Dear Wornick Community,
In the closing exercises of the Tzedakah presentation, I heard our 7th grade students repeat the biblical commandment over and over again, "Lo ta'amod al dam re'echa" (you shall not stand idly by while the blood of your neighbor is spilled). In hearing those words, I could have never imagined how real that commandment would be in these moments. On behalf of Wornick, I want to share and acknowledge our communal heartbreak, pain, sadness, and anger over the death of George Floyd last week. This is the most recent death in a long history of hundreds of years of violence perpetrated against the Black community in this country. I also want to share my deep mourning for the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, two more heartbreaking examples where violence was committed against members of the Black community. In one of the first pages of the Babylonian Talmud our Rabbis articulate a powerful expression of equality. In reflecting on differences between people of different backgrounds and socioeconomic classes they write, "I am a creation, and they are a creation." There is so much work for us to do until we are able to say that all of the creations of God are treated equally.
As a multi-racial Jewish community, we know that anti-Black racism and violence is happening all the time, not just when someone captures it on video. We know, unfortunately, that so many members of our community have had experiences with such injustice. We stand in solidarity with our Black students and families and commit ourselves in the fight against racism and oppression in America.
Our school's mission is to develop leaders who are committed to a life steeped in Jewish ethics and values. Over the course of this summer we must rise to the occasion and each of us in our own way, ensure that we are living up to the value of "Lo ta'amod al dam re'echa." We cannot stand idly by while the blood of members of our community is being spilled.
In this week's Torah portion, Nasso, we learn about the Nazirites who took purity vows that required them to abstain from things like drinking alcohol, having sexual relations, eating meat, coming into contact with dead bodies or cutting their hair. At a Bat Mitzvah a few years ago, I heard a powerful critique of a Nazirite that is particularly relevant today. One can imagine what motivated a Nazirite to abstain from a life of impurity. They likely looked around and saw corruption, temptation, or sin. But by abstaining from all of these things, the Nazirite didn't actually do anything. He didn't change the behaviors he disliked, he didn't change society around him, he only isolated himself from the rest of the community. In these moments, we must not be like the Nazirite. We cannot define ourselves exclusively by what we are not, or by the behaviors and actions that we abhor. We must each find our own ways to affect change and not be satisfied with our rejection or disgust at the senseless loss of life in the Black community.
A student sent me a question today asking about the Jewish perspective on looting and violence. On the one hand, the perspective on Jewish law as expressed in the Shulchan Arukh, is that one must not damage property in pursuit of their goals. On the other hand, I feel that in these moments, we are required to listen deeply and careful to voices from within the Black community. Many of our country's deepest and most vulnerable wounds are exposed in these moments, and it is important to be humble and listen with open hearts and minds.
A natural starting point for many families, especially those with young children are conversations at home. Here are some resources that we hope will be helpful to you:
- How to Talk with Kids About Race and Racial Violence, Common Sense Media
- Resources for Talking about Race, Racism and Racialized Violence with Kids, Center for Racial Justice in Education
- How to Talk to Kids about Race and Racism, Parent Tool Kit
- A Children's Booklist for Anti-Racist Activism, Embrace Race
- Talking to Kids about Race and Violence in America, Child Mind Institute
If you are able to give towards causes that promote racial equity and justice, a natural outcome of your conversations might be deciding on what particular cause to give to. You might also decide to write cards or engage in outreach towards members of the Black community who have been victims of violence and racism.
I want to end with a reflection from over a year and a half ago when the Jewish community suffered during the anti-semitic attacks in Pittsburgh and Poway. In Oakland, where I live, my synagogue immediately felt the outreach and warmth from local community organizations and in particular, Black churches in our community. Please consider reaching out to local Black communities. Words of comfort, empathy, and care, have real power in these moments.
In partnership, health and peace,