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‘It’s on us.’ Jewish clergy weigh in on the role of Jews in the aftermath of George Floyd

The country has been reeling since the murder of George Floyd in police custody nearly two weeks ago. Citizens have taken to the streets in protest and come up against heavily armed police. Dozens of Jewish organizations have added their voices to those condemning racist violence against black communities and standing in solidarity with demonstrators.

We wanted to hear what guidance Jewish American clergy had for this moment in history, so we reached out to as many as we could. We were inspired by the quick and powerful responses — though dismayed that the respondents so far were overwhelmingly white. We hope more clergy, especially those of color, will add their voices. Send contributions to [email protected].

We asked two questions: What should the role of American Jews be in this moment? What does Jewish tradition have to say about moments like these?

Here are their answers:

Seth Adelson, Conservative, Beth Shalom Congregation in Pittsburgh, Pa.: On October 28, 2018, one day after 11 Jewish Pittsburghers were murdered by a hater with guns, I stood at a memorial service surrounded not only by Pittsburgh rabbis, but also Muslim and Christian clergy, black and white and brown.

Rabbi Seth Adelson

Rabbi Seth Adelson

The next day, on the street, an African American woman spotted my kippah. “Can I give you a hug?” she said. While I generally do not accept hugs from strangers, this one was welcome. I took it.

Just as a whole range of people stood up for the Jews when ours were killed, so too must we be there for them. Just as we cry out, as we have for centuries, regarding our oppression and indeed murder at the hands of anti-Semites, so too must we cry out on behalf of unarmed black men killed at the hands of law enforcement. We are all in this together.

Rachel Nussbaum, Non-denominational, The Kavana Cooperative in Seattle, Wash.:

Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum

Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum

In this moment, we recall that first and foremost, Torah speaks to us as human beings. God asks the first humans: “Where are you?” (to Adam, Gen 3:9) and “Where is your brother?” (to Cain, Gen 4:9). Where are we? Dismantling systemic racism must begin from a place of deep and sincere inner work (teshuva). Where are our brothers and sisters? We bear responsibility, and must now show up to stand beside — and not out in front of — our black friends and neighbors, in support of black lives, voting rights, justice, equality and equity. This is our human obligation.

Tiferet Berenbaum, Temple Beth Zion, Brookline, Mass.:

'It's on us.' Jewish clergy weigh in on the role of Jews in the aftermath of George Floyd

Rabbi Tiferet Berenbaum

This moment is calling American Jews to deeply own both our identity as Americans and our identity as Jews. Disregard for human lives cloaked in Black and Brown skin is America’s original sin. As Americans, benefiting from this land and all that it affords us, we are all culpable. As beneficiaries of that violence, we must each do our part to make a tikkun, a reparation.

As Jews, we are commanded “lo ta’amod al dam re’echa” (Lev 19:16). We cannot stand still while so many of our neighbors, our fellow Americans, are bleeding and dying. We have to move, we have to act!

For some, that means acting on the self, being willing to see racism, starting to learn the ugly truth about lived experiences and the systems that are so embedded in this country to oppress people of color that may have been invisible to you, those of you experiencing Whiteness, for so long.

For some, this means acting in our synagogues and organizations, listening to and lifting up the voices of Jews of color, in worship and in how we educate our youth, and following our lead where our lives are concerned.

And for others, this means acting on a government level, to affect justice for all.

Leading up to the November elections, there is so much work that needs to get done to ensure that all voices, especially Black voices, are represented in the polls. Jews who experience whiteness can use it to stand up for access, volunteer to be a poll worker, help people of color get ballots to vote for our American future.

In such a complex moment, it may be unclear what exactly is the right step to take. Jews who experience the world as White and practice allyship towards people of color realize that it is a practice, it is not perfection, and there will be mistakes along the way.

But the Torah is clear, the only wrong step to take is none. Move!

