Sasso: Let’s stop putting people in boxes

(Indianapolis Star, June 12, 2017)

A few years ago we needed to redo our basement after a fire caused significant damage. We engaged in the unpleasant task of removing the furniture and putting everything else in boxes, which were appropriately labeled. The floor was replaced and new drywall was installed. The restoration work was finally completed. Slowly, we began emptying the boxes and putting items in their proper places. Actually, we did not empty all of the boxes. We made a conscious decision to leave some of them unopened, thinking that if we ever moved to a smaller place, we could get rid of these.

This is exactly what is happening in our country. We have had a major shake-up in government and we are putting everyone in boxes with labels. We seal them shut and hope against hope that we will never have to engage with what or who is inside. This is not just coming from the right, but from the left as well.

One easy way of dismissing a group of people is to put them in a box, to label them with a derogatory name. Once we call someone fascist or socialist, a sexist or a racist, we immediately shut of any possibility of dialogue or engagement. All Republicans are in one box; all Democrats in another. There is a box for Muslims and another for Jews. There is a box for young black males and one for single mothers on food stamps.

We take the words of the people in the boxes out of context, twist them and amplify them in order to get larger groups of people to agree with us. When people we label try to explain themselves, we dismiss them, because after all, they come from people in the box we have “branded.” And so, we end up living in a country of “little boxes made out of ticky tacky”.

None of this name-calling allows for a conversation in which different people can ever get to know one another, to understand each other’s fears, their dreams, and what they really believe. We think the worst of each other, and make enemies out of friends, and antagonists out of partners. When leaders do this, they make war.

We are highly polarized. We read the news, but only the news in our box. Internet logarithms makes certain that the more we read one kind of post, the more we see posts that are of similar nature. We tend to be friends with people who think the same way we do. We are inclined to listen to the radio and television news that agree with us. We rarely step outside our boxes.

Our brains are set up to seek out evidence that endorses what we already think. This confirmation bias leads us to search only for evidence that reaffirms what we already believe to be true. We suspect and criticize any evidence to the contrary, regardless of fact.

If we are going to move forward as a country, we need to ask ourselves – what would disprove what we think to be true? What would cause us to look for that evidence and take it seriously? We need to stop putting whole groups of people in boxes and labeling them.

I am reminded of an ancient Jewish story that tells of two friends in a boat. One starts drilling a hole under his space. His companion asks, “What are you doing?” The friend replies, “Why does it bother you? I am only drilling under my own seat!”

We are all in the same boat; we are really all in the same box. It is time we recognized this.

MAY 19: RABBI SANDY SASSO

(Jewish Currents, May 18, 2017)

by Lawrence Bush

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Sandy Eisenberg Sasso became the first woman ordained as rabbi by the Reconstructionist movement on this date in 1974. She was also the first woman to serve as rabbi in a Conservative congregation (Indianapolis’ Beth-El Zedeck), and she and her husband Rabbi Dennis Sasso were likely the first rabbinical couple in Jewish history and certainly the first to share a pulpit. Sasso is the author of fifteen award-winning children’s books that transmit the texts, spirituality, and ethical values of Judaism in an accessible and vivid way, including  God’s Paintbrush, Adam and Eve’s First Sunset, and In God’s Name. Recipient of several honorary doctorates, she has been deeply involved in issues of women’s equality, education, hunger, and the arts. Sasso spoke to a crowd of 7,500 at Indianapolis’s Women’s March after the inauguration of Trump, on the theme, “We are not going back.” “We who have gathered here are from many faiths, cultural and ethnic traditions, and walks of life,” she declared.  “We have come as Americans, especially as American women. In our diversity, we are the face of America.”

“In 1960, women could not purchase contraceptive devices and medications to control their own pregnancy and could not receive comprehensive sex education in the school. We are not going back. In 1960, women made up less than 1 percent of medical and law schools, and many job opportunities were closed to them. I know; I entered a profession in which there were no women. We are not going back. In 1960, homosexuality was considered a psychiatric disorder, discrimination was rampant, and marriage between people of the same sex was prohibited. We are not going back.” —Rabbi Sandy Sasso

Sassos: Health care act a violation of basic human values

(Indianapolis Star, May 11, 2017)

To treat health care solely as a bottom line, consumer driven product and not also as a moral mandate is to demean the covenant of citizenship.

