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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 Justice

One 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,
Rabbi Debra

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.”

InterFaith Letter
The following letter, penned by Rabbi Debra and signed by Jewish, Christian, and Muslim leaders in New Jersey, describes the religious imperative for racial justice and key action steps to help achieve it.

To our congregants and to the public:

We, the undersigned members of the Westwood Area Interfaith Clergy Council and the Upper Pascack Valley Clergy Council, are united in our strong plea for justice. “Justice, justice you shall pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20) is our mission as people of faith and as Americans. Yet, we must acknowledge the tragic extent to which our policing and our criminal justice system have themselves been unjust. Our history and our institutions today are tainted by systemic racism and implicit bias. 

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.  

• Gather: Get together with other people, including people who are different from yourself. Taking account of health directives, join with them in peaceful protest, for dialogue and fellowship, to study relevant texts and issues, and/or for prayer. Right now, most get-togethers will be virtual.

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.

Our intent in holding any gathering is to make a real and positive difference – not just to comfort ourselves or one another. And so, please continue reading for a list of more actions that you can take to promote justice.

• 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:

- Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
- How to be an Anti-Racist by Abram X. Kendi
- Chokehold by Paul Butler
- The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
- I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
- White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo and Michael Eric Dyson
- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- Emerson School System Resources on Family Conversations About Race
- ADL Resources on Family Conversations on George Floyd, Racism, and Law Enforcement
- It’s also enlightening to watch celebrities take on this issue. Watch Emmanuel Acho's YouTube series "Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man." Watch entertainers like Trevor Noah and John Oliver take on the issues of race and policing.

  • Give: As you are able, give of your time and money to help organizations working for justice. Each of the following organizations is supported by at least one, but not necessarily all, of the undersigned clergy. We urge you to explore these and other groups, to find one that fits your values and needs your contributions:
- The Anti-Defamation League (ADL)
- Black Visions Collective
- Catholic Relief Services
- Equal Justice Initiative (EJI)
- Fair Fight
- The George Floyd Memorial Fund
- NAACP Legal Defense Fund
- National Black Catholic Congress (NBCC)
- RFK Human Rights

• Appreciate the Good: Offer support to the police officers, policy makers, activists, and officials who work for justice and the public good. Honor folks who do what is right, call out what is wrong, respond constructively during a crisis, and take concrete steps, with urgency, to ensure a better future. Collaborate with such people, write them notes of encouragement, and amplify their voices.

  • Advocate: Gathering, listening, giving, and appreciating the good may help us to know – even better than we do now – what changes in law, education, policing, and other aspects of our society may be necessary. Once you feel confident of a helpful next action, use your vote and your voice. Deploy your time and talent to achieve the enormous and holy goal that cannot be postponed: liberty and justice for all.

The following are Rev. Rodney Haveman’s specific recommendations from the first Interfaith Gathering on Race and Justice:

- 8 Can't Wait advocates for eight well-researched policies that reduce deaths at the hands of police.
- Investigate the End Qualified Immunity Act now pending in Congress and, if you agree, advocate for its passage.
- Read and consider signing a letter to our political leaders from the Poor People's Campaign to End Systemic Racism.

May your energy never flag and your commitment never waiver as you pursue justice! May God bless you! Be well and do good!

Cantor Emeritus Dr. Mark Biddelman, Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley, Woodcliff Lake 
Rabbi David Bockman, Temple Beth Sholom of Pascack Valley, Park Ridge
Rev. Raymond Boyd, Park Ridge United Methodist Church, Park Ridge
Rev. Msgr. Joseph Chapel, St. Andrew Roman Catholic Church, Westwood
Rev. Bernard D. Glee, Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Westwood   
Rabbi  Emeritus Gerald Friedman, Temple Beth Sholom of Pascack Valley, Park Ridge
Rev. Rodney Haveman, Parkside Community Church, Westwood
Rev. Wayne M Jones, Westwood United Methodist Church
Rabbi Loren Monosov, Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley, Woodcliff Lake 
The Reverend Brian Neville, Hillsdale United Methodist Church, Hillsdale
Rabbi Dr. Debra Orenstein, Congregation B’nai Israel, Emerson,
Pastor Thomas J. Pranschke, Zion Lutheran Church, Westwood
The Rev. Anthony Puca, Jr., Grace Episcopal Church, Westwood and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Hillsdale
Rev. Larissa Romero, Pascack Reformed Church, Park Ridge
Rev. Patrick Seo, Our Lady of Mercy Church, Park Ridge
Cantor Alan H. Sokoloff, Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley, Woodcliff Lake
Rev. Marc A. Stutzel, Christ Lutheran Church, Woodcliff Lake
Rev. Mark Suriano, First Congregational United Church of Christ, Park Ridge
Rev. JerQuentin Sutton, Lebanon Baptist Church, Westwood, NJ
Interfaith Coordinator Esra Tozan, Peace Islands Institute, Hasbrouck Heights 
Rev. Robert T. Ulak, Our Lady of Mercy Church, Park Ridge

InterFaith Prayer
Rabbi Debra delivered this Prayer of Lament at an Interfaith Gathering, drawing on Psalms and Lamentations to address the heartbreak of racial injustice and police misconduct against African Americans.

Thank you for your attention and for subscribing.

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Stay Safe, Stay Positive!

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