Session 3: You Gotta Fight for Your Right! Political Freedom

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Session 3: You Gotta Fight for Your Right!

Political Freedom

Goals Wheelniks will study an example of the Jewish commitment to advocating for political freedom. By examining the Soviet Refusenik era and the connection between Heschel, MLK and the civil rights movement, Wheelniks will recognize that the fight for freedom is ongoing and an American responsibility.

 A Call to Action – Social Action and political freedom – Pidyon Shevyim, FSU refuseniks, Heschel and Martin Luther King

Essential Questions: What is justice? What does it mean to advocate? How does advocacy demonstrate a free society? What are different types of societal freedom and how do they protect and defend us?
Enduring Understandings

.Wheelniks will understand the concept of societal freedoms that have historically been restricted. Wheelniks will understand the idea of advocating for justice in a free society. Wheelniks will understand that freedom and equality does not come without effort. Voices must be raised (political awareness and advocacy) for change to come about (this will lead into the next series of sessions on “standing up for what you believe in”)

1. Create an Experience

Leader comes in and lists new Wheels East rules (completely unfair, unjust and ridiculous rules)

Examples: Wheels East participants must now abide by the following rules:

 You must sit beside the same person every single day for the rest of the trip

 guys can only talk to guys and girls to girls

 You can only ask the staff ONE question per day

 If we go to a museum, you are not allowed to speak AT ALL

Etc. (speak seriously even if the ones you make up are ridiculous)

Offer consequences: if any of these rules are broken, you will have to write a letter of apology and phone home to explain to your parents that you broke the USY on Wheels East rules
Wheelniks will whine about the new rules. Let them react.

  1. Analyze and Discuss

 Okay, these rules are fake. But…what did you learn from this exercise? What did you recognize about fairness and injustice? How did you feel being treated so poorly by those who are supposed to look out for you? What emotions did you experience?

3. Integrate the experience and analysis
Read text from Dvarim out loud:
“Tzedek Tzedek tirdof”- Justice, justice you shall pursue

Dvarim 16:20

 Why is tzedek repeated?
Terms to know: Tzedek, Tikkun Olam
Part of being a free people is the pursuit of justice- fighting for the rights of all people. Judaism takes the pursuit of justice very seriously, repeating the word twice. We know how important Tikun Olam is and fighting for freedom and justice is a major method of repairing the world.
4. Teach the Concept - your rights in a free society. As an American, what are your rights?
Societal freedoms such as defense, the right to bear arms (no, not the right to bare arms!), freedom of speech, rent control, freedom to choose employment, freedom of religion, taxes to help the poor, legality of alcohol, etc. are examples of rights associated with a free nation. What would you do if these rights were removed?
Split USYers into 4 groups. Hand out copies of personalities, one to each group.

“Being Black in American 1965” – Rosa Parks, MLK

“A Soviet Refusenik and the Gulag” the story of Natan Sharansky and the Jewish American response

Vietnam War

Darfur – Elie Weisel, United States Holocaust Memorial Speech

Read through the examples of social injustice and decide how these people “pursued justice” What freedoms were restricted? How did laws/ social norms restrict them? What elements of justice were they lacking?
5. Practice defined givens and add an element of yourself:
Exercise: Imagine you are living at this time, dealing with this issue. What would YOU do in your situation? What do you think others did?
Group 1: You are on the bus with Rosa Parks. You watch this situation happen. What are your options?
Group 2: Role play a letter exchange between an American Jewish activist and Natan Sharansky. Fight to end oppression of Soviet Jewry

How does the “let my people go” line Shemot (the Passover story) relate to this? Itt became the motto of the refusnik cause!

Group 3: Imagine you are living in America in the late 60s. Your brother has been drafted to fight in Vietnam, a war that you believe just shouldn’t be happening. Now, it affects your own family and you’re mad.
Group 4: Genocide in Sudan/Darfur

Real life. Right now. Read through the bolded parts of Elie Wiesel’s speech on Darfur. This is an ongoing issue. What can YOU do?

