These last few weeks have been, shall we say, challenging, interesting, frightening, and, for some, energizing. For may of us Boomers, there has been a little “deja-vu”. That image of Mr. Floyd and the policeman’s knee, an image which seemed to have galvanized a movement, was an eerie flashback to that image many of us saw on the evening news of a young Vietnamese girl running from napalm. Images do tend to stay in our minds. So we are in the midst of on-going demonstrations and debates on resolutions and possible legislation, all while trying to stay civil and safe in a major health crises while also trying to figure out what life can or may be like. The levels of anxiety, fear, concern, uncertainty are ever present. Where do we go from here?
Out texts remind us of hope and faith. That is a very Jewish response. I often think of that final scene on Fiddler, as the people rush to leave Anatevka, they ask the rabbi (of course) about waiting for the Messiah, to which he responds that they will just have to wait somewhere else. Change is constant. We adapt. So, we as a society continue to wait for that Messianic Age when the values of Judaism are lived in totality. We are going to have to wait some more. What shall arise from the current turmoil? Obviously, no one knows. SO many of our generation marched and sung and protested, now a half century ago, so often supported by the hope that things would change and that a better world would arise. There has been progress, no doubt about that. But the events of these past months have drawn back the curtain again showing us that while we can pass laws that speak to equal treatment under law, we can not legislate hearts and minds. Again, that song from South Pacific is true: we have got to be taught to hate.
As Jews, regardless of our political affiliation, we stand on an ethical foundation that speaks to equal access to society for all peoples. We have to be reminded of that. We need thoughtful and powerful modern Heschels and Vorspans who called us to action from pulpits to jail cells. Where are they? The “silo-ing” of our communities helps perpetuate the reduction in civil discourse. We need to be reminded that from this chaos can rise a better society, but we all need to see that, as human beings, we are all interconnected. Elmer Smith, a former columnist for newspapers in Philadelphia, wrote a very thoughtful piece inthe June 18 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer. In his piece “America has had enough before. Have we finally had enough this time?” he writes this sobering reminder about the need to work as a community for the benefit of all, for if one segment of society os helped, than all can benefit. “Someone has to make the case that resolving racism and inequality will accrue to the benefit of all Americans. There is an economic case that needs to be made about how rising tides elevate all. We need to be reminded of Chicago in 1968,, when the victims of police violence were young whites before America can understand that the knee on my neck today could be on yours tomorrow. If nothing more, we need to remind ourselves that the world is looking at the same images we are and seeing the difference between who we say we are and who we are indeed. Only when we close that gap will the marching and protesting signify that, finally, America has had enough.”
Rabbi Richard F Address