina city, published what is believed to be his racial manifesto on a website that is registered in his name. The website and the manifesto came to public attention on Saturday; by Sunday the website was blocked.

The 2,500-word document is rife with racial hatred as well as spelling errors. The website also shows photos of Roof burning a U.S. flag and aiming firearms.

Roof asserts in the manifesto that he was “not raised in a racist home or environment. Living in the South, almost every White person has a small amount of racial awareness, simply because of the numbers of negroes in this part of the country. But it is a superficial awareness.” He said the event that “truly awakened” him was the Trayvon Martin case in Florida, in which neighborhood watch coordinator George Zimmerman fatally shot the unarmed black teen.

Roof devotes most of the manifesto to a discussion of blacks, who he calls “the biggest problem for Americans,” and who he says are “stupid and violent.” He discusses segregation — Roof said it “was not a bad thing. It was a defensive measure” — as well as slavery, the flight to the suburbs and racial mixing.

Roof calls Jews an “enigma,” adding, “I don’t pretend to understand why jews do what they do.” He said he believes that “the majority of American and European jews are White.”

“In my opinion the issues with jews is not their blood, but their identity. I think that if we could somehow destroy the jewish identity, then they wouldnt cause much of a problem. The problem is that Jews look White, and in many cases are White, yet they see themselves as minorities. Just like [the N word], most jews are always thinking about the fact that they are jewish,” Roof wrote.

He added: “The other issue is that they network. If we could somehow turn every jew blue for 24 hours, I think there would be a mass awakening, because people would be able to see plainly what is going on.”

Roof gives what he calls “an explanation” for the attack he is about to pull off at the historic Emanuel A.M.E. Episcopal Church in Charleston: “I have no choice. I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight. I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”

Roof was arrested in North Carolina on Thursday, the day after the shooting. He is being held on $1 million bond.

Don’t whitewash Charleston’s troubled racial history


A prominent Jewish Charlestonian’s inspiring response to the massacre last week at the Emanuel AME Church has circulated widely in recent days. Robert N. Rosen’s essay points to the best traditions of life in the city: tolerance, an attentiveness to history, and a powerful sense of place and community.

But Rosen has also whitewashed the city’s history. His account lacks critical context when it comes to Charleston’s Jews and is rose-tinted when it comes to race. The city has changed dramatically in recent decades, but it all too often remains willfully ignorant of the long reach of the past into the present.

Yes, Charlestonians are outraged by this terrible event. But by pointing only to the best traditions of the city, and claiming that these alone represent its values, Rosen deludes himself about both the past and the present. Charleston’s troublesome history did not end abruptly with the Civil War or the civil rights era. Charlestonians have not “lived together in peace for 150 years since the Civil War,” as Rosen suggests. Has he forgotten the terrorism that sunk Reconstruction? The indignities and injustices of Jim Crow? The inequalities of the present? Or even the killing of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man shot by a white policeman in April of this year?

Nor is the fact that Charleston avoided the bloody showdowns of Birmingham or Selma in Alabama necessarily a mark of success. Insidious alternatives to formal segregation allowed South Carolina to effectively keep key elements of the system in place while appearing to follow the law. The legacy of those measures, which speaks today most clearly through the number of private schools in the city and the weaknesses of the public education system, has ensured that inequality and separation outlasted the civil rights era. In the long run, Charleston might have done better with more confrontation, not less.

The city’s record when it comes to addressing its past is spotty. Public memorials to slavery are hard to find, while statues glorifying the Confederacy and the opulent mansions of the antebellum era are conspicuous and celebrated. The city continues to honor John C. Calhoun, the intellectual and political heavyweight responsible for giving new ideological life to the slave system before the Civil War. Calhoun’s statue anchors Marion Square, which sits close to the Emanuel AME Church and serves as the crossroads of the city.

In the early 2000s, the owners of Marion Square beat back a proposal to erect a monument to Denmark Vesey, who was accused of plotting a slave uprising in 1822 and was one of 35 men hung. His church was Emanuel AME, and the building was burned down in retribution. The monument was ultimately built in a park far from the center of town.

Today, Marion Square has no monument to those who were enslaved, but it is home to a large public memorial to the Holocaust that sits near the massive Calhoun statue. When the sun is high in the late afternoon, the statue casts its shadow toward the memorial. This grand irony bespeaks the strange history of Jews and race in the city.

Jews were welcome at the founding of the colony, but Catholics were not. Before the Civil War, Jews were accepted into white society in large measure because the enslaved population outnumbered a paranoid white populace that wanted strength in numbers.

Jews in Charleston today remember the unusual extent of their integration in the city, but not the other half of the equation. The present-day economic and social success of Charleston’s Jews is inextricably linked with this past exclusion of others.

If Rosen’s essay is representative, local Jews also have misremembered their mixed record when it came to civil rights. Burton Padoll, who served as rabbi of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim in the 1960s, resigned under pressure from prominent members of his congregation in large part because of his activism on behalf of African-American equality.

This is not to say that the history of Charleston’s Jews is unremittingly negative on matters of race — far from it. But the role of race in forging the city and shaping the experience of its Jews cannot be wished away. Sure, we should celebrate that Charleston is so attentive to memorializing the Holocaust, but we should also think carefully about why the city is comfortable mourning a cataclysm that occurred in Europe but not a sordid history closer to home.

Only by recognizing our troublesome past, and our place in it, can we think clearly about real change in the present. We in Charleston should all aspire to create the kind of society Rosen imagines for us. But if we shear our city from its past, we’re never going to get there.

Reflections on the Charleston murders from Berlin: A conscience


I was sitting at the lunch tables yesterday here at the language school in Berlin, checking the news, when I read of the massacre at Emanuel AME in Charleston. My heart stopped in grief, thinking of the horror in that church. A very deep sadness came over me, for the victims and their families, for Emanuel AME, for Americans and especially for African Americans. And a wider sadness that I have felt since I arrived here two weeks ago rose again. Evil people abound.

The school organized a field trip to the rather impressive Natural History Museum. The route from our school (we walked), took us along Bernauer Street, where a long stretch of the Berlin Wall stood. When I chose this school, I unwittingly chose a neighborhood, in a corner of Prenzlauer Berg, which was one of the sites where the first breaches in the Wall were made. Memorials to the Wall shape the landscape along Bernauer Strasse. The place where I jog in the morning is the Mauer (Wall) Park, the site where a piece of the Wall was dismantled on November 9, 1989, allowing a flow of East Berliners to flow into the West. The Iron Curtain was crumbling.

That Wall, and now its remains, stands as a memory to the carnage of the 20th century.  It is there because of the evil that Hitler unleashed on the world, especially against the Jews, and especially against Eastern Europeans and other “undesirables”.  Germany was only subdued because of the military might of the Allies. The brunt of the fighting was carried by the Soviet Union – a nation that far exceeded the Nazis in the murder of innocents. The Wall stands for defeat of Germany, and then the imprisonment of millions of people in Communist tyranny.

The Holocaust, the Second World War, the depredations of Communism, haunt the city.

The horror in Charleston is being followed by the voice of grief, outrage and condolences from every level of American government and in every corner of American society, except the most evil, hiding under the rocks. A voice of hatred that wanted to kill because some group is “trying to take over the world” (this is what I read) has been furiously shouted down by a roaring wave of human decency.

I could not stop myself from making the comparison. We Jews were accused of wanting to “take over the world.” Very little human decency stood in the way of the path from that accusation to government led genocide. The outpouring of support for Emanuel AME is a light in the midst of this tragedy. Our nation stands as one in grief and resolve. That racial hatred has no place among decent people. No place. The conscience of the American people has made itself known.

I feel that conscience in Berlin, as well, on big and small levels. Nearly every day here at the school, as new students flow in, I am asked my name. “Ich heisse Mordecai”, I say. Inevitable befuddlement occurs. I clarify, “It is a Hebrew name.”  Still quizzical.  “From the Bible”, I say. “Ich bin Jude” I finally clarify. I watch carefully. No negative reaction. In fact, usually great interest, and often sympathy for the victimization of the Jews.

I truly cannot shake the eeriness of saying, “Ich bin Jude” in Berlin. The memorials for Jews in Berlin are profoundly present in the city. The city refuses to forget, to ignore. We visited a deeply disturbing museum today called “The Topography of Terror”, a history of the SS and the Gestapo, focusing on the war against the Jews. The word “Jude” was in most of the displays. It was gut wrenching.

Earlier today my class took a walk to the Prenzlauer Berg (where I am staying) museum. That museum was filled with memories of Jewish life here, up until the Jews were deported. A short walk from the school is Rykestrasse Synagogue, one of the largest and most beautiful in the world, restored to its former glory but alas – stands mostly empty.