(attachments: Elie Wiesel USHMM Speech, Rosa Parks story, Natan Sharansky story, Page 2 of background info on Darfur)

  1. Debrief the experience

Those who were bold enough to stand up for the cause took action. They protested on the streets, in front of government buildings…they wrote letters and marched, they made their voices heard and found strength in numbers

We live in a society where political freedom is a right, not a privilege. However, we’ve had to fight for it in different ways at different times. What were your discussions like? Were they heated or uncomfortable? Did it help to understand the situation by putting yourself in the situation? Why is it so hard to advocate for political freedoms as Americans? Do you think we take our freedom for granted? Do we not stand up until it affects us? Would the Holocaust have been different if people were more willing to advocate? How or why is justice or advocacy such a dominant JEWISH cause? Why is it always on the forefront of Jewish causes?
7. Apply to a new experience: Wheelniks on Strike!
Create a false new Wheels East rule (example: everyone in bed by 9pm, no social or chofesh time, etc) and have the Wheelniks learn how to protest! Supply them with posters and markers, paper and pens for writing letters to the government (group leaders), have them make announcements to rally together, etc.

Group 1: Rosa Parks

Era: 1960’s America (Alabama)

Rosa Louise McCauley Parks (February 4, 1913October 24, 2005) was an African American civil rights activist whom the U.S. Congress later called "Mother of the Modern-Day Civil Rights Movement". She is credited as really sparking the civil rights fight.

On December 1, 1955, Parks became famous for refusing to obey bus driver James Blake's order that she give up her seat to make room for a white passenger. This action of civil disobedience started the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which is one of the largest movements against racial segregation. Segregation meant that blacks and whites had to sit separately in all public places. In addition, this launched Martin Luther King, Jr., who was involved with the boycott, to prominence in the civil rights movement. She has had a lasting legacy worldwide. She had a long day and was tired…her inaction to move led to major action to make a difference for African American rights and freedoms.

You are on the bus with Rosa Parks. You watch this situation happen. What are your options? Role play it.

Group 2: Natan Sharansky in the Gulag

The Jewish civil rights struggle: Soviet Refuseniks and the fight to free Soviet Jews, era: 1980’s America
Term to know: Refusenik – During the Cold War, Jews were seen as traitors or a security liability. Refuseniks were Soviet Jews who were refused the freedom to practice as Jews and refused the freedom to emigrate (leave the country). Natan Sharansky became the face of the Refusenik cause.

While imprisoned in the Soviet prison, known as the gulag, Natan’s wife Avital, advocated to world Jewry to free him. American Jews, who were active in the civil rights movement in the US, now turned to world issues to fight for. The protest song of Moses’ demand to Pharoah, “Let my people go” (Shelach et ami) found new meaning as Jews around the world fought to free Soviet Jews living in Communist Russia. How is the Soviet Jewry situation comparable to Jewish slavery in Egypt?

Refuseniks who were denied visas out of the Soviet Union, lost their jobs and were seen as a burden on the Soviet society. They were exiled to Siberia and imprisoned in the Gulag.
Sharansky Speaks: *appeared in Time Magazine and Newsweek and on countless news channels. He became the face of the Refusenik population
“Five years ago I submitted my application for exit to Israel. Now I am further than ever from my dream….I am happy that I lived honestly, in peace with my conscience. I never compromised my soul, even under the threat of death…for more than 2000 years, the Jewish people, my people, have been dispersed. But wherever they are, each year they have repeated ‘next year in Jerusalem.’ Now… I say, turning to my people…Next year in Jerusalem!” And I turn to you, the court who were required to confirm a pre-determined sentence: to you I have nothing to say”
An American Activist speaks

Pamela Cohen, former national president of the Union of Councils of Soviet Jews

“Our dream was inviolate and unshakeable. We were defiant and unrelenting and stubborn and we fought on every front…where Jews were fired from their jobs… where they were stripped of their academic degrees…where they were denied medical attention. We fought for the right of our people in prison and labor camps. We fought anti-Semitic article after anti-Semitic article and we knew that every battle…had to be won”

Role play a letter exchange between an American Jewish activist and Sharansky writing from the gulag.

