Tag Archives: social justice

Irwin Noparstak, Social Justice Advocate

Irwin Noparstak, Social Justice Advocate

Our long-time friend and social justice advocate, Dr. Irwin Noparstak, passed away in late October at the age of 84. He worked on mental health issues, and after retirement, he became involved in several interfaith organizations because he felt it was important for him to represent progressive Judaism in various settings. Over 200 people of various faith traditions attended the service. My friend, Marion Malcolm of the Community Alliance of Lane County, who worked with Irwin for several decades, spoke at the memorial service held for him at the Temple Beth Israel in Eugene. Here are a few excerpts from her talk:

“Irwin did an amazing job of educating, advocating and organizing on a range of social justice issues. I was among the many who were fortunate to work side by side with him. To all the causes that drew his energy he brought both passion, deep passion, but also precision. Precision is not always a hallmark of grassroots efforts, but the efforts Irwin was involved with benefited from his attention to detail and to his careful note-taking. He often circulated notes the same day a meeting happened. Irwin was never a passive participant. He always more than pulled his weight in any group that enjoyed his involvement.

Irwin opposed U.S. intervention in Central America, distressed by the parallels he saw to the Vietnam War in which he had served and which he had come to strongly oppose. Irwin would have traveled to El Salvador or Nicaragua on the delegations that were happening in those years, but he didn’t feel he could responsibly do that, as he was a single parent at that time, devoted to his adopted daughter, Jacquelyn.

Irwin’s values and political perspectives influenced his practice as a psychiatrist. He served many Vietnam veterans, helping them work through the impact of their wartime experiences on their lives. He was at the same time part of a community of anti-war veterans. He also worked for Alternatives to Militarism and became engaged in counter-recruitment work, challenging the hype of military recruiters and making sure that young people knew what they were getting into before they enlisted. We knew that young people received a barrage of glossy materials from all branches of the military about the time they turned 18, and that the military promised job skills, education, and travel. So, using lists of new drivers from the DMV (Dept. of Motor Vehicles) back when those were still publicly available, we developed a “birthday packet” that we sent to young people turning 18, pointing them to other ways to find jobs and to serve abroad, ways that did not involve militaristic intervention. I remember sitting at the table in the CALC office with Irwin, addressing those packets.

Irwin was a strong advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and a key activist in the Religious Response Network. The RRN existed to make sure that far right groups and congregations were not the only voices emanating from religious communities, that an interfaith community could send messages of acceptance and love, could offer safety and support.

Irwin opposed bigotry of all kinds. He and his wife Joan were partners with us, in founding the Understanding Antisemitism Project… It involved vulnerability and a bit of courage. And I know that Irwin often did not feel safe in Eugene as a Jew. I know that he felt haunted by the cross that used to stand on Skinners’ Butte, where KKK crosses once burned. He may not have felt safe, but that did not stop him.

I want to say a few words that go beyond all Irwin’s work for human rights and social justice, all his challenging of militarism and bigotry, to talk about the way he did the work, to talk about the comradeship he built among those he worked with, the way he became a sweet, thoughtful, supportive friend to his colleagues. If you collaborated with Irwin, you knew he saw you, you knew he cared about you. You probably received some of his personal notes on cards that he made with his photos. He lent his love and strength to many of us who were fortunate to become his friends. He helped us all keep going.”

I knew Irwin for about 25 years. We saw each other at our Interfaith Dialogue group every month. He was a strong supporter and contributor to Skipping Stones. Each year he gave gift subscriptions to many people he knew—young friends, educators, rabbis, and ministers. We will miss him dearly.

Irwin touched so many lives and we’re sure, saved some lives too. So, in sorrow but with deep gratitude, we want to say, “Irwin Noparstak, presente, presente, presente.” Irwin Noparstak is still with us, still with us, still with us.

—Marion Malcolm and Arun N. Toké, editor.

The Codependency between ‘Peace’ and ‘Trust’

By Aliya S., grade 7, INDIA

The literal definition of peace would mean a state of calm, quiet and serenity. But the human race is far more complex, so we would refer to peace as a time of truce—no wars, no violence and no issues that need to be resolved, whereas trust is considered to be the belief of sincerity, either thought or expressed by a person. While the concepts of peace and trust are commonly misidentified as each other, in reality, they are interdependent in order to create a long-lasting, somewhat fantasized period of harmony. 

Obtaining peace is no easy feat, as it has to be mastered from within. Only a person at peace with themselves and their surroundings can achieve peace as society. There is only one path to peace, and that requires change. Change of thought, change of expression and changing actions to words, which believe it or not, has been proven (occasionally) to be more powerful than actions. Currently, peace is a fictional concept, because it requires something most of us lack-a sense of mutual trust. 

(Indian) Farmers have left their homes and have chosen to raise their voices even in the harsh circumstances they now face, because they do not trust the government and ITS corporate policies THAT they fear. Our deterministic chaos is but one pesky gnat that prevents us from living peacefully, whereas the lack of trust and therefore, communication, acts as a barrier instead. Farmers, the souls of our very nation, just wish to come to a mutual agreement with the government to ensure that they receive at least a minimum support price (MSP) for the crop they grow, harvest and sell. Instead, they sit out in the cold, protesting because they fear the new farm laws. The people who spoke up for them, who were supposed to be encouraged, were punished instead. This brings us back to the notion of change, and how the mere thought of change in our society can lead to drastic measures taken just to prevent it. 

The lack of communication has caused a rift between two sides, which can only be solved with the government delivering practical solutions through dialogue, which will reinforce trust-leading to peace.

By Aliya S., grade 7, INDIA.