Today, in reading the news of the outpouring of grief, support and resolve in America in response to the shootings in Charleston, I saw profound evidence of American decency and conscience. I see similar evidence here in Berlin, in the dedication to remember the Jews as well as the resolve never to forget the history of the German terror state and the atrocities committed.  I said to myself today: So some big swathes of the world, too small, but big, have developed a conscience. I am very moved.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Mordecai Finley

Beyond Charleston: All lives matter


As moving as it was to see the national reaction of grief, sadness and outrage at the horrific mass killing that occurred at a Black church in Charleston last week, there was something that bothered me.

What about all the other victims of homicide throughout America who are murdered each day in more routine circumstances? Do their lives matter any less? Don’t they deserve equal attention?

It’s true that circumstances do matter, and that there’s something unusually abhorrent about murdering people in a house of worship, especially when those murders hearken back to a dark chapter in our nation’s history. The Charleston attack re-enacts a long history of violent acts against Black churches in that region, striking an ugly nerve in our nation’s consciousness.

It reminds us that racism still roams the land. 

We want to feel that the aftershocks of slavery are behind us, that those scenes of white police officers assaulting Blacks during the civil rights era are behind us, that Ku Klux Klan members no longer want to lynch Blacks, that we’re now so much more civilized. So, when something happens that connects us to our shameful past, we go a little nuts, and the media go a little crazy. 

It makes sense — I get it.

And yet, I can’t help thinking that with all the attention we have showered on the Charleston victims, we have abandoned countless others across the country, people such as Steven Delatorre, Kevin Ross, Kelly Burrell, Sam L. Johnson, Demetrius M. Peebles, Devonte Terry, David Martinez Jr., Lynell Simmons, Laurance Boyd and others among the 35 people killed in Chicago just this month alone. 

Like all of the victims of Charleston, most of those Chicago victims are Black. Tragically, according to Fact Checker, an estimated 16 Blacks are killed every day across the United States, not by white cops or white racists, but by other Blacks. 

Let’s face it: It’s a lot easier to scream, “Gun control!” and “Remove the Confederate flag!” than it is to roll up our sleeves and deal with the complicated root causes of gun violence.

Equally tragic is the fact that these killings don’t generate much attention for the simple reason that their circumstances are not extraordinary.

This is human nature. We are wired to respond to extremes. The very notion of a mass killing is bad enough, let alone a mass killing with a racist motive. It’s outrage on top of outrage.

And yet, Judaism teaches us to transcend our nature — to transcend our visceral emotions and seek out core truths. One of those core truths is that every human being is created in the image of God. In America, this core truth is expressed in the sacred declaration that “all men are created equal.”

This is a difficult truth to live by, because, all too often, we simply don’t feel it. After all, is the life of a gang member “equal” to the life of a Steve Jobs or a Mark Zuckerberg?

Are the lives of people murdered while praying in a South Carolina church equal to the lives of people murdered while committing a drug deal in Chicago?

Our tradition compels us to do what doesn’t come naturally, like turn our attention to the victims of everyday killings that the media generally ignore.

It is precisely because those victims are so easily overlooked that we must scream out their names as loudly as possible.

Let’s face it: It’s a lot easier to scream, “Gun control!” and “Remove the Confederate flag!” than it is to roll up our sleeves and deal with the complicated root causes of gun violence. Sensible gun control is always a good idea, but it’s hardly the same as reducing urban blight, improving education, inculcating civic values and instilling hope.

Last year, over the Fourth of July weekend, 82 people were shot in Chicago and 14 people died, including two boys, ages 14 and 16. The year before, 70 people were shot and 13 died during the same four-day stretch.

Does anyone expect this summer to be any better?

Here’s what I’d love to see: President Obama calling a press conference on July 6, and reciting the names of every victim who perished that weekend in his beloved Chicago.

His message ought to be: “We will seek justice for all those who are killed every day across America, regardless of race, ethnicity or circumstance, and I will fight to improve the conditions that lead to this violence in the first place. We must never forget that in our great country, all lives matter.”


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com

WATCH: Jon Stewart delivers joke-less monologue on Charleston shooting


As Jon Stewart said Thursday night, his job for the past 16 years has been to deliver jokes based on the news.

On Thursday, however, he simply could not do his job – the killing of nine at an African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina had left him, for the first time, unable to write jokes.

Below is video of Stewart’s joke-less monologue, in which he delivers one of the most impassioned segments of his career.

Death in Charleston: Trapped by the tragic, unheeded lessons of the nation’s racial past


America's latest incident of racial violence, the massacre of nine people at historically black Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., echoes some of the horrific scenes out of the civil-rights era. A young white shooter allegedly committed mass murder at a sacred space of black activism, spiritual renewal and educational commitment. The slaughter provides a stark reminder of the way in which racial violence has been used to limit the hopes and aspirations of the black freedom struggle.

Following a white North Charleston police officer's killing of Walter Scott, an unarmed African-American, which was captured on a cellphone camera, the Charleston killings look to be the second act this year of lethal anti-black violence to emerge out of South Carolina, a state that proudly flies the Confederate flag over the State Capitol building.

The nation's contemporary racial climate evokes images that, shorn of social media's ubiquitous presence, would not seem out of place 50 years ago, during Selma's roiling voting-rights protests or, indeed, a century before that in the aftermath of the Civil War and the end of antebellum slavery.

In 1964, music legend Sam Cooke released “A Change Is Gonna Come,” one of the most important songs recorded during the civil-rights era. The song's genius lay in its ability to capture in miniature racial oppression's personal intimacy, political impact and policy reverberations.

Cooke's passionate narrative of Jim Crow's unforgiving assault on black bodies contained the dual recognition that racial segregation also harmed the American body politic. “It's been a long time, a long time coming,” he lamented, “But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will.”

For many, President Barack Obama's watershed election in 2008, and re-election in 2012, ushered in audacious change on a scale that Cooke and the generation of civil- rights activists who battled Jim Crow could have scarcely dreamed of. The euphoria accompanying Obama's inauguration included open, often self-congratulatory discussion that the United States had finally achieved a new “post-racial” age in which race mattered less than it ever had.

The age of Obama made the sight of a black first lady and attorney general and the presence of powerful African-American civic, business, and cultural leaders seem ordinary. In 2012, for the first time in history, the percentage of the black-voter turnout exceeded that of whites. Racial progress, as manifested through Obama's political and personal biography, became the dominant narrative of American race relations.

But hidden beneath the pageantry of the first family's extraordinary achievements was another country, one in which millions of African-Americans resided far away from the spotlight of mainstream narratives of success or myths of post-racialism.

The rise of mass incarceration, proliferating rates of poverty, public school segregation and high unemployment remained defiantly persistent in too many black communities. Residential segregation, scant job opportunities and failing public schools were, in our post-civil-rights era, passed down ways of life that were exacerbated, not relieved, by public-policy choices that reinforced urban and suburban ghettoes.

The roiling #BlackLivesMatter demonstrations, urban uprisings in Baltimore, Maryland, and Ferguson, Missouri, anti-black police violence in McKinney, Texas, and now a mass shooting in South Carolina echo the racial turmoil, political protests and community organizing of the civil-rights era. Then, as now, African-Americans lived under a regime of racial oppression that constrained their life chances.

On June 11, 1963, President John F. Kennedy characterized civil rights as a “moral issue” and told the nation, “Those who do nothing are inviting shame as well as violence. Those who act boldly are recognizing right as well as reality.”

Perhaps none acted as boldly as Malcolm X, Ella Baker, Martin Luther King Jr. and Fannie Lou Hamer. Malcolm, the Harlem-based black nationalist and Muslim preacher spoke truth to power in bone-rattling sermons that exposed American democracy's contradictions even as he empowered African-Americans by re-imagining the expansiveness of black identity. Baker, a feminist and radical labor activist, organized the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, a group that breathed new life into American society by bleeding for democracy alongside poor black folk in the South.

King found his clearest voice in championing the poor, speaking out against the Vietnam War and calling out the United States as an imperialist power, the world's foremost purveyor of violence and an unapologetically racist nation.

Hamer, who remains less well known than she should, represented the organic intellectual. She was a sharecropper from Ruleville, Mississippi, who defied the politics of white supremacy at the 1964 Democratic National Convention by exposing racial violence, threats and harassment directed at people, like herself, who wanted dignity and equal citizenship. “Is this America?” she asked the nation.