Michael Adam Latz, Shir Tikvah Congregation, Minneapolis

Courtesy of the subject

Image by Courtesy Rabbi Latz

Every year at Passover, we read the story of our liberation from Egyptian bondage. Not when they were slaves in Egypt. When we were slaves in Egypt. You and I.

How did we Jews resist and protest Pharaoh’s evil tyranny and our enslavement?

With God’s blessing, with Divine insistence, we shut off the power, disrupted traffic, interrupted commerce, ruined the food supply, poisoned the livestock, polluted the environment, and killed the first born Egyptian children.

All for the sake of our liberation.

We of all people must know the cost of silence, the dehumanization of slavery, and the Divine impulse for freedom and justice and human dignity.

George Floyd (z”l) wasn’t a stranger. He was our brother, our neighbor, our father, our son, our husband, our friend. Imagine in his eyes the eyes of your beloveds. How would we respond if the police had choked the life out of our beloved? What demands would we make? How would we be implicated?

We should be expected—we must expect of ourselves—to be the people rising up proudly and courageously with people fighting for Black lives, for radical police reform, for expansive reparations, for a world in which every human breathes free.

Jason Rubenstein, Non-denominational, Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale/Yale Hillel in New Haven, Conn.:

Rabbi Jason Rubenstein

Rabbi Jason Rubenstein

Look, I’d love to be able to tell you how Judaism is all about justice, and Hillel said “more justice, more peace,” and Heschel marched at Selma, so we’re not like those bad religious groups. But that’s self-satisfied and self-serving.

The Torah also gave the world the concept of divinely mandated genocide, and black-letter Jewish law shockingly allows Jews to subject their non-Jewish (chattel) slaves to degrading labor, the kind that the Egyptians imposed on our ancestors. It was Maimonides who first confronted Judaism’s own racist texts of terror head-on in a set of courageous essays that balanced realism and aspiration. We should follow his path of painful introspection, with the humble resolve that we have a great deal of internal work to do – textually, institutionally, and culturally — to become real allies in the fight against the evil of racism.

Sabrina Sojourner, Revitz House, Rockville, Maryland:

Courtesy of the subject

Image by Courtesy

We are Jews of Indigenous, African American, Chinese American, Ethiopian, Puerto Rican, Arab, Indian, Caribbean, Peruvian, African, Yemenite, Mizrahi, Sephardi, Persian, and Mixed Heritage. Some of us are Jews by Choice. Many of us have a long, unbroken lineage.

We are (among) the neighbors to be loved as you love yourself. (To learn about the origin of the term Jews of Color, click here.) We are not a newly invented inconvenience, for we have always been part of the Jewish people and there is no Judaism without us.

We know who we are and that we belong. Furthermore, those who contest our belonging say much more about themselves than about our spiritual right to be safely welcomed into Jewish spaces, without hassle or harassment.

This is especially important, now, as our Asian sisters and brothers are experiencing harassment by White America, because of our president’s insistence on calling COVID19 the “China Virus.” Our Black and African American brothers and sisters are in deep pain as more and more Black women and men are harassed and murdered by police. Latinx and Indigenous Jews receive the same unwanted police suspicion. Any one of us who “looks Muslim” can be harassed, if not murdered, for that resemblance. People of Color and all Jews are not safe by any measure in a White Supremacist system.

Jews of Color especially need our spiritual communities to be a refuge from the madness of White Supremacy, including reviewing curricula for diversity of Jewish experiences and Jewish thought. As easily as anti-Semitism in the Jewish culture is discussed, so ought racism and White Supremacy be discussed, as well as the pain it causes all parts of our communities. There is no eliminating anti-Semitism without erasing all manifestations racism.

White-skinned and White-identified Jews also need to examine their relationship to White Supremacy in particular and Whiteness broadly, including White privilege with a focus on how to use it to dismantle White Supremacy. It is good for all of us to understand the push by our White-skinned Jewish American ancestors for Jews to be seen as White.

I invite you into this conversation realizing that it may be difficult. You do not have to do it alone.