Group 3: Fighting Vietnam
Loh yisa goy el goy cherev, loh yilmedu od milchama

Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall learn war anymore
Era: 1960’s America
Role Play:

Your brother has just been drafted to serve in a painful, ongoing war you are so much opposed. Now, your family is affected and you’re MAD. You have the opportunity to speak to a US senator. Decide as a group, how you would approach this issue.

Vietnam was divided between south and north. North was Communist and the US government (Eisenhower, then Kennedy), sent troops to fight in order to help the South defend itself against the North. Johnson, who replaced Kennedy following his assassination, sent more US troops to North Vietnam and the bombing escalated. He expected that the show of force would cause the Communists to surrender. The Northern Vietnam Communists kept fighting, waiting for the Americans to tire. However, the antiwar movement in the US kept growing. Abraham Joshua Heschel played a leading role in the anti war movement forming the Clergy Concerned about Vietnam group. He claimed that as clergy “to speak about God and remain silent about Vietnam is blasphemous (not pious). Synagogues endorsed the withdrawal if American troops in 1966. Some Jewish groups endorsed the war so that they were not be conflicting with their desire for the government to continue to send weapons to help Israel. The Clergy group mentioned above, advocated to allow more men to avoid being drafted into the war if they ethically objected to it.

Do you agree with what Heschel said? Why would clergy in particular be so concerned about war?

Group 4: Darfur

*skim through it, discuss bolded words and questions in margin



Remarks delivered at the Darfur Emergency Summit, convened at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York on July 14, 2004, by the American Jewish World Service and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Sudan has become today’s world capital of human pain, suffering and agony. There, one part of the population has been – and still is – subjected by another part, the dominating part, to humiliation, hunger and death. For a while, the so-called civilized world knew about it and preferred to look away. Now people know. And so they have no excuse for their passivity bordering on indifference. Those who, like you my friends, try to break the walls of their apathy deserve everyone’s support and everyone’s solidarity.

 So what that people know? It hasn’t stopped it
Indifference- not caring or doing anything about it


As for myself, I have been involved in the efforts to help Sudanese victims for some years. It was a direct or indirect consequence of a millennium lecture I had given in the White House on the subject, “The Perils of Indifference”. After I concluded, a woman in the audience rose and said: “I am from Rwanda.” She asked me how I could explain the international community’s indifference to the Rwandan massacres. I turned to the President who sat at my right and said: “Mr. President, you better answer this question. You know as well as we do that the Rwanda tragedy, which cost from 600,000 to 800,000 victims, innocent men, women and children, could have been averted. Why wasn’t it?” His answer was honest and sincere: “It is true, that tragedy could have been averted. That’s why I went there to apologize in my personal name and in the name of the American people. But I promise you: it will not happen again.”

 Why does the world stand by while people suffer?


That brutal tragedy is still continuing, now in Sudan’s Darfur region. Now its horrors are shown on television screens and on front pages of influential publications. Congressional delegations, special envoys and humanitarian agencies send back or bring back horror-filled reports from the scene. A million human beings, young and old, have been uprooted, deported. Scores of women are being raped every day, children are dying of disease hunger and violence. How can a citizen of a free country not pay attention? How can anyone, anywhere not feel outraged? How can a person, whether religious or secular, not be moved by compassion? And above all, how can anyone who remembers remain silent?

As a Jew who does not compare any event to the Holocaust, I feel concerned and challenged by the Sudanese tragedy. We must be involved. How can we reproach the indifference of non-Jews to Jewish suffering if we remain indifferent to another people’s plight?

It happened in Cambodia, then in former Yugoslavia, and in Rwanda, now in Sudan. Asia, Europe, Africa: Three continents have become prisons, killing fields and cemeteries for countless innocent, defenseless populations. Will the plague be allowed to spread?

