From Rabbi Berkman and Our Social Action Committee in Response to Recent Events

Rabbi Audrey Marcus Berkman

May 31, 2020/8 Sivan 5780

Shavua tov.

As the new week begins, Jews around the world are coming out of the holy time of Shabbat and Shavuot (observed for two days in much of the Jewish world). We return to a world deeply in need of healing, both from the pandemic which has caused 365,000 deaths as well as tremendous suffering from the economic impact, and from the scourge of racial injustice. The Temple Ohabei Shalom community shares the public grief and outrage over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. You will find below a list of opportunities for education and action related to racial inequality. We hope you will join our Social Action Committee for some of these opportunities.

Both Shavuot and Shabbat are meant to replenish us in order to recommit ourselves to living the values embodied in Torah. Shabbat is a stepping back from the world– not because it doesn’t need our constant action and vigilance in healing its brokenness, but precisely because it does. Our tradition teaches that in order to fulfill our covenantal promise to partner with God in ensuring compassion and justice, we must rest and renew our souls for one sacred day each week. The aim of Shabbat is, ultimately, to fortify ourselves for the ongoing work of protecting the vulnerable, of pursuing justice, and building a world of chesed – compassion and generosity that goes beyond what is obligatory, expected, or easy. On Shavuot we reaffirm our identity as Jews and the responsibility with which it comes; we celebrate the gift of Torah not simply by wrestling with its ideals, but by recommitting to live those ideals. And what are the core ideals of Torah to which we have just recommitted? As the well-known Talmudic story goes, Rabbi Hillel, asked to explain all of Torah while standing on one foot, said: “That which is hateful to you, do not unto another: This is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary — [and now] go study.”

“Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof – Justice, justice you shall pursue, that you may live, and inherit the land which the Lord your God gave you,” Torah commands us (Deuteronomy 16:18) When others are suffering, even if and when we are not personally impacted, it is our sacred obligation to alleviate that suffering. With our lives disrupted in so many ways by the Coronavirus pandemic, it is especially difficult to take in and take on this simultaneous and urgent crisis as cities across our nation erupt in pain and violence.

We as Jews have always been at the forefront of the struggle for civil rights. This moment calls us again to act and to lead – to live out Torah – to use any resources we can bring to ensure justice, equality, and compassion in our world. God dwells where we let God in. We must use our voices, our hearts, and our hands to assert and protect the sanctity of human life, each one created in the divine image.

May the memory of George Floyd, and the countless others killed in America because of the color of their skin, be a blessing and an ongoing call to action– a call to which we, the Jewish people, must live out our covenantal promise to answer.

L’shalom, to peace,

Rabbi Audrey Marcus Berkman

It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of all that needs our attention right now. We are grateful to our Social Action Committee for compiling this list of immediate opportunities for action and education.

Sunday, May 31: “Wee Chalk The Walk: A Family Day of Action for Black Lives.” Hosted by Wee The People, a Boston-based social justice organization for families and children, “Wee Chalk The Walk” asks families to create public protest art and share it with their neighbors and community, to draw attention to the racial inequities of the pandemic and the killings of black men and women around the country.

Monday, June 1, at 7 pm: Violence In Boston, Inc. will host “We All We Got,” an online conversation with the surviving family members of men and women killed in police custody. Join Emerald Garner (Eric Garner), Angelique Negroni-Kearse (Andrew Kearse), and Shante Needham (Sandra Bland) for a discussion about their family experiences.

PrettyGoodDesign offers a list of resources to begin anti-racism conversations with children: visit this site.

T’ruah: the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights has compiled an “Anti-Racism Bibliography” of books, articles, podcasts, and websites that can explore anti-racist work through a Jewish lens. Learn more here.

The Union of Reform Judaism offers a “Psalm of Protest” in memory of George Floyd, and pledges solidarity with the NAACP’s #WeAreDoneDying campaign.