There are many reasons to know how many of us there are. So, if we want to count us Jews, we must do it with integrity to make sure we are counting each and every one of us as we are: a diverse and highly varied people who have many gifts for each other and the world.

Mitchell Wohlberg, Modern Orthodox, Beth Tfiloh in Baltimore, Md.:

Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg

Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg

Protests are important. They draw attention to the problem. But they offer no solutions. Several years ago my synagogue, an Orthodox synagogue, developed a relationship with an African-American church in a neighboring community. We have gotten to know each other in social, political, religious, settings. It has made all the difference in the world. For me personally, the minister of the church has become one of my closest friends.

Just imagine if every Synagogue developed a relationship with an African-American church. What a wonderful world it would be.

Dina Najman, Orthodox, The Kehilah of Riverdale in Bronx, N.Y.:

Rabbi Dina Najman

Rabbi Dina Najman

The Jewish position is that every person is created in the image of God. Every person has infinite value. If we see a person threatened, in peril, targeted or victimized, as was the case with the tragic killing of George Floyd, we are mandated to not stand idly by. We must do what we can to safeguard each person’s life. To save a life, pikuach nefesh, is of the utmost importance.

As such, we may not remain silent when there is potential danger and our voice can make a difference. We must do what we can to safeguard each person’s safety. Let us appreciate each other, stand together and create opportunities to strengthen one another and celebrate individuality with unified expression. That will truly glorify God’s creation of humankind.

Adam Stock Spilker, Mount Zion Temple, Reform, St. Paul, Minn.

Courtesy of the subject

Image by Courtesy

Those of us who are not Jews of Color need to know that we have fellow Jews who have perspectives we need to hear. All of us together have a mandate to be present to the challenges, to not hide our faces even if virtually or masked to protect life.

Last week, in an abundance of caution and fear, we had to remove our Torah scrolls from our synagogue as it is a few blocks from the Governor of Minnesota’s mansion. With the National Guard filling the streets alongside protesters and smaller groups of white nationalists, it was clear that our own safety is completely connected to the safety of all our brothers and sisters.

We must not be overly afraid nor afraid to address the ingrained issues of injustice in our society. It will be hard, but we cannot desist. Our hope comes from history and knowing that with many partners, we have the skills, wisdom, understanding, and power to redeem our world, as broken as it is at the present.

We are blessed with a roadmap in Torah if we listen. The values of love, justice, and mercy are beyond clear. The only question is whether we will hear the message and have the courage – the ometz lev/heart-strength – to step up to this moment. Hemingway teaches “Life breaks all of us. Some grow strong at the broken places.” And the Kotzker Rebbe responds: “There is nothing so whole as a broken heart.” May our hearts be broken, whole and strong.

Yoshi Zweiback, Reform, Stephen Wise Temple in Los Angeles, Calif.:

Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback

Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback

Here is our story, our master narrative: We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt. God freed us — for a purpose.

Our purpose is to bring liberation, compassion, and justice to the world. The values – and the privileges – that we want for ourselves, we must want for others as well. Now is a time to listen so that we might hear the pain, the agony, the heartbreak, and the righteous anger of our black and brown sisters and brothers. Their blood — like Abel’s — cries out to us. If we fail to act, to demand justice, their blood will be on our hands.

Mira Rivera, Romemu, New York City:

Courtesy of the subject

How did prophets find Voice? To what chapter and verse did they turn to? Did they drink in streets throbbing, earth convulsing, breath rattling as it is squeezed out?

I heave.

I reject your interstitial branding visioning phraseologies.

I am not beguiled by saccharin song to Breath of Life.

Cry raw cries, not smooth stylings of makeover justice!

It is the black man, woman, and child who are being killed by anti-blackness and our obfuscation thereof.

That is the trembling mountain lifted up front center and all around.

It is the black woman, child, and man who are gasping for pure O2 of reparation, not CO2 of diesel belching proclamation.

And these elaborate ritual worships that you fashion? They are not for Me, but for some manufactured idea of what you think is Me.

Take back your gifts from fatted coffers, cajoled from duress with duress for shiny shingles shouting your praise.