More than half a century later, the answer to Hamer's question is a resounding yes. This is America, a nation where 28 percent of black people live below the poverty line, 40 percent of black children live in poverty and 46 percent of black children attend high-poverty schools. African-Americans, while only 12 percent of the U.S. population, make up 28 percent of all arrests and now make up 38 percent of prisoners in local jails and 39 percent in federal prisons.

As sociologist Monique W. Morris's important book “Black Stats” (from which I have drawn these figures) illuminates in panoramic scope, African-Americans reside on the margins of society regarding health, justice, employment, education, wealth and income. And yes, a nation in which the African-American church, the resounding symbol of freedom and progress during and after slavery, remains a primary target of racial terror in a supposedly post-racial age.

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, America continues to embrace denial as a cure to the persistence – and at times growth – of national racial inequality. America's tortured legacy of slavery, racial segregation and violence against people of color continues to shape society's institutions, political philosophies and public policies.

The nation is, it seems, caught in a perpetual feedback loop – destined to repeat the tragic, unheeded lessons of a racial past that we refuse to acknowledge exists in our present.


Peniel E. Joseph is professor of history and founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Tufts University. His most recent book is “Stokely: A Life.” He can be followed on Twitter at @penieljoseph. The opinions expressed here are his own.

First AME Church Vigil marked by rousing sermons by L.A. clergy, civic leaders of all denominations


On June 18, as the country began to mourn the nine African-Americans murdered one day before by a white gunman at a Bible study session at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Charleston, S.C., people of all faiths and races joined with congregants of First AME Church in South Los Angeles for an emotional and at times rousing prayer vigil. 

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti gave an impassioned speech favoring gun control, while dozens of clergy — among them the Rev. J. Edgar Boyd of First AME Church and Rabbi Zoe Klein of Temple Isaiah — spoke of the historic significance of Emanuel AME Church and its legacy of fighting racism in America for nearly 200 years. Many of the clergy also addressed the need for gun control legislation, while they shared their own faiths’ teachings on love, anger and compassion. 

“I think that an attack against any faith is an attack against all faiths,” Klein said during a brief interview before the vigil. “When I picture 13 people in a small prayer circle … that small group of people just coming together, and then being slaughtered, being butchered — I feel like it could be any one of us. They were speaking the same prayers that all of us speak. I feel that we are all part of the same tree of life, and that someone took an ax to that tree.”

Temple Isaiah and First AME Church have had a 30-year relationship of shared services and social action. “Our congregations have really merged into a multifaith family,” Klein said.

Klein’s rousing speech addressed the 5-year-old girl who survived the incident because her grandmother told her to play dead. Klein declared: “We are sorry that we have not uprooted racism after all this time. We are sorry that we whitewash the problem in our media. We are sorry that we have been deaf to the voice of the suffering. We are sorry that you live in fear of brutality. We are sorry that we have not figured out responsible gun legislation in this country. We are sorry that we haven’t worked hard enough for you.” Her words, spoken with passion, like many throughout the evening, drew the crowd of some 400 people of all races to their feet in extended applause multiple times.

The clergy members who spoke also included Bhante Chao Chu, abbot of Rosemead Buddhist Monastery and president of the Los Angeles Buddhist Union, Pastor K of the Church Without Walls on Skid Row, Simon Simonian of the Quaker Society of Friends, Robert Adams of the Church of Scientology International and many more. Bishop Theodore Kirkland presided over the vigil.

Pastors from Black churches of many denominations across Los Angeles said that once the initial shock of the killings had sunk in — the feeling of being flung back in time to the Southern church bombings of the early 1960s — they were left feeling both anger and anguish.   

“I immediately had visions of 1963 ‘Bombingham,’ when the churches were being bombed in Birmingham, Ala.,” the Rev. John Cager III of Ward AME Church said prior to the vigil. “We had thought that, at least from a racial perspective, that we were long past that day when we see that kind of violence in Black churches.

“And many of us were fooled — lulled into this sense of post-racial America after the election of President [Barack] Obama. So when an event like this happens, it really brings on feelings of despair,” Cager said. 

In addition to Garcetti, city representatives included prosecutors from City Attorney Mike Feuer’s office, and officers from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles Police Department. 

Acknowledging the pain parishioners felt, Boyd opened the vigil by saying the night would be solely about the nine victims and the heritage they represent. To utter the killer’s name, he said, would be to honor him, so 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof, who was arrested in North Carolina on June 18 and is now charged with nine murder counts, would not be named at the vigil. 

As Boyd read short descriptions of each of the deceased, Geraldine Hayes — a longtime member of First AME Church who is from South Carolina and knew the Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., one of the victims, since childhood — lit nine candles that burned throughout the vigil in front of the pulpit.  

“We will extinguish the candle, but not extinguish our memory of them,” Boyd said. 

Emanuel AME Church is the oldest Black church south of Baltimore. Morris Brown and Denmark Vesey founded it in 1816, almost 50 years before the end of slavery. White supremacist arsonists burned down the church in 1822. Just 14 years later, all Black congregations in Charleston were outlawed, and the congregation moved underground until the end of the Civil War in 1865. 

The first building at the current site was completed in 1872, although an earthquake destroyed it again in 1886. The structure that stands today was completed in 1891. 

Building on this history, Garcetti said the church’s history is proof that “a church is not the walls that contain it,” but rather “the people and the faith inside of it.”  

“It was the old Jewish priests that were taught that there are three relationships in this world that are holy,” Garcetti said. “First is that law given to us from God. … The second relationship is our relationship back up to God, that of prayer. … And the third is our relationship with each other. … Last night, a gunman cut short all three of those divine relationships. But the church cannot be destroyed.” 

Garcetti and others joined Obama in his call Thursday for tighter restrictions on the purchasing of guns. 

But as retired Bishop Cornel G. Henning and Klein each pointed out, while the histories of the Emanuel AME Church and of racist violence in the United States are full of moments of rebuilding, the sources of bigotry toward Blacks remain firmly planted in the South and, in different ways, in the rest of the country.

In South Carolina, the Confederate flag remains a prominent emblem, “almost an open defiance, an open recognition of, ‘We don’t believe there was anything wrong with what was done during the period of slavery, or during the period of Jim Crow,’ ” Cager said. In the rest of the country, right-wing radio preaches a gospel of race war. 

“The seeds of this tragedy will continue to exist until its causes have been fully addressed and we as a people and a nation have acquired zero tolerance for it — when we can stop explaining to ourselves why we can’t and decide that we will because we must,” Henning said.

An open letter to President Obama: This is a moral emergency


Dear President Barack Obama,

I appreciate your comments on the “heartache and the sadness and the anger” that many Americans are feeling after the shooting of nine African-American congregants at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. You pointed out that “this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries,” and you argued, as you have before, for stricter gun control laws. I agree. After the torture and death of Freddie Gray, you said that we – as a nation – “have some soul-searching to do” and that race-based police violence was not something new. Indeed, it is not. After the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, you said that Trayvon could have been you “35 years ago,” and you pointed out the ways our criminal justice system disproportionately targets and imprisons African American men. You wondered: “But beyond protests or vigils, the question is, are there some concrete things that we might be able to do?”  After the strangulation of Eric Garner, you said that “this is not just a black problem or a brown problem. This is an American problem.” You are absolutely right. And after the death of Michael Brown, you said “we should comfort each other and talk with one another in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.” You called for prayers, peace, and soul-searching. But with all due respect President Obama, none of this is enough. We – all Americans – have to call this violence out for what it really is: It is racism. And racism perpetuated and legitimized by the persistent failure of Americans to confront this most urgent, most pernicious, and most vile moral and existential catastrophe at the core of our nation.

President Obama, you know that these are not isolated, new, or unrelated cases. They are quite continuous with the racial history of policing and mass incarceration in the US, the structural disenfranchisement of people of color, the war on the poor, and the terrorism of white supremacy. In fact, these deaths are just some of the most recent and most public ones. They signal (yet again) a persistent and pervasive devaluation of the lives of people of color in our nation’s history. More than half a century ago, in his eulogy for the children killed at the bombing of the sixteenth street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, Martin Luther King, Jr. said that we must not only be concerned about bringing the murderers to justice, but we must also confront “the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers.” This system, this way of life, this philosophy lives on and on and on.  Dylann Storm Roof is the homegrown product of systemic racism in America, a way of life, a philosophy that makes up the rotten fabric of our nation. It’s not mental illness, or bad apples, or drugs, or any number of explanations that make white America feel safe in our shelters of privilege.  It’s racism – systemic, historical, and pervasive. Yesterday, it cost us the lives of Reverend Sharonda Singleton, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lance, Reverend DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Susie Jackson, and Reverend Daniel Simmons, Sr.   

