Freedoms – 9.30.22

Freedom is a well-used word that carries weight, promise and challenge. I like the notion of three types of freedom: “freedom from,” a freedom from constraints; “freedom to,” a freedom to do what we want to do; and “freedom to be,” not just to do what we want, but a freedom to be who we are. Then there are the Four Freedoms proposed by President Franklin D Roosevelt in 1941: freedom of speech and expression; freedom of worship; freedom from want and freedom from fear. All of these can provide a useful framework for real events, as Associate Dean for Equity, Randall Hughes and I discussed this week.

There is an enormous amount written and sung about the topic, because absence of a freedom can be devastating. This week saw ongoing protests in Iran in support of women’s freedom to dress as they choose. The story is troubling - Mahsa Amini, 22, was arrested by ‘morality police’ in Tehran on Sept 13 accused of disobeying the law that requires women cover their hair with a hijab, or headscarf. According to police, Ms Amini collapsed and subsequently died in hospital, with allegations that she was beaten by police. Ms Amini’s funeral was followed by protests including women burning their headscarfs. 83 people have been killed in the protests to date, which continue across several cities in the region. The situation has relevance for oppressed women everywhere, including in the United States.

In Jackson MS, residents have long suffered from unreliable and unsafe water. Since 2016, residents have received 750 ‘boil your water’ notices, 40% of those in the last two years. The situation became critical in August, when for a month undrinkable or no water came from taps, but water bills kept coming. 80% of Jackson residents are Black and a quarter live below the poverty line, and the state has not allocated funds to fix the water supply. The NAACP has filed a federal complaint stating that civil rights laws have been violated, with racial discrimination. It makes me truly angry that United States citizens cannot have freedom from want of safe drinking water - there is no excuse. And hurricanes this season, Fiona in Puerto Rico, Ian in Florida have devastated towns, homes and lives. We hope that your family and friends in these areas are safe. The impacts of these disasters will be disproportionately felt by those in marginalized communities, whose freedoms are often impacted by climate-change related and political tensions.

On our minds are freedoms related to people identifying as LGBTQ+, including the proposed rollback of transgender rights in VA this week, and the removal of Pride flags in West VA schools. And there is ongoing discord around removal of freedom to abortion, with this important perspective. Such decisions have led to protests, highlighting these as one of the primary outlets for demanding freedoms.

This week, I had the personal freedom to chant from the Torah during High Holiday services, using a scroll rescued from the Holocaust. It is deeply moving to touch this scroll and remember the religious freedom it represents. It’s also deeply moving to me as a woman who grew up in an Orthodox landscape, where only men were allowed to touch the Torah. Now, as a member of a Reform congregation, I understand that freedom for women to fully participate is inestimably powerful.

Finally, as you know, in-person events, including religious services are packed, as we want to feel free from COVID. Many of you know this perception is not accurate, and if you or your family is affected, I hope you get well soon. Please remember the power of masking (masks available on the COS Office front desk, help yourself), boosters, and paxlovid if you get sick.