As for your symphonic shoving, stumbling over one other, snuffing the sobs of struggle, save them for your soirees.

“But let justice well-up like water, righteousness like an unfailing stream.” (Amos 5:24-25)

Elliot Kukla, Reform, San Francisco, Calif.:

Rabbi Elliot Kukla

Rabbi Elliot Kukla

I believe our role in the Jewish community right now is to listen to the voices of black Jews and black community leaders who are asking us to invest in community social safety programs, instead of the police. It is hard for many of us to imagine being able to keep each other safe without the police. We need to expand our vision of the possible.

What if when Sandra Bland was lost, she had been greeted by a trained communal service worker who oriented her and offered directions? Can you see a world, where we all take turns looking out for each other’s places of worship? Jewish history is based on leaps of imagination. We also could not visualize the sea parting or leaving slavery in Egypt, we just kept heading towards liberation.

Kelly Whitehead, rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College’s Jewish Institute of Religion, Brooklyn, N.Y.:

Kelly Whitehead

Kelly Whitehead

In this moment, the role of the American Jew should transform from “ally” to “upstander.” Social media posts and sharing resources are a great start, but now is the time for change. We must use our voices to defend black lives and demand police reform. Jewish tradition emphasizes the principle of Cheshbon Nefesh, a way to look at oneself deeply. The Jewish community, now more than ever, needs to look at itself and unlearn the internalized racism that causes implicit biases. This work may be tiring to those not used to wearing the burden of systematic oppression, but it is essential to building community. White jews must invoke their privileges while lifting up voices of Jews of color.

Gilah Langner, Reconstructionist/Renewal, Shirat HaNefesh, Chevy Chase, Md. and Kol Ami, Arlington Va.:

Rabbi Gilah Langner

Rabbi Gilah Langner

Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel taught us that the world rests on three things — on justice, on truth, and on peace. But actually, said RSBG, these three things are really one thing: If we do justice, truth is served, and peace will come.

I used to think this was mostly a cliche. But it’s not. The bills for America’s continuing, noxious racial injustice are way past due. And we Jews should know better: nothing is as fundamental to Jewish teaching as ensuring justice. Let’s remind ourselves of that, admit that we let it slip, and ask the African-American community how we can help them build a fully just society.

Aaron Alexander, Conservative, Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C.:

Rabbi Aaron Alexander

Rabbi Aaron Alexander

I can take it off.

I’ve experienced hate,
bigotry unchecked.
Passersby see it on my head
and unprovoked hatred swells red.
I know the pain, a burden
of being other than, but
I can take it off.
My kippah, removed
leaves me safe, invisible in masses.
A hat, still covered before my Creator
secure, sheltered in the open.
My pain a self-chosen shame
not a lack of pride, but an escape inside.
Because I can take it off.
My skin is my privilege, unearned
Even amidst other privileges, hard won.
But you can’t take it off.
Your burden, your pride
Your birth, denied.
Kills you outside.
Nowhere to hide.

I can take it off.


Howard Goldsmith, Reform, Congregation Emanu-El of Westchester in Rye, N.Y.:

Rabbi Howard Goldsmith

Rabbi Howard Goldsmith

Let’s be uncomfortable. Let us sit with the discordant, the mixed feelings, the complicated emotions, the horror of violence, the horror of history. Let’s שמע Shema, listen. Let’s listen to black histories and black experiences and black lives and for once, let’s not presume to know better. Let us accept the truth of another as we would want the other to accept our truths. The Shema teaches that when we listen, we can be an עד, eid, a witness. Witnessing the truth of another is the first step in the long journey towards repair – of ourselves, our communities, and our nation.

Denise L. Eger, Reform, Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood, Calif.:

Rabbi Denise L. Eger

Rabbi Denise L. Eger

For many years the Jewish community and Black communities have worked together. But also at times, we’ve been at odds. We cannot ignore the cries of injustice and the results of systemic racism that are in front of us. To do so is callous and dehumanizing. We cannot stand idly by the blood of our neighbors. We must listen with a whole heart. We must engage as a Jewish community (some of our members are People of Color) to the lived experience of the African American community. The Jewish community is not immune to racism. It’s time our organizations, leaders, and members do the hard work to educate ourselves and learn to be anti-racists.