Lo taamod al dam réakha” is a Biblical commandment. “Thou shall not stand idly by the shedding of the blood of thy fellow man.” The word is not “akhikha,” thy Jewish brother, but “réakha,” thy fellow human being, be he or she Jewish or not. All are entitled to live with dignity and hope. All are entitled to live without fear and pain.

Not to assist Sudan’s victims today would for me be unworthy of what I have learned from my teachers, my ancestors and my friends, namely that God alone is alone: His creatures must not be. What pains and hurts me most now is the simultaneity of events. While we sit here and discuss how to behave morally, both individually and collectively, over there, in Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan, human beings kill and die. Should the Sudanese victims feel abandoned and neglected, it would be our fault – and perhaps our guilt.

And if not now, when?

Get up, stand up: Fighting for your beliefs
Sicha 1: Speak up! What do I believe? Why do we fight, what is worth fighting for and how can I fight for it? Jewish texts on justice, examples of advocacy (civil rights) and people involved

 race relations, free speech, freedom of religion, reproductive rights, gender equality (Betty Freidan)

Sicha 2: Modern Advocacy: Darfur, Global Warming, Pidyon Shvuyim (Israel)
Sicha 3: Advocacy: can I really make a difference? Methods of advocacy. What can kids/young adults do to change the world? Create a service project or something to prepare for Capital Hill
Goals: Wheelniks will determine what they believe in, their values in response to justice and rights. Wheelniks will examine the Jewish perspective on rights and standing up for what you believe in,

They will examine examples of advocacy (following the previous session on political freedoms) and what can be done to make a difference. They will explore modern examples of advocacy and practice methods of advocacy to learn how to make a difference.

Essential Questions: What do YOU feel strongly about? What values, rights do YOU fight for? Why do people stand idly by when there is suffering? What do YOU believe can and should be done? Why is the pursuit of justice such a strong Jewish cause?
Enduring Understandings: Wheelniks will understand the extreme necessity to stand up against injustice. They will recognize inequality and unfairness and gain skills to fight against what they believe to be wrong

Session 1: Speak up! What do I believe?


Wheelniks will gain perspective on what they will believe. They will understand what it means to stand up for what you believe in and learn from secular and Jewish sources, the Jewish obligation to advocate. They accomplish this by exploring examples of advocacy on a number of “hot topics”

Sequence of Instruction:

  1. Create an experience - Walk the Line

With tape, mark a line dividing the room in half (if on Shabbat, make a line with clothing or something else). Split the group into 2, half on one side of the line, half on the other.
Call out the “What would YOU fight for?” statements attached. Ask the Wheelniks to step up onto the line if they agree with the statement. Ask them to step back once the statement has been read. For each one, ask them why they would stand up and fight that cause.
2. Analyze the experience

Were there any statements that you hesitated to answer? Why did you feel so strongly about some and not others? Describe what it would be like to not have anything to stand up for?

3. Integrate the analysis and experience

How does standing up for something you believe in leave an impact on you? What is the benefit for YOU? Why do we fight for causes? What causes do we fight for and why?

4. Teach the Concept
Jewish sources on justice and standing up for what you believe in (advocacy)
Post Jewish sources of justice and advocacy (attached) AND IMAGES around the room or on the floor spread apart so they can stand by them
images will help them explain the Jewish insistence on pursuing justice

How do the pictures justify the words? What emotions do you feel looking at these pictures? Do images motivate you to want to do something (seeing is believing?)

