What a week it has been. How many of us were watching some of the events of these past days and were thrown back to watching 1968? We saw the image of the knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck and we wondered if that image would have the same impact on cutural and national attidues as the image from our youth of the Vietnamese girl running from a napalm attack on her village? How many of us have thought what will rise from the ashes of so many buildings being burned? As the passions die down, this is the question for society: what now? What next? What will result from these weeks of protests and demonstrations.
We remember, we Boomers, that we saw legislation passed as a result of the 60s unrest. We also know and understand that just because a law is passed does not mean that attitudes change. I keep coming back to that song from South Pacific that says “you’ve got to be taught to hate”. In the middle of these demonstratoins, I was involved in a discussion with a congregation on the impact of our current challenges. The “perfect storm” of Minneapolis, the pandemic, the lack of cohesive national leadership and the reality of isolation have all combined to create so much anxiety. Many people in this conversation were concerned that after all of this quieted down, would things go back to the way they were? There was an acknowledgement that racism is part of the fabric of American society. People were concerned about what society we are leaving to our children and grandchildren. The conversation was intense and layered, and civil. We recognized that there is no “one” answer but if hope will rise from the chaos of the present, it may very well be as a result of people not being afraid to break out of their silos of comfort (or perceived security), and trying to get to know people who may be different from them. Maybe, real progress will be measured one relationship at a time. Maybe from the ashes of this Spring will rise a national “inreach” to see others on a human level, to understand their story, hopes and dreams; much of which will reflect, I think, our own hopes and dreams, fears and needs.
One thing this pandemic has underscored is that we are all inter-related. National boundaries are artificial. One thing that may emerge from these past weeks of protests is the awareness that we all share a basic humanity. There are stories of kindness and reconciliation being slowly reported. What will rise from these moments of fire and anger? Once again, we are being given that Deuteronomic choice between life and death, good and evil, blessing and curse. Once again, the choices rests with us; either a closed fist or an outstretched hand.
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.