As the President of the United States, you are vested with the authority to declare a national state of emergency “to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety … to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in any part of the United States.” The emergency that we face as a nation is not a natural disaster or the threat of war, but there are certainly lives that need to be saved. They are the lives of every person of color in the United States, which centuries of racism have devalued and put at risk. This is a national catastrophe that has raged – almost unmitigated – since the founding moments of our country. It rages today and will rage tomorrow if we do not do something truly profound and transformative.  I am writing to ask that you marshall all the resources at your disposal – financial, political, and intellectual – to declare and address this catastrophe for what it is: A moral emergency, a national catastrophe.  It needs to be named as such, and we need the federal resources, the leadership, the audacity, and the fortitude to honestly confront and doggedly remedy our shared moral failure. Perhaps we could start by lobbying Congress to pass H.R. 40, a bill first introduced in 1989 by Representative John Conyers, Jr. to set up a Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans. I am looking to you and to all our elected officials for leadership, to bring us together in a different united states, to bring about a triumph of conscience and justice, in the face of staggering violence and human loss.  I am one citizen, but we are surely millions upon millions strong, in solidarity with one another across the lines of race, ethnicity, class, gender, religion, and sexual orientation. We are in solidarity first as human beings. I humbly ask you to start now with an urgent declaration of a national state of moral emergency. Tomorrow cannot resume with business as normal.

Let me close by urging you – and us, as Americans – to muster the resolve to finally and truthfully realize Lincoln’s remarks that the dead did not die in vain, “that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”  I ask you – on the 150th anniversary of these remarks – for the sake of our nation, for the sake of the sanctity of the lives of everyone who has lived, is living, and will live in the United States of America. It can’t be overstated, President Obama: The future of our nation and the very sanctity of life are at stake. We are in a state of moral emergency. 

Sincerely yours,

Todd Samuel Presner
Professor and Director, Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies
University of California Los Angeles

South Carolina church shooting suspect got gun for birthday, uncle says


Dylann Roof, the man suspected of fatally shooting nine people at a historic African American church in South Carolina on Wednesday, was given a gun by his father as a 21st birthday present in April, his uncle told Reuters on Thursday.

Law enforcement officers were at the home of Roof's mother on Thursday morning, the uncle, Carson Cowles, said in a telephone interview.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation identified the gunman as Roof on Thursday.

Cowles said he recognized Roof in a photo released by police, and described him as quiet and soft-spoken. Roof's father gave him a .45-caliber pistol for his birthday this year, Cowles said.

“Nobody in my family had seen anything like this coming,” Cowles said. “I said, if it is him, and when they catch him, he's got to pay for this.”

He said he had told his sister, Roof's mother, several years ago that Roof was too introverted.

“I said he was like 19 years old, he still didn't have a job, a driver's license or anything like that and he just stayed in his room a lot of the time,” Cowles said.

A woman who answered the cellphone of the suspect's mother Amelia Roof, also known as Amy, declined to comment.

“We will be doing no interviews ever,” she said, before hanging up.

Jewish community reacts to the Charleston shooting


Please join in the comments section below to share your thoughts.


Rabbi Sharon Brous / IKAR

It is beyond belief that in the year 2015 we wake up to headlines reading: Nine Dead as Gunman Strikes a Black Church… Police Call Attack a Hate Crime. 2015. Sixty years after Emmett Till was murdered and Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. A lifetime after Little Rock and Woolworths and Freedom Summer, after Bull Connor and Medgar Evers and the dream that awakened the conscience of our nation and reminded us the great promise of this country. Fifty-two years after four girls were murdered at 16th Street Baptist in what King called one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity, nine African Americans were murdered in church, as they came together for their weekly Wednesday night prayer service and Bible study.

There are moments that define each one of us as human beings. And there are moments that define us as a nation. Let this moment, this tragedy – a lifetime after Montgomery and Selma, less than a year after Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, one week after Dajerria Becton – let this moment define us as a nation.

    Are we a people who denies, lies and hides from the reality of the lingering effects of racism in
    this land of the free and home of the brave?

    Or are we a nation that can rise up from tragedy and collectively affirm one another’s humanity, 
    see one another’s struggle as our own? 

   Are we a nation that obfuscates and repudiates and perpetuates the devastation that comes
   from hundreds of millions of weapons of war on our streets, available to every hate-filled or
   broken-hearted person with a credit card and a grudge?

   Or will we finally now – after yet another mass shooting – stand up together and say NO  
   MORE? 

Let this moment be the moment.

Let our collective grief and anguish bring us together as a nation, with our love and our fear, our dreams and aspirations, with a fierce and sacred hunger for change. We need to cry together and sing together. We also need to address the root causes and name the painful manifestations of racism in our society. And we need to change gun policy. It’s time.

L'shalom – with blessings of peace for Charleston, and for us all –
 
Rabbi Sharon Brous
 
PS. Send a message to the people of Emanuel AME in Charleston, SC, to let them know that they are not alone – that the Jewish community and good people everywhere reach out in solidarity with condolences and prayers for healing. Click here to send your note

David Siegel / Consul General of Israel

On behalf of the State of Israel, I wish  to convey our deepest sorrow at the tragic killing of innocent worshipers at the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina.

The people of Israel stand in solidarity and prayer with the families and loved ones of the victims, and with the people of Charleston, the State of South Carolina, and the United States at this very painful time of mourning.

Rabbi Mordecai Finley / Ohr HaTorah Synagogue and the Academy for Jewish Religion, California

My broken heart joins the heartbreak of our nation in contemplating the horror that occurred at Emanuel AME in Charleston. A young man filled with an evil and murderous hatred unleashed it on the innocent, again. We have seen this at an elementary school, at a move theater, at the Boston Marathon, and now at a most sacred center of American and African American religious life. I think of the victims and their families, and my sorrow filled heart goes out to them. I pray that the grief, love and resolve that is now filling our nation will be some measure of condolence in the midst of this horror. I pray that the commitment to God and God’s teaching, that the victims were living in their last moments of life, will be a guide for us. They would want us to continue that work, each of us in our own way. May this teaching one day conquer the hearts of hatred, and have those bent hearts bend to law of love.

Pastor “J” Edgar Boyd / First AME (FAME) Church, Los Angeles

and Rabbi Zoë Klein / Temple Isaiah

Please join us TONIGHT at 8 p.m. at First A.M.E. Church (2270 S Harvard Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90018) for a prayer vigil in response to the shameful shooting in Charleston.

Isaiah and FAME have been blessed with a long-standing loving partnership for many decades. Together we are a multi-faith family devoted to serving God through social justice toward humankind. Join us.

Statement:

The First AME Church Family of Los Angeles and The Jewish Faith Family at Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles, join with other peace-loving individuals across racial and religious lines in sharing words of comfort and solace to the families of Pastor Clementa Pinckney and the other eight women and men who were so senselessly gunned down while attending a Prayer Service at the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday night.

There is no earthly justification as to why this sinister and heinous act would be carried out, and in, of all places, a church during prayer time.

While the facts and other vital information about the incident are still being gathered and discovered, we encourage peace-loving people within and without institutions of faith, to reach out to God and to each other, offering prayer and consolation in wake of this senseless attack against life and liberty.

Efforts are underway to draw our communities of faith together in Los Angeles for prayer and conversation, seeking to console each other and to secure fragile racial and religious bonds across multiple communities, while we explore ways to minimize the risks of subsequent acts against life and innocent individuals.

A city-wide Prayer Vigil, including invitations to clergy persons from all faiths, will be held at First AME Church on this evening, Thursday, June 18, 2015 at 8:00 p.m. PST.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper / Simon Wiesenthal Center

“The Simon Wiesenthal Center is horrified by the apparent hate crime at a historic Black Church, where nine people attending a Bible class at the Emanuel AME Church were gunned down, reportedly by a young white gunman,” Rabbis Abraham Cooper and Yitzchok Adlerstein, Associate Dean and Director of Interfaith Affairs respectively of the leading Jewish Human Rights NGO.

“We wish to express our solidarity with and deep sorrow for  the families who lost loved ones, the members of the historic Black Church and the people of Charlestown. We trust that law enforcement will do everything in its power to apprehend the murderer. All Americans are again confronted with the specter of a House of Worship violated and  our religious freedoms violently debased, “ Center officials concluded.

Rabbi David Wolpe / Sinai Temple

Evil in a House of God strikes all of us with particular force. My father's first pulpit was in the gracious city of Charleston; my brother was born there and I have visited often. It is city of beauty and charm. Our prayers are with the souls who were taken and the families and friends who grieve for them. We hope for healing from this terrible crime and we pray for peace.