Why do we advocate for causes, why do we stand against injustice? Choose the quote or image that most represents what you feel is the reason we advocate. Explain your choice. Can you think of a type of advocacy that would motivate you to pursue justice?
5. Practice the Givens and add an element of yourself
Split Wheelniks into 5 groups
Hand out one cause to each group (attached).
Explain to group: A large donor is interested in giving to a cause. You represent an advocacy group. Read the background info on your topic and decide on WHO your advocacy group represents, WHAT you stand for, accomplishments- what you’ve done for this cause and WHY you would be deserving of the donation.
Present it to the big donor as a commercial. Use emotion to attract the donor to your cause (humor, sadness, empathy, understanding, creativity)
How would YOU advocate for this cause?
* for gender equality (group 2) and women in the Conservative Movement,

use page 97 of Dror Yikra sourcbook for A Timeline of Evolution of Egalitarianism in Conservative Judaism

Groups present one by one. The “big donor” (group leaders) discusses and chooses a “winner,” deciding that no cause is of greater or less importance, the money will be divided among a number of causes.
6. Analyze and Debrief

Each of these issues stirs controversy and debate. Each forces one to consider the different sides and perspectives and decide whether to take a stand. Each of you is or was in some way affected by these issues. How did it feel having to take a stand? What kinds of debates did you encounter? How do you handle different opinions and perspectives respectfully? Imagine working as a law maker for the government, can you make laws that protect EVERYONE?

7. Apply to a new experience
Think in your head of a cause YOU would fight for today. What new law would stir you to get up and fight for what you believe in? What do you feel strongly enough about to really take action and not “stand idly by on the blood of you neighbor”?

Attachment: What would YOU fight for? Statements

Italics explain common attitudes, don’t read out loud until after they’ve moved
Stand on the line if you agree, step off if you disagree

  1. Richer people should have to pay more taxes so they poorer people can receive subsidies and support (economic disparity)

  1. My family comes first- I would fight for my family’s rights before someone poor or desperate the “it doesn’t effect me” reason why people don’t help out

  1. People who don’t work hard, don’t deserve help why should I give to them if they aren’t willing to help themselves?

  1. People who are abused and refuse to leave their situation, should not be helped. They should help themselves before anyone else steps in. Why can’t they just leave the situation?

  1. The government needs to make decisions based on what’s good for everyone and not just minorities like ethnic groups and poor people. yes, but what’s good for richer white people isn’t going to help poorer minorities

  1. laws are meant to protect all people and are fair. “Fair” to one isn’t fair to all

  1. people should have the freedom to live as they wish, regardless of consequences to others Full freedom would bring utter chaos, people need boundaries

  1. If something is offensive, it should not be published in newspapers What is considered offensive? Eg. Israel

  1. The government should have stricter laws for what goes on TV. Can we restrict what people find entertaining? What if children see it? What if they aired a show denying the Holocaust?

  1. Women with children should be required to only hold certain jobs. Statistics show that children benefit more from a mother being at home.

Attachment: Jewish sources on Justice and advocacy (cut out or write on poster paper)

“Tzedek Tzedek tirdof”- Justice, justice you shall pursue – D’varim 16:20

why is ‘tzedek’ repeated? Pursue is such an assertive word. Why use this word instead of ‘follow’ or ‘go after’?

“In a free society, where terrible wrongs exist, some are guilty, all are responsible”
Abraham Joshua Heschel


“loh ta’amod al dam reyecha”: “You shall not stand idly by the shedding of the blood of your fellow human.” (Vayikra 19:16)
Why is it reyecha and not achicha? Why is it your fellow human and not brother like in the Cain and Abel story? Responsibility to all of mankind

“Ayeka?” – Where are you? Genesis 3:9

(After Adam eats from the tree of knowledge, God asks him “where are you?”)
What does this have to do with advocacy and the pursuit of justice?


The person who saves a single life, saves the entire world

- Talmud Yerushalmi, Sanhedrin 4:9

“Rabbi Hillel said: If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” – Pirkei Avot

Gender rights:

Genocide in Rwanda and Darfur

suffering in third world countries

Homelessness (poverty)

Women’s rights/feminism

Religious freedom

Reproductive rights (the right for women to choose what happens to their bodies)

Free speech (the freedom to voice your opinion, no matter what it is)

Racial rights

Environment (natural disasters)

Children’s rights

Domestic Violence

If Not NOW…when? Standing up for What You Believe In

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