What if government were prepared to allow 24 million people to lose their health care coverage over the next 10 years? What if people were told that if you had catastrophic illness, it was your problem alone, and that a nation had no collective responsibility to the welfare and care of its citizens?

What if our government proposed that a woman who had a C-section or had been a victim of domestic violence could be considered to have a “pre-existing condition” that would significantly increase the cost of her coverage? What if The Essential Health Benefits provision were abolished, eliminating maternity coverage, new-born care and mental health services, resulting in the loss of coverage to 13 million women?

These are not hypothetical questions. This is precisely what the American Health Care Act (AHCA) just approved by the House of Representatives could do. It should be inconceivable, but it isn’t. The vote was hurried, before the Congressional Budget Office could come out with an assessment of the costs and impacts. The American Medical Association, the American Cancer Society, the National Disability Rights Network, the American Federation of Teachers are among 50 organizations that have condemned the bill because of its devastating consequences to millions of Americans.

There are 9,800 Medicaid patients in Indiana who access birth control, cancer screening and STD testing and treatment through Planned Parenthood who will be blocked from receiving that care. Under this new bill, millions of women could lose access to maternity services. Individual states would be able to decide if new mothers with Medicaid coverage should be required to work. So much for protecting the health and wellbeing of newborn and family life.

Women who had breast cancer could be charged a premium surcharge of more than $28,000 per year for coverage and women who had been previously pregnant could face a surcharge of more than $17,000 a year. A proposed pool of funds to help subsidize pre-existing conditions is insufficient. So much for not discriminating against women.

Beginning in 2020, the AHCA could eliminate Medicaid coverage for basic mental health and addiction services in states that had previously expanded it. Reps. Joe Kennedy and Peter Welch introduced an amendment in committee to include mandates for substance abuse and mental health coverage, but it was defeated along party lines. There were 33,000 Americans who died of opiate overdoses in 2015. So much for addressing the mental health and drug crisis.

The moral obligation to care and heal is the hallmark of any civilized society. Every faith tradition affirms the responsibility to care for the sick, and to protect and enhance the well-being of all, regardless of economic status. Everyone is created in the image of God. To turn aside from those in need, is turn away from God.

To treat health care solely as a bottom line, consumer driven product and not also as a moral mandate is to demean the covenant of citizenship. It is ironic that those who promote prayer in public schools and who proclaim pro-life and pro-family credentials would endorse such a blatant violation of basic human values. The AHCA is not a prescription for the health of Americans but a diagnosis of what is wrong when politicians put expediency above compassion and responsibility.

Let us make sure that the Senate prescribes for the health of America.

Sandy Sasso is senior rabbi emerita of Congregation Beth-El Zedeck and director of the Religion, Spirituality and the Arts Initiative at Butler University. Dennis Sasso is senior rabbi at Congregation Beth-El Zedeck in Indianapolis. 

Sasso: Don’t cut funding for the arts

(Indianapolis Star, March 22, 2017)

The White House’s proposed budget for 2018 would eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. This exclusion will make barely a dent in federal spending. The NEH and NEA receive only .001 percent of a nearly $4 trillion budget. Compare the estimated cost of $38 billion required for a border wall between Mexico and the United States with the $148 million that supports the arts and humanities. The administration is making a statement about what it is we value as a nation.

There are those who believe by eliminating these agencies, they are “targeting waste.” They suggest that the arts are not really necessary; they do not rise to the level of national security that requires increased government resources. But the defense of democracy requires precisely what the arts and humanities give us. Studies have shown that exposure to the arts and humanities improves social and emotional development, increases empathy and generosity, encourages civic engagement and expands cognitive development. These skills are not a waste, but essential to the fabric of our nation. (more…)

A force for change: Zionsville-founded advocacy group looks to expand around state

(The Lebanon Reporter, March 22, 2017)

By Elizabeth Pearl 

Like many, Jennifer Nelson Williams and Sandy Sasso were concerned about the state of their country after the 2016 election.