Avi S. Olitzky, Conservative, Beth El Synagogue, St. Louis Park, Minn.

Speaking as a white American Jew, I see my role is two-fold. First and foremost, we should be engaging in the difficult act of listening. We should take a step back from our reflex to lead the charge, and instead follow and lift up those voices of color that have been muted and cast aside for far too long.

Second, once we’ve listened, assimilated the disparities, the injustices, the needs, then we need to shout and cry out until our throat bleeds and our mouth is parched, proclaiming liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof! The 400-plus year fight of our black brothers and sisters should be a call to action to the Jewish people — it is a desecration of God’s Holy Name, and an injustice anathema to our faith.

Welcoming the stranger is more repeated than any commandment in the Torah. But there is a nuance to this significance that many do not fully appreciate. Some believe that this is solely a charge to “welcome” those different than you, those who are not part of your “community.” But what this charge repeating again and again in the Torah implies is that we should be bringing the stranger into the fold and making them a part of the community. That is, making them no longer a stranger.

We should recognize that we are all different. But because we are different, we are the same, created in God’s Holy Image. And it is our charge to ensure that with respect to those who are treated as strangers – negatively, disparagingly, unjustly – it is our categorical moral imperative to lift them up and welcome them in. Else, as we’ve seen, the next step in the trajectory of “strangerhood” is oppression and even death. This is about not standing idly by the blood of our neighbors.

Adina Lewittes, Pluralistic, Sha’ar, N.Y./N.J.:

Rabbi Adina Lewittes

Rabbi Adina Lewittes

It’s not enough to mourn. We’ve done that before. We’ll likely mourn again. Sheltering prevents many from protesting or volunteering, but not from working for longer-term change.

First, listen. Then listen. Then listen again. And then act. Campaign. Vote. Donate. Invest. Dismantle institutionalized racism. Heal chronic hatred whose symptoms compromise everyone.

Injustice hurts more than those treated unjustly. It sickens us all. Woe to those who emerge from this crisis unchanged. Woe to those who know they are not racists, but who don’t combat racism. Now is the time to reset. Our country is crying out for change. Our country is crying out for you. Are you listening?

Shmuly Yanklowitz, Open Orthodox, Valley Beit Midrash in Phoenix, Ariz.:

Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz

Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz

The role of Jews at this moment is to listen. We’ve had our struggles for millennia with authority figures, so it would seem that we would want to take charge and steer the conversation; our trauma is earned. But we shouldn’t allow our trauma to overtake the conversation. Rather, at this turbulent moment, we, as a community, have to take the initiative to listen to the voices of the vulnerable and to be humble allies in their cause. Then, and only then, can we be true supporters of the movement to end violence, bigotry, and hatred once and for all.

Ayelet Cohen, Conservative, New Israel Fund in New York City:

Rabbi Ayelet Cohen

Rabbi Ayelet Cohen

“Do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed.”(Leviticus 19:16)

American Jews must be an active part of this struggle. Each of us has work to do. This action takes many forms: taking to the streets in protest, engaging in political advocacy, giving tzedakah to activists on the ground and organizations working for racial justice and police reform, voting, praying for healing, studying this country’s history of systemic racism, anti-blackness, and white supremacy, looking inward to examine our own racism and the sometimes painful, sometimes contradictory truths of the privilege and vulnerability we inhabit.

We need to confront the ways in which we fall short in acknowledging and celebrating the racial diversity of our Jewish communities. White Jews need to think about how much space we are taking up in conversations like this one, and how to use our platforms and our privilege to be active allies to African-Americans and all communities of color, and to teach our children the inherent value and holiness of black lives.

