I emerged from Shabbat to the news of the horrific shooting at a grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo. The shooter was motivated by racial hatred and by the so-called “great replacement theory” – the belief that Jews are orchestrating a “replacement” of white Americans with people of color. That same argument has motivated many shootings in houses of worship and elsewhere.
My son likes to say “We live in a society.” It’s our refrain. We need to be mindful of other people’s needs, because we live in a society. If a kid is being bullied, it’s good to stand up for them, because we live in a society. If a neighbor needs help carrying in the groceries, we offer to help, because we live in a society. We have obligations to each other, because we live in a society..
Reb Zalman z”l — Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, of blessed memory; a formative teacher for me before and during rabbinical school — used to say that revelation is like the radio. God is the Source of the broadcast, and that broadcast is always streaming into creation. And as for us? We’re radio receivers. We receive revelation on the levels to which we’re attuned.
This year April overlaps, more or less, with the lunar month of Nissan. At the full moon of Nissan we retell our people’s core story as we celebrate Pesach, festival of our liberation.
As it says in the traditional haggadah:
We were slaves to a Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Holy One brought us forth from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm… Therefore it is incumbent on each of us to see ourselves as though we, ourselves, had been brought forth from Mitzrayim.
This month brings Purim, our festival of costumes and masks and merriment.
When my son was little, he used to confuse the names Yom Kippur and Purim. One year he was very excited to wear a costume to Yom Kippur… until I regretfully informed him that Yom Kippur was not the costumes and silliness holiday!
He didn’t know it, but he was following in the footsteps of our sages.
5782 is a Jewish leap year, which means we get an extra month. In most years, there is a single month of Adar. This year, we get two of them. The first one is happening right now….
This week’s Torah portion contains one of my favorite verses: “Let them make Me a sanctuary, that I might dwell among them.” The Hebrew could also mean “within them.” We build God a sanctuary so that God — holiness, love, justice — can dwell within us….
Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,
Today has been declared a National Day of Mourning and Lament. And oh, there is so much to mourn.
Right now we’re living both with the unthinkable tragedy of the global pandemic, and with the reality of of racism and violence toward people of color.
More than 100,000 human beings have died from covid-19 in our nation alone, and many more worldwide. And we know that the pandemic disproportionately impacts poor communities and people of color. The systemic racism that is part of American life makes the pandemic worse for communities of color than it is for communities that are white.
Last week George Floyd z”l (may his memory be a blessing) became the latest in a long line of Black people killed by police. Perhaps you have seen video of the officer kneeling on his neck as he gasped, “I can’t breathe.” It’s an act of horrific violence. In response, waves of brokenhearted and furious protest have raged nationwide.
Many of you have asked me what to do with feelings of lament, grief, and rage about all of these things.
My first answer is that we need to feel them, as painful as they are. And my second answer is that our lamentations, our grief, and our righteous anger must transform our actions. Authentic spiritual life asks us to feel the full spectrum of human emotions, from the highest joys to the lowest griefs. And Jewish life and practice invite us to use those emotions, both the bitter and the sweet, to fuel our pursuit of a better world.
In our spiritual calendar, the summer season includes a period of communal mourning called the Three Weeks. That season of mourning reaches its low point with Tisha b’Av, the darkest day of the Jewish year. And Tisha b’Av, in turn, is our springboard into the season of teshuvah, introspection and change that leads us to the Days of Awe.
Right now it feels like our whole nation is living in the Three Weeks. (Maybe the whole world.) Our hearts may feel shattered by the enormity of the pandemic and the tremendous suffering it has caused — and also by the enormity of systemic racism, which has tarnished the soul of our beloved country since the days of human chattel slavery.
The brokenness is everywhere. It’s so vast that words of hope and comfort feel inapt and almost inappropriate. How can I say that everything will be all right when right now nothing seems “all right” at all?
But I can say this: it’s our job to repair what is broken. In our society, in our civic life, as Americans and as Jews it is our job to care for those who mourn and to work for a world of justice for all. I welcome your suggestions on how we can do that as individuals and as a community.
May we emerge from this pandemic season of communal grief with strengthened resolve to build a world of greater justice and love.
As always, I’m here if you need to talk, and I’m holding all of you in my heart.
For further reading:
- URJ Statement: Witnessing Protests, Rage, and Our Torah’s Unbending Demand for Justice from the Union for Reform Judaism
- Racial Justice Resources from the Religious Action Center of the Union for Reform Judaism
- Anti-Racism Resources from T’ruah: the rabbinic call for human rights
- 10 Steps to Non-Optical Allyship by Mireille C. Harper
- Anguish and Action: resources for a more just and equitable world, from President Obama