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6.26.15 Issue

by Mark Kirchhoff, Center for Jewish Life

Over the past several weeks, eyes around the state, in addition to eyes around the country, have been focused on human rights in Nebraska. It is certain that the media has reported the practical aspects of the death penalty, the legal aspects of importing lethal drugs, and the use of the penalty as an alleged deterrent to crime. These aspects and more will be the focus of a three-part Friday Learning Series, Human Rights: Controversy and Clarity taught by Ari Kohen, Schlesinger Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Sessions will meet July 17, 24, and 31 from 11 a.m. – noon, in the Kripke Jewish Federation Library.  Tuition is $26, reduced to $21 for those in good standing with their contribution to the Annual Campaign of the Jewish Federation of Omaha

“Human rights are always a topic of interest, and one that inevitably leads to much discussion and controversy.  People are often firm in their convictions and beliefs” commented Ari. “This all leads to interesting, impassioned, and sometimes heated discussions. I’ll do my part to keep it informative and interesting in an atmosphere that encourages discussion and questions.” With a quiet smile, he adds: “‘Heated’ is not the goal.” Ari, who teaches a full semester on human rights at the university, will focus on areas that feature both Jewish tradition and current events in Israel.

The first week, Ari will explore the question, “Where do human rights come from, and why do we think we have them?” His discussion will include an exploration of Jewish law as found in the Bible. “We will discuss what differences there are, if any, from that basic foundation to the way we look at human rights today,” Ari explains. “Are human rights so fundamental that nothing changes over time, or are there significant differences in what and how we view them today?”

Ari will look at human rights at the local level during week two. As an example, he focuses on the death penalty debate currently raging in Nebraska. “It is easy to think only about the legal aspects of this,” says Ari, “but there is also the moral and human rights aspect that plays a role. To what extent should moral consideration govern public policy?  Whose standards should be used?” Ari also asks if income inequality is a topic for human rights consideration. “Do all people have the right to a particular income level, and if so, who is to ensure that this takes place?” Ari asks. He encourages you to bring your thoughts and reasons for them to the discussion.

On the international level, week three will focus on issues widely discussed not only in Israel, but throughout the world. What is required of Israel as a sovereign country and how might it be impacted by a formal Palestinian presence at the International Criminal Court? What about Hamas and similar groups – are they bound by human rights considerations? Is Israel held to a higher standard than surrounding Arab nations? Why is there such a focus on what Israel does and not what other nations do? As the title for the series says, the topic of human rights is laced with controversy. We encourage you to register for Ari Kohen’s Friday Learning Series sessions to find some clarity.

To register for the series, contact Mark Kirchhoff at 402.334.6463 or

The Friday Learning Series is presented through the Center for Jewish Life whose mission is to maximize involvement of Omaha’s Jewish community in imaginative, compelling and meaningful Jewish experiences.