Eliana Fischel, Reform, Washington Hebrew Congregation in Washington, D.C.:

Rabbi Eliana Fischel

Rabbi Eliana Fischel

God created each of us in the divine image (Genesis 1:27); our systems of law enforcement, education, health, and incarceration missed the memo. As God’s partners, we are the only beings able to manifest God’s love and justice here on Earth. In this moment, that partnership demands that we work to create a society in which our institutions treat black lives as divine. May we find the strength to do this holy work and may all people one day walk the streets of America with full knowledge that they are divine, loved, and safe.

Larry Freedman, Reform, Joint Jewish Education Program in Pittsburgh, Pa.:

Rabbi Larry Freedman

Rabbi Larry Freedman

I will let others offer beautiful prooftexts, stirring prophetic words, articulation of Torah as an enduring call for justice. Let me be more succinct. At this moment, with leadership gleefully, happily racist, and quite a few followers grateful finally to spew bigotry freely, we very well might be at the point where the place of Jews in America is imperiled. You ask, “What might Jewish tradition say about moments like these?” Jewish tradition says, “Get your passport ready. We’ve seen this before.” Don’t wait for perfection of message in those who fight racism. Get to the streets. Or start packing.

Shlomo Zuckier, Orthodox, Yale University in New Haven, Conn.:

Rabbi Shlomo Zuckier

Rabbi Shlomo Zuckier

Why does humanity stem from a single Adam? The Mishnah offers three relevant reasons:

  1. “Whoever destroys a life has destroyed an entire world.” Every person is a world, every murder an omnicide.

  2. “To promote peace among the creations: none should say ‘my father is greater than yours.’” We are all children of one father (and Father) and must build society accordingly.

  3. “To show God’s greatness… God casts all people in Adam’s form, yet none resembles another.” We are all created in Adam’s and therefore God’s image. Racial diversity testifies to divine craftsmanship. Denigrating on the basis of appearance or identity insults both God’s image and artistry.

Sara Hurwitz, Orthodox, Yeshivat Maharat in Bronx, N.Y.:

Rabba Sara Hurwitz

Rabba Sara Hurwitz

When the Jews were enslaved in Egypt, they were described as being מִקֹּצֶר רוּחַ, as suffering of “shortness of breath” (Shemoth 6:9). Rashi adds, “Whoever is troubled (mayzar), his spirit (ruach) and his breathing are short (kazra), and he cannot breathe a long breath.” Today we are troubled.

Our breath is short. George Floyd was robbed of his breath. The days ahead will be fraught. People will spew profanities and make racist comments. Others will criticize the police. In this time of polarization we have to first and foremost look inside of ourselves and identify our own racist or anti-law-enforcement biases. Then, if we have the luxury of power, we must ask how can we wield our resources to help?

As I think about the road ahead, of all of the hard work of self-examination, finding my voice for justice, my breath catches in my throat. So, I take a deep breath, and in doing so challenge myself and those around me to emerge from our מִקֹּצֶר רוּחַ, our shortness of breath, and awaken a spirit, a רוּחַ deep within ourselves that will be a source of justice, courage, peace and healing that our world so desperately needs right now.

Shalom Lewis, Conservative, Marietta, Ga.:

Rabbi Shalom Lewis

Rabbi Shalom Lewis

As we observe with sadness what has occurred in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, there is a voice that must be heard alongside the cries of injustice and racism. Judaism’s condemnation of violence and mayhem as a vehicle of change is obvious, but there is more. Our tradition recognizes perfection as an impossible condition and that humanity’s goal is to grow in soul. Strive to improve with the understanding that perfection will forever be elusive. I would suggest soul growth as a national goal to be pursued where perfection is also unattainable. In that spirit let us proudly acknowledge that we have come a great distance from a Woolworth’s lunch counter and a Montgomery bridge.

Stunning change in America has been remarkable in but a few decades. There is still much to be done but we dare not dismiss or minimize what has been accomplished. A few years ago I was driving to Columbus, Georgia when I was pulled over for speeding 30 miles an hour over the posted limit. A Black state trooper gave me, a white man, a ticket in the Deep South. Though not happy with the citation, nonetheless I smiled, a God Bless America smile, and grinned a red, white and blue grin. It was a great moment that bore witness to the growth in America’s soul.

