(JTA) — Pamela Stevenson, a Democratic state representative in Kentucky, was chatting recently with her friend Zahava Kurland about one of Kurland’s duties at her Orthodox synagogue: preparing the dead for burial.
“She was trying to explain to me certain things that had to be done,” Stevenson, who is also a Black Baptist minister, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency last week. The seemingly esoteric topic was one of many the two women have discussed over more than a decade of weekly Friday-morning conversations — which cover anything from politics and friendship to faith and being one’s true self.
Stevenson said her conversations with Kurland have made her attuned to Jewish sensibilities. “She’s always listening for and giving me information” about Judaism and Jewish experiences, said Stevenson, who was first elected to the Kentucky legislature in 2020.
So Kurland was not surprised when, in a viral speech on Wednesday decrying her fellow lawmakers for signing off on a law that bans gender-affirming care for trans youth, Stevenson also centered antisemitism.
“First, you hated Black people,” Stevenson said, addressing the Republican lawmakers who voted for the legislation. “Then, you hated Jews. Now, you’re hating everybody. So the question is, when the only people left are you, will you hate yourself?”
Kurland said her friend is a listener and naturally empathetic, so she would be sensitive to how hatreds intersect.
“She’s truly well balanced,” said Kurland. “She truly cares about people.”
Stevenson says she looks forward to her Friday morning talks with Kurland. She said the conversations have helped give her a more expansive perspective on life, which drives her to fight bigotry.
“I really believe that I will never know as much as she knows,” Stevenson said. “But I can develop an appreciation for what it’s like and not use my view of the world as the only view of the world.”
What prompted Stevenson’s floor speech was the overwhelmingly Republican legislature’s override of Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto of a law that bans a range of medical treatments and practices for trans youth. It outlaws doctors from providing gender-affirming treatment to youth; requires them to cease care if it has already begun; bans conversations in schools about gender identity or sexual orientation; bans school districts from allowing transgender students to use the bathroom aligned with their gender identity; and allows teachers to refuse to use a child’s preferred pronouns.
The bill was introduced weeks after state Sen. Karen Berg’s trans son, Henry Berg-Brousseau, died by suicide. Berg, who is Jewish, said that referring to the anti-trans bill as a parents’ rights bill is an “absolutely despicable affront to me personally,” according to The Washington Post. Stevenson, who has appeared alongside Berg at rallies, called her “phenomenal” and said, “This is infinitely more personal for her.”
Stevenson said that she mentioned anti-Jewish hatred in her speech because she believes hatreds are mutually reinforcing, and she connects the anti-trans sentiment she sees with rising racism and antisemitism.
“If you have a model where you have to hate somebody to win, then you always have to have somebody to hate,” she said. “People say it was out of nowhere, but it’s really out of somewhere. We’ve gone through the cycles of the Native Americans, the Black folks have been hated for a long time, the disabled. Everybody is always on the bottom of that model. And in just recent years, it was the Muslims, then it was the immigrants, and then it was back around the Blacks again. And so because of this overflow of hate, there’s been an uptick in antisemitic actions.”
Stevenson said her mission is to make people cognizant of the roots of hatred. “People want to say that all the attacks against the Jewish temples and the Jewish people in recent times came out of nowhere,” she said, referring to reports of a spike in antisemitic attacks. “No, it did not. We just have chosen not to pay attention to what’s been said.”
Kurland, who is a member of Congregation Beth Jacob in Atlanta, and Stevenson, a retired Air Force Colonel and an attorney who is running to be Kentucky’s attorney general, met in 2006 when Stevenson was serving in the Air Force and Kurland was working as an accountant in Atlanta. They attended a three-day course with Landmark, the personal development program that presses participants to face uncomfortable truths about themselves.
“When we were closer-in logistically she came over very often for Shabbos meals,” Kurland said. “I often invite people for Shabbos meals and the holidays and I love explaining, you know, how Judaism gave more to the world than anything, anybody, any person. Torah, Judaism has given the world its whole structure for society.”
The Air Force started moving Stevenson around. “That’s when we started talking on the phone all the time, because we couldn’t get together,” Kurland said.
Stevenson is “a committed listener, someone who’s going to hear you and call you out on your stuff,” Kurland said. “It’s not a friendship where you massage each other’s egos. It’s a friendship where you hold each other to account for who you say you are.”
They each speak with outrage at the lawmakers who, they feel, would breach the relationship between a parent and a child.
“As a mother, how dare you interfere with one of the most intimate relationships?” Stevenson said two weeks ago during debate on the bill, addressing Rep. Jennifer Decker, a Republican who was its lead sponsor. “We have no right to interfere in the parental rights.”
Kurland agrees. “These are all decisions to be made between a child and his parents or her parents and their doctor,” she said. “It has no place for the government to have anything to do with anything.”
And both Kurland and Stevenson say religion is a key part of their identities.
“Judaism is the center part of my life,” said Kurland. “It’s what I am, it’s who I am, it’s what I’m about. And as a Jew, you cannot sit by and let another one of God’s human beings [be excluded]. I mean, when we honor other people, we are doing God’s work. We are honoring God. When we cut people out, then we’re not “
Stevenson likewise calls herself “a woman of faith.”
“I believe what is required, in almost every faith that I know of, is to love one another and take care of the people around us,” she said.
Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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