We are anything but powerless: Black Lives Matter


Black Lives Matter. Before last week writing these three words might have been a career-ender for some rabbis in this nation. Before last week stating vocally that Black Lives Matter and supporting this movement was a career risk for a mainstream American rabbi like myself. But no longer. Things have changed. Today holding back from an explicit declaration that Black Lives Matter is seen as a moral failing, which it is and always has been. A moral failing. We have been failing morally as an American Jewish community.

We are not powerless in this situation. We are enormously influential. There is no end to the good we can do. Right now.

We have missed the mark as a Jewish community in being deaf to the pleas of our fellow Jews of color and black and brown neighbors. This is a sin. We have hidden behind the myth of our powerlessness and legacy of our victimization and allowed sentiments critical of Israel to keep us from doing the righteous work we are heree to do. Before last week BLM was too often seen as a threat to the Jewish community because some of the organizers and members hold critical views of Israel and Zionism. BLM activists have been vocal in calling for justice for Palestinians. To support BLM, some argued, is to support anti-Semitism. And therefore, it has been too easy to for many American Jews, the majority, to stay silent. Turn their backs. Hide their faces.


We are not powerless in this situation. We are enormously powerful. There is no end to the good we can do. Right now.

The Jewish mainstream community withheld full support from the anti-racist work of BLM and used perceptions of Black anti-Semitism as an excuse to stay on the sidelines. While anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are genuine issues for the Jewish community, BLM is not the problem. Or the source of our problems. And never has been. White supremacy and white nationalism are the true problems. State-sanctioned and tolerated violence and murder is the problem. Our American legacy of profiting and building this nation on the backs of people of color: this is the problem.

We are not powerless in this situation. We are enormously powerful. There is no end to the good we can do. Right now.

We, too, have been victims of state-sanctioned and tolerated oppression. State-sanctioned or tolerated murder. We know this terror. We have watched Jews killed in the streets. Shot in the back of the head in the streets of Europe. Lynched. Raped. Rounded up. And yet we have stayed safe, hidden behind a litany of excuses when we see the same happen to people in this country. We have even used Israel as our shield.

We are not powerless in this situation. We are enormously powerful. There is no end to the good we can do. Right now.

We have ignored the many black and brown Jews in our community, their personal safety, and dignity, in favor of being fearful and critical of BLM and other emerging social justice movements in this country. We have rested heavily on the laurels of the civil rights movement of 50 years ago. We have slept for too long. There is no longer any glory in our past efforts when the current reality for black and brown people is so dire.

We are not powerless in this situation. We are enormously powerful. There is no end to the good we can do. Right now.

Now is the time for teshuva. We must admit our community has been too quiet and lethargic in the face of the oppression of black and brown people. We hid our faces and persecuted our own rabbis and other Jewish leaders who spoke up. We must vow to do better...and then do better. That is how Teshuva, one of our religious obligations, works.

We are not powerless in this situation. We are enormously powerful. There is no end to the good we can do. Right now.

We are an ancient people with enormously powerful moral courage. We have not survived thousands of years of persecution to stand idly by while the police kill our friends, co-workers, relatives, fellow citizens. We do damage to our own people and the “other” when we are silent, hide, make excuses, and remove ourselves from the fight for justice in our world.

We are not powerless in this situation. We are enormously powerful. There is no end to the good we can do. Right now.

So what can you do? Given the reality that each of you as American Jew, people who hold the precious constitutional rights to SPEAK, GATHER, ORGANIZE, it should be clear. We currently have freedoms we have rarely held as Jews in this world. What can we do? In the Forward this past week, Anthony Johnson provides a clear directive for our Teshuva, our moving forward with moral courage. The answer is simple. “We’d like for the Jewish community to help us put an end the murder of innocent Blacks with the exact same fervor, dedication, and commitment that you show towards preserving and defending your own families, that you show for Israel.”


We are not powerless in this situation. We are enormously powerful. There is no end to the good we can do. Right now.

There is not enough space here to list the dozens upon dozens of righteous actions you can take right now. Just a sample of examples: donate to BLM, write a letter to the editor, make an appointment with a local official to speak out, call your national elected officials and advocate for the demands of BLM, get into the streets (with a mask, socially distanced), order food or goods from a black-owned business, make a meal for a black or brown friend... google “BLM” and “what can I do right now.”

There are no more excuses for inaction. For any of us. This terror being perpetrated against black and brown people needs to be addressed by all of us. Kol Ami is home to at least five black young men. They are our children. The black lives in our community must be uplifted and prioritized. This has never been someone else’s problem. We were just negligent. No more. There is no going back.

This Sunday at 10 am, Kol Ami will host a community conversation on the Jewish community and racism and what it means for a community like Kol Ami to be more than just not racist but anti-racist. Registration is required. Look to HaKol or Facebook for a link to sign up.

We are not powerless in this situation. We are enormously powerful. There is no end to the good we can do. Right now.

Let every rabbi preach freely and unafraid: Black Lives Matter. And may the congregation reply: Amen, Amen. Let it be so. Let us make it a reality.

Resources for learning and action:


https://www.truah.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Anti-Racism-Bibliography.pdf

Anti-Racism-Bibliography.pdf

https://www.truah.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/How-Will-We-Start.pdf

How-Will-We-Start.pdf

295 views2 comments

Kol Ami

A Center for Jewish Life in the Pacific Northwest

308 4th Avenue S Kirkland, WA 98033

admin@kolaminw.org

(425) 844-1604

  • Facebook - Grey Circle