Rabbi Leonard Matanky & Rabbi Mark Dratch / Rabbinical Council of America

To the Members of the Emanuel AME Church,

As fellow human beings created in the image of God, as fellow Americans, and as members of a people that shares the experiences of discrimination and murder based on faith and ethnicity, we, the largest collection of Orthodox Jewish rabbis in the nation, express to you our outrage at the murders of nine of your brothers and sisters, including your pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney.

We extend to you, and to their families, our deepest expressions of condolence and pledge to work with you, and other people of faith, to bring an end to violence and discrimination, and to the hatreds that so many of us hoped had waned which have returned with virulent force. We act in the spirit of consolation that came to us in our recent time of need, when Palestinian terrorists entered a place of worship during services and massacred four rabbis, and letters of support came to us from fellow Americans.

May the prophecy of Isaiah be fulfilled for you and your community, “The moon will shine like the sun, and the sunlight will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven full days, when the Lord binds up the bruises of his people and heals the wounds he inflicted (30:26)” and “Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end (Isaiah 60:20).”

Rabbi Zach Shapiro / Temple Akiba

Daienu. We have had enough.

Enough ignoring the breadth of violence.
Enough ignoring the epidemic of mental illness.
Enough ignoring the depth of racial tensions.
Enough ignoring that we are our brothers' keepers.
Enough ignoring that the bloods of our sisters are crying to us from the earth.
Enough ignoring that God is shedding tears from Heaven.

Daienu. We have had enough

Rabbi Adam Kligfeld / Temple Beth Am

Compassion must be a transcending and transcendent notion, in order for it to have merit.  We in the Jewish community rightly call for others’ prompt, forceful and compassionate response when Jews are targeted for violence and bloodshed, whether in the US, France, Denmark or Israel.  There is something profoundly noxious about hatred itself, and even more so when it explodes into violence directed at individuals who are part of an identified group—whether they are bound by a religious identity, racial identity, national identity or sexual identity. People of conscience must loudly denounce such evil, without unintentionally undercutting our moral support by trying too hard to explain the violence away.  

And so it is with the heavy heart of a person/Jew/Rabbi who identifies with the victims’ families and community, with the ethical clarity with which our prophets—of yesteryear and of today—call for us to seek and pursue both justice and peace, and with the conviction that people of good will can and must overcome and overwhelm the tide of contempt, hatred, bigotry and violence that seems to sweep across our nation and world and inboxes and Facebook feed every day…it is with these parts of who I am that I express my outrage and horror and sadness at the murder of 9 people who were worshipping at the AME Church in Charleston. From what we can gather, they were targeted and killed because they were black. 

The loss of life itself, coupled with their being murdered for the color of their skin, must awaken with us a commitment to build a better world, where race, religion, national identity and sexual identity are ennobling and humanizing categories, and where suspicion and violence towards such groupings of our fellow human beings is labeled for the insidiousness that it is, and is eventually eliminated.  We weep today with our nation, with African Americans who are more scared to enter their church today than they were yesterday, and with all those who are targeted simply for who they are, whom they love, with whom they pray, the color of their skin and the name of their god.  May the source of all that is holy and compassionate bring comfort to the mourners; may God stir within us all the righteous anger that leads to redemptive acts. 

יהי זכרם ברוך.  May their memories be a blessing.

Rabbi Denise Eger / Kol Ami, President of the CCAR 

“I am saddened and heartbroken to learn of yet another mass shooting this time in Charleston. The sanctity of human life has been destroyed in a holy place of prayer and study. A disturbed young man had too easy access to guns and ammunition. When will we learn as a nation? The Central Conference of American Rabbis [CCAR] is shocked and horrified to learn of the tragic murders at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.   As clergy whose job it is to gather people in the study of sacred scripture, we are appalled that the desecration of nine human lives could occur in such a holy context.  Our sympathies extend to all the victims, and especially to out partner in clergy, Rev. Clementa C. Pickney.

As this hate crime was being perpetrated in America, our leadership gathered in Israel.  There we passed our resolution affirming our commitment to work for Racial Equality.  In the aftermath of the events in Charleston–and on top to the injustices in Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland, Baltimore and beyond–we are even more fully dedicated to the work of that resolution, including “Making Racial Justice a top priority for our Conference in the coming year.”  The CCAR has long recognized that racism and economic injustice perpetuate disparities in American life, and are injustices in themselves, contributing to an unjust criminal justice system.  On topics ranging from economic justice to voting rights, from disparities in educational opportunity to formal and informal residential segregation, we have lifted up the prophetic voice in our resolutions, calling for tikkun olam, for a repair of our too-often broken American society.  In this coming year we doubly dedicate our entire conference to working to solve the massive injustices of race in America.

 

Rabbi Ed Feinstein /  Valley Beth Shalom

There are moments when God cries. This is one of those moments. 
A great church, historic center of a community dreaming of freedom and dignity; a congregation gathered in Bible study; a young man pumped full of hatred and a thirst for violence and heavily armed; and the lives of the gentle and the committed taken down in but a moment. God is crying. And we too cry. How long? How long will it take until we learn?

Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater / Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center

My prayers and thoughts are with the people of AME in Charleston, SC, and to the entire community as they mourn their loved ones.  May God provide strength and comfort in this sad and painful time.  My parents have lived in Charleston for the past 15 years, and I know it to be a beautiful, kind and generous place to live.  Yet, the scourge of racism and hatred still runs deep in many places, including the South, where racial tensions are alive and festering.  We will counter hate with love, and together, as a nation, we can and must stand on the side of peace, justice, equality and righteousness. 

“Even though I walk through the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with Me, Your rod and staff comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4) May the souls of those lost be for eternal blessings, may their memories be for a blessing, and may their leader, State Senator Rev. Clementa C. Pickney, and all those killed, rest in peace.  God grant us the strength to stand up again, together.

Rabbi John Rosove / Temple Israel of Hollywood

I share the heart break, confusion and rage with every decent human being in learning that nine innocent people studying sacred scripture together could be murdered in cold blood for any reason at all, let alone their race and faith. My heart and prayers go out to the families of these victims and to the Charleston community as a whole that they may find courage and strength to abide this horrendous loss, and may the love pouring out to them from all over the country be healing.

May their memories be a blessing to all who loved and knew them.

Rabbi Susan Goldberg / Wilshire Boulevard Temple

A Prayer

Horror has ripped open our country.
Nine lives lost.
Nine souls taken by violence and hatred.

Violence is woven into the very fabric of our nation.
Racism is woven into the very fabric of our nation.
Too much loss. Too much.

It is easy to get a gun.
It is easy to learn hatred.

Our hearts must break open.
We must ask why and then act on the answers.

HaMakom yenachem et’chem
May the source of comfort, comfort all of those who mourn

And may the Holy One guide us in our grief to mend the blood soaked tattered threads of our collective history and weave a new tapestry

Rabbi Laura Geller / Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills

Our prayer book includes the words “Pray as if everything depended on God. Act as if everything depended on you.”  This hateful killing  calls for both responses: prayers for the victims of the Charleston Emanuel AME Church massacre and their families and loved ones, and action on the part of each one of us to confront the racism that is still so powerful in our country and our world. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel reminds us:  “Some are guilty but all are responsible.”  It is time to take responsibility for the racism that has manifested itself so clearly over the past many months and to recommit ourselves to ending the easy accessibility to guns that makes crimes like this possible.

May the memory of these people murdered as they gathered for prayer and study be a blessing and a reminder that we still have so much work to do to end the racism that poisons our country and our world.

Rabbi Miriyam Glazer / Author

Our tradition teaches that to save a single life is to save a world.  And so it is also true that to destroy a life, is to destroy a world. How many worlds, how many dreams, aspirations, heartbeats, how many sweet, innocent people, how many human possibilities, were eradicated in Charleston by a vicious, troubled young man whose parents thought a gun was an appropriate gift and whose own heart was poisoned by hatred? As Jews, as Americans, as believers in justice, as ourselves mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, we are riven with profound sorrow for these tragic losses, agonizingly reminiscent of the innocent black children bombed to death in a Birmingham church in 1963.  I call upon us as Jews to fulfill the  two-fold task before us:  to join together with our black brothers and sisters to erode racism, hatred, and violence  in this country, and to keep up the pressure on a Congress in the pockets of the NRA to radically limit civilian access to weapons.

B'nai B'rith International

B’nai B’rith condemns the shooting at a historic African American church that left nine dead in Charleston, S.C. 