We must all strive together to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land knowing that we as a nation will never return to Egypt.

Amichai Lau-Lavie, Non-denominational, Lab/Shul in New York City:

Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie

Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie

As America rises in rage over our racist reality, American Jews must once again speak up, show up, own up to our blindspots and privileges, give up our blindfolds, and demand to dismantle the systemic racism that has its knee on the very breath of America and the soul of what it means to be human. Jerusalem, we learn, burned down 2,000 years ago because of needless hatred. The Roman forces in full riot gear crashed into our city on the hill already ravaged by civil war. Another opinion claims, “Jerusalem was destroyed only because the people did not rebuke one another, acting like sheep that lower their heads to the ground.” (BT,Shabbat 119b)

We who’ve been led like sheep to the slaughter, who often had to keep our mouths shut, trying to survive throughout the generations as we, our families, friends and neighbors were abused and killed as “others” – we do not have that privilege of silence right now.

We who truly value our scriptures and our sacred sanctuaries, not as props but as lifelines, who hold on to our hallowed teachings of moral courage, to persistent stubborn hopes that justice is the very essence of our purpose, it is on us to decry police brutality, to fight white supremacy, to wail against the continued cruel murder and oppression of people of color. It’s on us, always and during these nights and days of righteous rage, to protest, to protect, to rebuke and to take responsibility for every single soul created in the divine image.

The only game is the long game. And the real work is here and now. It’s on us.

Miriam Terlinchamp, Reform, Temple Sholom in Cincinnati, Ohio:

Rabbi Miriam Terlinchamp

Rabbi Miriam Terlinchamp

Jews are very good at taking care of our own. We excel at this. Right now, our own needs to mean everyone. Our liberation is conditional on the liberation of all people. There will be no salvation, no grace, no God, if we only let a few us be free.

Right now, we are living in an extraordinary moment of despair. In the face of hopelessness, it is our job as rabbis is to restore faith. And the only way to do to that is to believe in the power to create a different future for all people.

Daniel Gropper, Reform, Community Synagogue of Rye in Rye, N.Y.:

Daniel Gropper

Rabbi Daniel Gropper

Beyond our history and our texts reminding us of both our persecution and how we should treat the stranger, I believe three core Jewish values should guide us in this moment.

Sh’ma: listen but not just listen but hearken, really pay attention. When it comes to racial justice, I believe the first thing we need to do is to listen to those who have experienced persecution because of the color of their skin; to extend our hands as allies in support of black men, women, and children and all who suffer from generations of racism, discrimination, and violence; to stand with them, to not look away and to amplify the voices of the unheard. Listening also means listening to ourselves; to looking within to find our own flaws, to acknowledge our inner racist. It’s there. Listening is the first step.

Hineini: Showing up. As Jews, we are really good at showing up, especially in a crisis. But what happens when the protesters go home, when the organizations stop sending out statements? How will we still say Hineini when the adrenaline has worn off? Will we be antiracists who speak up and out to counter racism wherever it rears its ancient, ugly head? Perhaps by adopting a stance of Sh’ma – of listening from a place of right relationship and feeling called by the other to be in relationship, we will still say Hineini. For those of us who want to champion this cause, this is going to be a long journey but we will, I believe, eventually get to the promised land.

Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof: Justice, Justice you shall pursue. To me, this is about leaning into our Jewish values. In our pursuit of what is morally and ethically right, no one, based on their status or place of privilege or office can abrogate this core principle. It is our values, the ones that grow out of Torah, the ones that grow out of that moment of Sinai which taught us of our interdependence and interconnectedness one to the other and to this natural world that must serve as our guide.

Sh’ma. Hineini. Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof: Listen with empathy. Show up. Lean into our Jewish values. This is what can come to guide us on the road ahead.

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