Sassos: Let’s teach our children not to hate

(Indianapolis Star, August 30, 2017)

It is with horror that we watched the news of the white supremacists and neo-Nazis rally in Charlottesville, Va. What struck us most about the marchers was their youth. This was not an old and shrinking population but a new and growing one. We asked ourselves, “How did they learn such hatred?”

It is said that no one is born hating. Recall the song from South Pacific: “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear. You’ve got to be taught from year to year. It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear. You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

Psychological research teaches us otherwise. Prejudice is not acquired from birth, but child development specialists’ report that by age 3, children have ideas about gender, race and people with special needs. To make sense of the world, children think in categories: girls, boys; black, white…. They divide people into good guys and bad guys. Children do not just naturally outgrow these ideas unless these intuitive ways of seeing the world are challenged.

So, it is respect, tolerance and love that need to be “carefully taught.” For too long we have assumed that if we take a color-blind approach to society, pretend not to notice differences, all will be well. But children are not color-blind. They notice that people have different shades of skin, types of hair, facial features. They observe that people celebrate different holidays, speak different languages, wear crosses, stars, hijabs and turbans. We have naively believed that if we didn’t point out these distinctions, our children wouldn’t notice them. But we have been wrong. Denial and avoidance don’t work.

When parents and educators focus on our commonalities only and don’t talk about what makes us distinct, children are left to surmise that difference is somehow bad, something adults are afraid to discuss. Without adult guidance, there is none to correct these misconceptions. We need to teach that it isn’t difference that is bad, but the belief that differences imply the superiority of some and the inferiority of others. We should teach children to not only accept, but to affirm and celebrate diversity. Children who learn the value of diversity are more likely to identify and reject prejudice and discrimination.

What can we do to help our toddlers grow up into less hateful tomorrows? We must acknowledge what our children ask and tell us about race and religion and talk openly with them about difference and diversity. We must help them discern stereotypes and correct oversimplification and false characterization. We must create opportunities for families to build friendships across diverse races, cultures and religions. We teach our children not only by what we say, but by what we do. Children are good observers of our behavior.

If we want our children to have hearts of kindness, it is not enough to for them to “save the whales” while ignoring another child in the classroom or playgroup. It is important to collect canned goods for the hungry and also to invite an unpopular classmate to the cafeteria lunch table. We teach our children to correct bad grammar. We must also give them the tools to correct gossip, hate speech and slander when they hear it.

The racists who marched in Charlottesville were wrong! Attempts to draw parity between the actions of those who hate and those who stand up to bigotry, especially when coming from the president, are morally reprehensible; a terrible lesson for our children.

Rather, let us teach our young about an America, which, in the words of President George Washington, “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” As President Abraham Lincoln envisioned, let us renew the tasks of building a nation, “With malice toward none, with charity towards all,… that we might achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace….”

How presidential!

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: Trump missed opportunity to inspire

(Indianapolis Star, August 1, 2017)

Boy Scouts make three pledges: duty to God and country, to other people and to self. Duty to self, defined by U.S. Scouting, involves living a life of honesty, being clean in speech and action, and being a person of strong character. Scouts value good citizenship, integrity and compassion.

President’s Donald Trump address to the Scouting Jamboree was deeply troubling. His talk to 45,000 adolescent boys did nothing to elevate those values. Instead of promoting good citizenship, he said, “You know I go to Washington, and I see all these politicians, and I see the swamp, and it’s not a good place. In fact, today, I said we ought to change it from the word ‘swamp’ to ‘cesspools’ or perhaps the word ‘sewer.’”

So much for encouraging engagement in good government and service to country.

Instead of fostering humility, Trump touted the size of the crowd and his win in November. He denigrated others and the free press. Honesty lost once again to “fake news.”

Instead of encouraging respect of past leaders of state who have served our country, he mocked President Barack Obama and criticized Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Instead of presenting life models of courage and dignity, he spoke of a rich friend who bought a yacht and “had a very interesting life.” Trump went on to explain, “I won’t go any more than that, because you’re Boy Scouts, so I’m not going to tell you what he did (in it). Should I tell you? Should I tell you? You’re Boy Scouts, but you know life. You know life.” So much for thoughtful wisdom for pubescent boys and respect for women.

Instead of nurturing inclusivity and respect for diversity of religious faiths, he said, “And, by the way, under the Trump administration you’ll be saying, ‘Merry Christmas’ again when you go shopping.” So much for remembering that the Christmas message is not about consumerism and acknowledging that Scouts come from many religions and celebrate different sacred days.

Days after the Scout speech, Trump tweeted that he would no longer allow transgender individuals to serve in the military. He must have forgotten that the new policy of the Boy Scouts is more enlightened. It accepts transgender boys.

Whoever has the honor of speaking to young people should know better than to boast, denigrate and demean. The charge is to challenge, encourage and inspire.

The messages that our youth receive on a daily basis are: “What you have is never enough.” “Keep nagging and you will get what you want.” “Fit in at all costs.” “How you look matters more than who you are.” Young people need adults who counter those messages.

An address to a group of Scouts might consider the following advice:

Be strong, but remember that strength has nothing to do with physical prowess or bravado. The greatest signs of strength are self-control and resilience. It takes a strong person to be gentle. Bullies are not strong; they’re afraid.

Be courageous, but remember that courage isn’t about not being afraid; it is, as the Hoosier singer Carrie Newcomer has taught, “about loving something enough to brave the scary parts.”

Be careful what you do with your words. You can use them to tear people down or to lift them up. It is easier to attack people than to inspire them. Choose respect over disparagement.

Be kind. Life sometimes leads us to cynicism. Bad experiences, mean people and unfortunate luck can make you angry or compassionate. Remember, both graciousness and hate have the power to change the world. You can choose what you want your legacy to be.

Young people are impressionable. They deserve to be inspired so that they might aspire; to be challenged so that they might achieve; to hope so that they might flourish.

Our president missed the opportunity.

Sasso is rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth-El Zedeck and director of the Religion, Spirituality and the Arts Initiative at Butler University.

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. (more…)

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.” (more…)

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? (more…)

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…)