“We believe this is a hate crime; that is how we are investigating it,” Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said.

The victims were gathered for an evening prayer meeting at the Emanuel AME Church when a lone gunman opened fire after observing the service for about an hour. The congregation has been a fixture in Charleston since 1816.

Attacking people as they pray is the height of depravity.

Our thoughts and prayers go to the victims’ families and those injured in the attack.

Obama, after S.C. shooting, says U.S. gun violence too frequent


President Barack Obama on Thursday expressed anger over the “senseless” shooting in a black church in South Carolina and said Americans had to confront the fact that frequent incidents of gun violence do not occur in other advanced countries.

Obama, in a statement to reporters at the White House, said he and his wife, Michelle, knew Reverend Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of the historic African-American church in Charleston, who was killed along with eight others on Wednesday night.

“To say our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families and their community doesn't say enough to covey the heartache and the sadness and the anger that we feel,” Obama said, adding it was particularly heartbreaking that the incident occurred in a place of worship.

Obama has had to play the role of consoler-in-chief after shootings repeatedly throughout his presidency.

Following the 2012 school shootings in Newtown, Conn., the president launched an aggressive gun control push, but his efforts largely failed in Congress.

The U.S. Constitution protects Americans' rights to own a gun, but disagreements over the breadth of those rights often fall along political lines.

Obama, appearing somber as well as frustrated, said he has had to make statements like the one he made on Thursday too many times. Despite not having all the facts, it was clear that innocent people had been killed because someone had no trouble getting a gun, he said.

“Now is the time for mourning and for healing, but let's be clear: at some point we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries,” Obama said.

“It doesn't happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it. I say that recognizing the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now. But it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge it,” he said.

Obama is unlikely to launch another push for gun control legislation with only one and a half years left in office and the next presidential campaign already in full swing.

U.S. presidential candidates react to South Carolina church shootings


U.S. presidential candidates and politicians likely to enter the race used social media and other means on Thursday to express their reaction to news a white gunman had killed nine people in a historic black church in South Carolina on Wednesday.

Here are comments from some of the candidates:

“There are bad people in this world who are motivated by hate … Every decent person has been victimized by the hateful, callous disregard for human life shown by the individual who perpetrated these horrible acts. Our sense of security and well-being has been robbed and shaken.”

– Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina in a statement

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the individuals and families affected by the tragic events in Charleston.”

– Republican Jeb Bush, on Twitter. The former Florida governor canceled an appearance scheduled for Thursday morning in Charleston

“Heartbreaking news from Charleston – my thoughts and prayers are with you all. -H”

– Democrat Hillary Clinton, former secretary of state who spoke in Charleston on Wednesday, on Twitter

“The Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, became a scene of unspeakable carnage because an evil person violated the sanctuary where earth and heaven meet and turned it into a place where earth and hell meet. No civilized person can react except with revulsion at such a senseless, cowardly, and despicable act … The prayers that were interrupted by a mass murderer will be continued by a grieving nation.”

Former Republican Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee on Facebook

“Our prayers for the families & friends of loved ones killed in Charleston, S.C. – SKW”

Republican Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who is expected to announce whether he will run next month, on Twitter

“This is a time for healing, not politics. I look forward to returning to South Carolina and continuing our discussion on how we can best move our country forward. Until that time our prayers and deepest condolences are with the people of Charleston and the families of those who have been torn apart by this senseless act of violence and hate.”

Republican Donald Trump, who canceled a Friday campaign event in Hilton Head, South Carolina, on Twitter

“@AnitaPerryTX joins me in praying today for Charleston and all who have been affected by this unspeakable tragedy.”

Former Republican Texas Governor Rick Perry on Twitter

“The Charleston church killings are a tragic reminder of the ugly stain of racism that still taints our nation. This senseless violence fills me with outrage, disgust and a deep, deep sadness.”

Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders in a statement on his website

“My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims of last night's shooting in Charleston, who were tragically taken from us as they gathered together in prayer inside their place of worship.”

Republican Senator Ted Cruz on his campaign website

“Kelley and I are praying for everyone affected by this senseless tragedy in Charleston.”

– Republican Senator Rand Paul and wife

“Saddened by the news from Charleston. The victims and their families are in my prayers today.”

Republican Senator Marco Rubio on Twitter

“My heart just breaks for the families … I'm also outraged. This is evil … this is beyond evil. This is horrific. This monster needs to be tracked down, needs to be brought to justice.”

Republican Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, expected to announce his intentions next Wednesday, on CNN

“Karen and I extend our deepest sympathies and prayers to the victims of the despicable horror in Charleston. -RJS

Former Republican Senator Rick Santorum on Twitter

“There are no words to express our sadness and horror at the shooting in Charleston last night. While we are still learning the details of this senseless act, if early reports prove accurate, this hate crime is a particularly heinous form of violence.”

Former Republican New York Governor George Pataki in a statement

“My heart and prayers go out to Charleston, the families who have lost loved ones, and everyone who is hurting because of this hateful crime … Please join me in praying for these families and this community.”

Republican Ohio Governor John Kasich on Facebook. He is expected to announce his candidacy soon.

“My heart goes out to the victims of this tragedy & their loved ones. Katie & I are keeping Charleston & the AME community in our prayers.”

Former Maryland Democratic Governor Martin O'Malley on Twitter

“Last night, evil walked the streets of Charleston. My heart aches for the families of the victims. I pray for the families left behind. I pray for the community scared and hurting. I also pray you and I can conquer hatred.”

Republican Ben Carson, a retired brain surgeon and political newcomer, on Facebook

“My heart goes out to the Charleston community and to the victims of this horrific and senseless act.”

Former Democratic Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee

(Compiled by Bill Trott; Editing by Bernadette Baum and James Dalgleish)

S. Carolina massacre suspect seemed troubled, had past brushes with police


His uncle worried he was cooped up in his room too much. The few images of him found easily online suggest he had a fascination with white supremacy. And for his birthday this year, his father bought the young man a pistol, the uncle said.

Dylann Roof, 21, was arrested on Thursday on suspicion of having fatally shot nine people at a historic African-American church in South Carolina on Wednesday.

Those who know him described a withdrawn, troubled young man. Roof himself told a police officer who was arresting him earlier this year for illegal possession of prescription painkillers that his parents were pressuring him to get a job.

Roof's uncle, Carson Cowles, recalled telling his sister, the suspect's mother, several years ago that he was worried about Roof, and that the “quiet, soft-spoken boy” was too introverted.

“I said he was like 19 years old, he still didn't have a job, a driver's license or anything like that and he just stayed in his room a lot of the time,” Cowles said in a telephone interview.

He said he tried to “mentor” his nephew. “He didn't like that, and me and him kind of drifted apart,” Cowles said.

Cowles, 56, said Roof's father gave him a .45-caliber pistol for his birthday this year, Cowles said.

“I actually talked to him on the phone briefly for just a few moments and he was saying, 'well I'm outside target practicing with my new gun,'” Cowles said, describing a phone call around the time of Roof's birthday in April.

“Nobody in my family had seen anything like this coming,” Cowles said, speaking shortly before news of Roof's arrest. “If it is him, and when they catch him, he's got to pay for this.”

MALL INCIDENTS

In February, Roof unnerved employees working at the Columbiana Centre shopping mall in Columbia, South Carolina, by asking what they told police were unusual questions about staffing levels.

A patrolling police officer was called over. Roof, becoming increasingly nervous, told him “his parents were pressuring him to get a job,” according to a Columbia Police Department incident report.

The officer asked to search him and found an unlabeled bottle filled with strips of buprenorphine, an opioid painkiller that is sometimes misused by people addicted to opioid drugs, which include a range of substances from heroin to oxycodone.

The incident report said Roof tried to pass them off as breath-freshening strips before admitting that a friend had given the prescription-only drug to him, and the officer arrested him for possession of a controlled substance. The case appeared to still be pending, according to county court records.

Columbiana Centre banned Roof for a year, but two months later, police were called to the mall again. Roof, described as 5 foot 9 inches (1.75 meters) tall and weighing 120 lb (54 kg), was arrested in the parking lot for trespassing. His car was turned over to his mother, and the mall increased the ban to three years.

It was not immediately clear whether Roof had a lawyer.

JACKET WITH APARTHEID-ERA FLAGS

A Facebook profile apparently belonging to Roof was created earlier this year. The only public photograph on the page is a blurry snap of him stood in front of winter-bare trees, looking glumly at the camera, bowl-cut brown hair falling over his forehead.

