We are a nation literally and figuratively ablaze. Whether actual fires burning in many of our cities, or the pungent flames of institutional racism that have burned far too long, our country is on fire, and there appears to be little water in sight. By now, many of us have watched in horror the video of George Floyd’s last minutes on this earth. Murder in any form is horrific, but to watch a killing that could have been prevented, and one that was perpetrated by the very people tasked with protecting our lives, should shatter us all.
Just hours prior to Floyd’s killing, in Central Park in New York City, a different but equally ugly racist incident transpired. Amy Cooper and Chris Cooper (no relation) had what seemed like an ordinary dispute. The kind that happens every minute in New York, and that barely warrants a second glance. He wanted her to put her dog on a leash, as per the rules of this area in the park, and when she did not comply an argument ensued. When Ms. Cooper yelled in his direction, “I’m taking a picture and calling the cops. I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life,” the altercation took on a more extraordinary tone. Her use of white privilege by preying on institutional racism at its worst should illicit disgust in us all. But we can no longer stop with a public display of disgust, followed by inaction. Many of us are unfortunately, inherently guilty of the very problem without realizing the role we play.
In the Mishna Torah, Maimonides writes, “It is a positive commandment from the Torah, to cry out and sound trumpets for all evils that happen to the community.” We have cried out enough against racism, maybe even more than many others, but little has changed. Maybe that is because as Maimonides states a few sentences later, “But if we do not cry out and sound [trumpets], but rather say, “’What has happened to us is the way of the world, and this trouble is merely happenstance’” — it is surely the way of cruelty, and it causes them to stick to their bad deeds. And the trouble will add other troubles.” Perhaps we have not done enough. Perhaps we have dismissed racism as someone else’s issue, or worse still, we have hidden from the racism that exists within us all. We cannot possibly eradicate our nation’s institutional racism problem, when it continues to live within so many of us individually.
As a community we mourn the losses of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, and we shudder at the idea that they are just a few tragic examples of the violent racism perpetrated unnecessarily on black people in America. We pray for calm and for peaceful protest, the bedrock of dissent within a free society. We pray for an end to all violence and looting that only mask real issues that are in desperate need of repair. We pray for an end of racism and bigotry of all kinds. We pray for a deeper understanding of ourselves and the power to fix from within so that we will have the ability to influence others. Finally, we pray that every American will be able to see the good and the Godliness in one another. As American Jews, we believe both in the religious and civic idea that all people are created equally. We cannot rest until we see the fruition of this important ideal.
Sandi Moffet- President Rabbi Joshua Gruenberg Rabbi Debi Wechsler