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Jews & Racial Justice
June 21, 2020
Rabbi Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel marching with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. Later Heschel said, “Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying.”
Jews and Racial JusticeOne month ago, who would have predicted that the national conversation would turn aside from the Pandemic to address something that felt even more urgent?
Certainly, the physical threat, moral challenge, and spiritual opportunity of the Pandemic is far from over. Yet, the topic of race will not wait or be pushed aside. It has waited too long.
Below are three resources that I hope will be helpful to you.
With blessings for courage, strength, and health,
Terribly Relevant, an Op-Ed by Rabbi Debra was published this week in The Jewish Standard and The Times of Israel. Since March, Jewish holidays and Scriptural readings have been obviously, stirringly, eerily relevant to current events, including the pandemic and racism. Click here to see the connections.
Photo from a spring 2020 protest. The struggle continues. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
To our congregants and to the public:
We will not “stand idly by” and witness the spilling of the “blood of our neighbor,” whom God asks us to love as we love ourselves (Leviticus 19:13-18). That passage and many others in the Bible require us to reject any form of oppression or prejudice. The Christian Gospels are likewise full of instructions and inspiration for loving and caring for our neighbors (Mark 12:29-31, Matthew 25). We operate under the conviction that all human beings are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27 and hadith of the Prophet Muhammad related by Muslim). Therefore, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “Race prejudice is a treacherous denial of the existence of God.”
As pastoral caregivers, faith leaders, and disciples of the ancient Prophets, we understand and validate righteous anger. Because of that same background, we oppose violence and promote hope.
Hope is no mere “wish” for something better. Hope is understood by many as a virtue implanted in us by God’s grace. Hope draws
out the best in people. The promise of a better future fosters collaboration toward a shared purpose. Hope overcomes fear and inspires us to meet great challenges, in part through taking responsibility for our faults, righting our actions, and following through on our commitments.
People of faith must respond to the killing of George Floyd – and to so many other fatalities, injuries, deprivations, and insults to brothers and sisters of color – with deep mourning, empathy, reflection, soul-searching, and prayer. We must also offer hope and take action in the public sphere. Therefore, we recommend and will take part in the following actions, which we commend to people of all faiths and of no faith.
One way or another, be in the company of others. Look friends, co-workers, neighbors, and new acquaintances in the eye – even if it’s through Skype, Meet, FaceTime, or Zoom. Allow yourself to feel their humanity – and your own.
At the first Interfaith Gathering in Race and Injustice, held online on Thursday, June 11, 2020, we met community members, offered prayers appropriate to this moment, and began to talk about our next, practical steps (outlined below). The second Interfaith Community Event for Bergen County, slated for mid-July, will continue and deepen our discussion on “Issues of Race & Creating a More Just Community.” If you would like to attend and/or be part of the planning, please contact
Reverend Wayne Jones.
• Listen: It is important to hear the pain of people from all backgrounds and perspectives. We don’t have to – and won’t – agree with our neighbors on every political or policy decision. But we will never heal the many real – and even greater number of false – divisions among us without truly listening.
As clergy, we are committed to having honest and difficult conversations with one another about racial prejudice and racial privilege. We also commit to continually educate ourselves by reading and listening to credible journalists, academicians, theologians, and activists. We encourage our congregants and larger communities to likewise gain new perspectives, information, and wisdom.
It has been said that it is the
white community’s responsibility to educate itself and not necessarily ask black people to teach white folk about racial issues. Whatever your race or background, if you are interested in learning more, here are some reputable resources that you can read/watch to learn more about issues of race, policing, privilege, and justice:
Cantor Emeritus Dr. Mark Biddelman, Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley, Woodcliff Lake
Thank you for your attention and for subscribing.
In these tough times, we consider ourselves physically distant from all our subscribers, but emotionally and spiritually close. We send you love and healing! Please be in touch via e-mail with any comments or questions about the the issues raised in this newsletter, Judaism during the pandemic, or any resources on the website.
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You can also invite Rabbi Debra to your community to speak - in person - or virtually. Please consult the Scholar-in-Residence page for more information.
Thank you for all your interest and support.
Stay Safe, Stay Positive!
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