In the picture, he wears a black jacket that prominently features the flags of apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, from when the two African countries were ruled by the white minority.

The page lists him as having a little over 80 Facebook friends on Thursday morning, but that number appeared to be dropping, perhaps as others chose to sever their online ties with him.

One of the friends, Derrick “D-Gutta” Pearson, wrote on his own Facebook page on Thursday morning that he was “wondering why I woke up to 15 friend requests,” adding that he didn't know where Roof was.

Pearson warned people to stay away from Roof if they saw him, writing that it was “obvious lives do not matter to him.” Pearson also published a photo that appeared to show Roof sitting on the hood of a black car with a license plate that says “Confederate States of America”, a reference to the pro-slavery forces from the U.S. Civil War.

“That's his car and him,” Pearson wrote.

The U.S. Department of Justice said federal authorities would investigate Wednesday's attack as a hate crime, or one motivated by racism or other prejudice.

Roof grew up shuttling between his parents' homes in South Carolina, according to his uncle. His father, Ben Roof, runs his own construction business, and he remarried after divorcing Dylann Roof's mother.

Roof and his older sister, Amber, lived part of the time with their father and the father's wife, Paige, until Ben and Paige divorced.

Amber Roof, 27, is engaged to be married and a profile on TheKnot.com shows her wedding is scheduled for Sunday in Lexington, South Carolina.

A woman who answered the cellphone of the suspect's mother Amelia Roof, also known as Amy, declined to comment on Thursday morning.

“We will be doing no interviews ever,” she said, before hanging up.

White suspect arrested in killing of nine at black U.S. church


A white man suspected of killing nine people in a Bible-study group at a historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina was arrested on Thursday and U.S. officials are investigating the attack as a hate crime.

Law enforcement officials detained alleged gunman Dylann Roof, 21, after a traffic stop in Shelby, North Carolina, about 220 miles (350 km) north of Charleston, said police chief Gregory Mullen.

Wednesday's mass shooting, which occurred after the suspect had sat with parishioners at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church for an hour, follows months of protests over killings of black men which have shaken the United States.

In a Facebook profile apparently belonging to Roof, a portrait showed him wearing a jacket emblazoned with the flags of apartheid-era South Africa and of the former Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, both formerly ruled by white minorities.

The victims, six females and three males, included Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who was the church's 41-year-old pastor and a Democratic member of the state Senate.

A man who identified himself as Carson Cowles, Roof's uncle, told Reuters that Roof's father had recently given him a .45-caliber handgun as a birthday present and that Roof had seemed adrift.

“I don't have any words for it,” Cowles, 56, said in a telephone interview. “Nobody in my family had seen anything like this coming.”

Sylvia Johnson, a cousin of Pinckney, told MSNBC that a survivor told her the gunman reloaded five times during the attack despite pleas for him to stop.

“He just said, 'I have to do it. You rape our women and you're taking over our country,” Johnson said.

Police said Roof was armed with a handgun but surrendered quietly when he was stopped.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said her office was investigating whether to charge Roof with a hate crime motivated by racial or other prejudice.

Under federal and some state laws, such crimes typically carry harsher penalties, but South Carolina is one of just five U.S. states not to have a hate-crimes law.

“The fact that this took place in a black church obviously raises questions about a dark part of our history,” U.S. President Barack Obama told reporters. “Once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun.”

Demonstrations have rocked New York, Baltimore, Ferguson, Missouri and other cities following police killings of unarmed black men including Eric Garner, Freddie Gray and Michael Brown.

A white police officer was charged with murder after he shot Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, in the back in April in neighboring North Charleston.

'MOTHER EMANUEL'

The 197-year-old church nicknamed “Mother Emanuel” is one of the oldest African-American Episcopal churches in the southeastern United States. It was burned to the ground in the late 1820s after a slave revolt led by one of its founders.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which researches U.S. hate groups, said the attack illustrates the dangers that home-grown extremists pose.

“Since 9/11, our country has been fixated on the threat of Jihadi terrorism. But the horrific tragedy at the Emanuel AME reminds us that the threat of homegrown domestic terrorism is very real,” the group said in a statement, referring to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

Other victims included Cynthia Hurd, a 31-year veteran of the Charleston County Public Library, and Sharonda Coleman Singleton, an associate pastor at the church, according to statements by the library and Charleston Southern University, attended by Singleton's son.

Five of the dead, four women and one man, were ministers at the church, said William Dudley Gregorie, a Charleston city councilman, as he left a memorial vigil.

“This is going to put a lot of concern to every black church when guys have to worry about getting shot in the church,” said Tamika Brown while waiting for a prayer vigil at an AME church near the site of the shooting. “They might need security guards, police officers.”

Churches around Charleston were packed at midday, with crowds spilling out into the city's streets.

Eight victims were found dead in the church, Mullen said, and a ninth died after being taken to hospital. Three people survived the attack.

Roof was charged on two separate occasions earlier this year with a drug offense and trespassing, according to court documents.

Roof's mother, Amy, declined to comment when reached by phone.

“We will be doing no interviews, ever,” she said before hanging up.

“It is a very, very sad day in South Carolina,” Governor Nikki Haley, a Republican, told reporters. “Parents are having to explain to their kids how they can go to church and feel safe, and that's not something we ever thought we'd deal with.”

Lowcountry Leisure — Southern Escape Steeped in History


So you’ve seen “Big Fish,” “Forrest Gump” and “Driving Miss Daisy,” and now you think you know what the South is all about — old mansions, moss-draped oaks, steamy swamps. Think again.

The South is a vibrant tapestry of culture, and its Jewish communities are important threads. Atlanta, Miami and Nashville are thriving tourism destinations, but Charleston, S.C., featuring luxuriant gardens, long porches and rocking chairs filled with laughing guests sipping sweet tea, is also flush with Jewish history that dates back to the 17th century.

It’s a city founded and steeped in religious tolerance. In 1669, an elaborate charter for the Carolina colony drawn up by English philosopher John Locke granted liberty of consciousness to “Jews, heathens and dissenters.” Sephardic Jews made this Atlantic port city the largest Jewish community in North America prior to the Revolutionary War, sharing the Lowcountry streets with Catholics and Protestants from France, Scotland, Ireland and Germany.

A popular winter destination for wealthy colonial Bostonians, Charleston also became a haven for religious colonists fleeing harsh policies in Georgia from 1740 to 1741. A substantial Jewish population founded Charleston’s first synagogue a decade later, followed by the Jewish Coming Street Cemetery in 1762.

More than 6,000 Jews currently make their home in Charleston, a community that features three synagogues, a day school and a Jewish community center, as well as a Jewish studies program at a local university. For observant tourists who want to feel transported back to the 18th century, a downtown kosher bed and breakfast is located a short walk from the city’s Orthodox synagogue.

Charleston not only features America’s first museum (The Charleston Museum) and its first Anglican church, but it is also home to the first Reform congregation established in the United States. Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim on Hasell Street is the oldest Jewish building in Charleston and the second oldest synagogue in the United States.

Established in 1749, the congregation completed its current Greek revival-style synagogue in 1840, after a fire devastated its original site in 1838. During construction, the synagogue became the first in America to install an organ, a change that came 17 years after congregant Isaac Harby first lead 47 Jews to petition for English-language Shabbat services and prayers that reflected contemporary American life. A weathered plaque hangs outside, listing the site on the National Register of Historic Places, and the synagogue remains the oldest in continuous use in the United States and the oldest surviving Reform synagogue in the world.

Congregation Brith Sholom Beth Israel is an Orthodox synagogue located on Rutledge Avenue in the Medical district. Founded in 1854 under the name Berith Shalome by Polish and Prussian Jews, the shul was the first Ashkenazi Orthodox congregation in the city and is the oldest of its kind in the South. The congregation’s Web site features a list of city’s kosher amenities.

Synagogue Emanu-El on Windsor Drive is Charleston’s newest kid on the block, having been founded in 1947. The Conservative congregation is the first in the state and is located on five wooded acres in the West Ashley area.

Two books are available to help you unearth the Jewish history of Charleston during your stay, “A Portion of the People: Three Hundred Years of Southern Jewish Life ” by Theodore and Dale Rosengarten (University of South Carolina, 2002) and “Explorations in Charleston’s Jewish History” by Solmon Breibart (History, 2005). But who better to bring the rich story of Charleston’s Jewish community to life than a tour guide?

Janice Kahn of Chai Y’all Tours has more than 30 years experience as a licensed tour guide. While certain elements of her Jewish heritage tour always remain the same, she customizes each tour based on the interests of the participants.

