Lament, grief, rage – and change
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