Like many, they took to social media to create an online-based group of women who shared their concerns.

Unlike many, the group ballooned to nearly 11,000 members, pulling in supporters from around the state who have attended rallies and workshops and volunteered to run task forces. (more…)

Sassos: Immigrants commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans

(Indianapolis Star, March 7, 2017)

Some have suggested that President Donald Trump’s recent speech before Congress offered a more conciliatory and collaborative tone than previous pronouncements. But tone does not override content.  Particularly egregious was Trump’s call to the Department of Homeland Security to establish VOICE, Victims of Immigration, Crime Engagement, a program that would focus on crimes committed by illegal immigrants. During the speech, Trump recognized four people whose loved ones had been killed by immigrants. Certainly, our sympathies go out to all who have lost loved ones. But Trump’s message was ideologically tainted by the claim that violent crime in America is the result of an irresponsible immigration policy. This initiative is eerily reminiscent of 1940s Germany, where “immigrants” (Jews) were singled out and listed as criminals. (more…)

Scenes of creation

(Greenfield Daily Reporter, February 17, 2017)

GREENFIELD — Arms outstretched, she falls.

The woman depicted in artist Cagney King’s work “Fall from Grace” is a light spot on the canvas.

“She’s falling because there’s that unknown,” King said. “She’s that figure that represents all of us as lights in the world.”

King created the work at her studio in the Creative Arts and Event Center in downtown Greenfield, with texts of the creation narrative as a starting point.

King and 13 other Indiana artists came together to explore those texts and offer their interpretations of them through works of art. They will share those works in an exhibit that opens at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Christian Theological Seminary, 1000 W. 42nd St., Indianapolis. (more…)

Women4Change Indiana creates an activist sisterhood that fights for all

(Nuvo, February 15, 2017)
So, what happens when a rabbi and a funeral director get together to talk about the state of the world? You get women championing for change.

It’s not the set-up or the punch line of a joke, nor was it meant to be.

It’s the truth of how Women4Change Indiana began.

Like a lot of women in our community — and around the country — Rabbi Sandy Sasso found herself disheartened by the national results of the general election.

“Some people say our hearts were broken,” says Sasso. “But more than that there was a sense of despair and we were hearing that from a lot of women.”

Sasso heard the sentiment from so many women, including Jennifer Williams, president of Aaron-Ruben-Nelson Mortuary (ARN). It didn’t take long for the two to decide that they should offer the women they knew — and others they didn’t — the chance to talk about the despair all were feeling. (more…)

Sassos: ‘We stand with immigrants’

(Indianapolis Star, February 7, 2017)

On Jan. 29, more than 1,000 people came together at the Indianapolis International Airport to express opposition to the president’s ill-conceived and prejudiced Executive Order barring immigration to the United States from seven Muslim-majority nations.  We were privileged to be among the speakers at that gathering.  Following are our remarks, first Dennis’ and next, Sandy’s:

Dennis: “I stand with you as an immigrant to this country.

I stand with you as a descendant of Jews who, escaping the Inquisition, came to the New World, found refuge in the Caribbean islands and arrived in this land before the birth of the United States. (more…)

Read Rabbi Sandy Sasso’s “We Are Not Going Back” Speech From the Indianapolis Women’s Rally

(Indianapolis Monthly, January 27, 2017)

Is #teaspoon trending yet?

Indy’s esteemed Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso was one of several speakers at a women’s rally that drew an estimated 7,500 people to the Indiana Statehouse on Saturday. Her speech was simple yet potent, recalling basic rights minorities lacked as recently as 1960. Some women in the crowd nodded along, remembering when those limitations existed. The crowd joined Sasso in punctuating each statement with a refrain of “we are not going back.” The oration ended with a teaspoon metaphor that illustrated the power of many small contributions. Here is the full text of the speech (written and copyrighted by Sasso) and a photo gallery from the event: (more…)