Also available is Rhetta Mendelsohn, who has been conducting tours of Charleston as a licensed guide for more than 25 years. Her tours average two to three hours and focus on Jewish history, with many stories about Jewish families in the Charleston area and its surrounding plantations.

There is no shortage of historic lodgings, like the John Rutledge House, the Wentworth Mansion or the Francis Marion Hotel. After all, who wouldn’t want to sleep in a comfortable four-poster bed, surrounded by antique furniture with an ornate fireplace and luxurious carpets?

But you don’t have to sacrifice if you keep kosher. The Broad Street Guest House is a bed and breakfast set in a three-and-a-half-story home constructed in 1884. Located in the South of Broad neighborhood, the home is a short walk from Congregation Brith Sholom Beth Israel, as well as the harbor, shops and other Charleston attractions. The Orthodox shul’s Rabbi Ari Sytner oversees kashrut for Broad Street, which serves three glatt kosher meals a day, as well as a special Friday night dinner and Saturday lunch. Rooms at the house feature kitchenettes.

“[Guests] always tell me how courteous the people of Charleston have been to them as they tour the city,” said Broad Street’s innkeeper, Hadassah Rothenberg, who added that the best season to visit is either spring or fall.

There is always enough to see and do in Charleston’s Historic district. Occupy half a day shopping on King Street, where many of the shops started by Jewish proprietors still exist today. Berlin’s for Men (and now Berlin’s for Women), Bluestein’s Men’s Wear and Read Brothers Fabrics recall a time when King Street was once called “Little Jerusalem,” an area featuring jewelry stores, dry goods establishments, groceries and delicatessens all owned by Jewish merchants.

When it comes to dining, King Street features Pita King, a kosher Mediterranean restaurant run by expat Israelis Moshe and Talia Cohen. Customers can choose to dine in or take out.

Just east of King Street is Jestine’s Kitchen at 215 Meeting St., where a friendly wait staff serves up traditional Southern cooking — fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, green beans, collards and key lime pie. The restaurant is owned by Dana Berlin (niece of Henry Berlin) and named for Jestine Matthews, who worked for the Berlin family for many years and stayed with the family for generations.

Hyman’s Seafood Company at 215 Meeting St. is a popular local restaurant, as is Aaron’s Deli, located next door at 213 Meeting St. The brothers, Hyman and Aaron continue to operate this family restaurant, which first opened its doors in 1890.

Roslyn Farhi is the author of two children’s books, “Molly’s Cupboard” and “Molly’s Century.”

Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim — ” TARGET=”_blank”>www.bs-bi.com

Synagogue Emanu-El — kahntours@aol.com

Rhetta Mendelsohn
(843) 577-5277
Rhetta44@comcast.net

The Broad Street Guest House
” TARGET=”_blank”>http://www.hymanseafood.com/

Aaron’s Deli

Shalom Y’All


"Shalom Y’all" sounds suspiciously like a slogan designed to sell souvenirs to Jewish visitors in the American South, and indeed the phrase adorns T-shirts, mugs and other paraphernalia in the gift shop of Charleston’s Beth Elohim Synagogue.

But the drawled greeting is also common parlance amongst the Jews of South Carolina, who have enjoyed 300 years of virtually uninterrupted prominence and prosperity in this unexpectedly rich corner of the Diaspora.

Unexpected indeed is what the community of refugees preoccupied itself with after flocking to these shores in the 17th century. It was not only non-Jews who profited from rice and cotton plantations, kept slaves, presided over grand antebellum mansions, dueled with pearl-handled swords and engaged in a futile fight to defend the Confederate flag. Ex-Londoner Francis Salvador, elected to the South Carolina Congress in 1774, became not only America’s first Jew elected to high office but the first to die liberating his colony from British rule.

What brought the first, mainly Sephardic, Jews to Charleston was its remarkable religious tolerance, not to mention the economic prospects elevating them to a new aristocracy to which their Ashkenazi kinsmen who followed greedily aspired. Thus the shameful lust for slaves, the choice accessory of the period even for Jews paying annual lip service to their own release from slavery in Egypt. However, it was a high-principled Jewish grocer who redeemed the community by refusing to segregate his black customers in the dark days before civil rights prevailed.

As well as the exhibits celebrating Jewish life at the excellent Gibbes Museum of Art, there is much to delight the visitor to Charleston, whose beautiful and historic homes, churches and public buildings have been preserved in aspic by poverty. For more than a century after the Civil War, there was no money for urban renewal, though now the city is enjoying a boom, new buildings are creeping in and the slow pace of life associated with the South is confined in this city to Battery Park, where magnificent colonnaded mansions line streets lined with cobblestones brought from England. A plethora of horse-drawn carriages and trolleys tour the streets of the historic district, but the only way to get into the side streets and alleys, where so much of Charleston’s elegant residential life is played out, is to take a walking tour.

Ruth Miller covers Jewish history as well as all the general sights in her Charleston strolls, including handsome Beth Elohim, built in Greek-revival style in 1840 to serve a congregation already a century old. Against the trend of European synagogues designed for Ashkenazim but now used by larger, younger Sephardic congregations, this one has evolved in the opposite direction. It comes as a shock to find that while there is no separation of worshippers at Beth Elohim, where America’s Reform movement was founded in 1824, there is a gallery in place down the road at St. Michel’s Church, designed to separate not men and women but whites from blacks "and other strangers" in the bad old days.

You don’t need a tour guide to get into the handsome church or many of the town’s historic homes and gardens, since local groups — from august preservation societies to the flamboyant Hat Ladies of Charleston — are falling over themselves to open their doors to visitors. Away from the "Gone With the Wind" opulence of the townhouses — notably the 1818 Aiken-Rhett House, where antebellum urban life is faithfully showcased, Drayton Hall documents plantation life warts and all, and the Charleston Museum’s Heyward-Washington house offers a glimpse of the neighborhood that inspired the setting for "Porgy and Bess." When it comes to accommodations, there is an embarrassment of choices in Charleston, choc-a-bloc with historic inns. Opting for a modern red-brick hotel seems on the face of it bizarre, but Orient Express endowed its award-winning Charleston Place property with the kind of luxurious and festive atmosphere that must have prevailed in the heady, prosperous years of the Confederacy. Rooms are large and opulent, and the hotel’s grill room, presided over by double-Michelin-starred Bob Waggoner, offers a sumptuous dining experience.

But perhaps the finest food in the state is to be found at the Beaufort Inn, a favorite haunt of Tom Hanks, who filmed "Forrest Gump" in this delightful little seaside town, an hour’s drive south of Charleston. Like Charleston, Beaufort boasts a plethora of historic mansions but is a lot sleepier. One of its greatest charms is access to the marshy sea islands where the world’s finest cotton was once grown. Since the abolition of slavery the area has become a hotbed of African American culture; check out the acres of colorful and highly collectible folk art on view at the Red Piano Too gallery on St. Helena Island before continuing to Hunting Island State Park with its primeval jungle, wild beach and lighthouse. Lazybones might never get beyond the verandah of the beautifully appointed Beaufort Inn or the delightfully indolent urban pursuits — browsing excellent bookshops, fressing sundaes in the old-fashioned ice cream parlor or taking a slow Carolina horse-drawn buggy ride round town.

Golfers and serious shoppers are lavishly catered to nearby on swanky Hilton Head Island, with its pricey top-end resorts, championship courses and designer malls, but there is less specialized and more affordable seaside entertainment on offer a couple of hours’ drive north at Myrtle Beach, which must be America’s largest and most economically democratic resort. The Grand Strand, a fabulous stretch of wild, wide white beach stretches 60 miles from Shag, where the young and funky crowd hang out, all the way down to much posher Pawley’s Island. This may be the pleasantest place to stay, thanks to the Litchfield Plantation Inn, which offers period rooms, contemporary cottage and haute cuisine. Many guests never get beyond their private deck beside a creek lined with live oaks dripping Spanish moss, the state’s most evocative attribute. But it’s worth a 35-minute drive to seek out the high-quality live entertainment for which Myrtle Beach is famous, including top-class variety with a country twist at the Carolina Opry, Dolly Parton’s hokey North-vs.-South Dixie Stampede, tribute bands at Legends, and top rock and R&B acts at the House of Blues, where live music is served up free to outdoor diners and the folk art collection alone demands a trip. Culture vultures will enjoy the sculpture trail at nearby Brookgreen Gardens, where some magnificent 19th and 20th century pieces are displayed in a verdant setting.

Note that travel into the Carolinas is painless now with the opening of Charlotte as a gateway, its airport compact, efficient and a fine introduction to southern friendliness.

Courtesy of featurewell.com.