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BLACK LIVES MATTER AND THE JEWISH COMMUNITY                                    7/10/2020  

07/15/2020 08:36:43 AM

Jul15

Rabbi Weinberg

A few weeks ago, I left a meeting of our local Rabbinic association terribly disappointed. We had tried to make a statement about the bloodshed that had spread across our country. In the throes of the Black Lives Matter Movement we attempted to express our sentiments in such a way that rabbis of the left, center and right- Reform, Conservative and Orthodox- could sign. We failed. We couldn’t do it. We couldn’t find a way to share our concern for the pain that was defining so many communities across this country. In that moment I received a stark reminder of the complexity and nuance required to address this moment in history

 

Three days after the riots erupted in Minneapolis this summer, the Jewish business community of Fairfax, Los Angeles was reduced to rubble. Some labeled it a modern-day pogrom. Under the veil of Black Lives Matter synagogues were vandalized. Jewish shops were targeted. The police were out-numbered by those who burned, looted, and destroyed as many predominantly Jewish-owned businesses as they could identify before some sense of order was restored.

 

Black Lives Matter- originally organized to bring attention to and facilitate change to the many instances of injustice found on our streets- became the enabler of destruction, and in particular the destruction of Jewish establishments in some locations. From Los Angeles to New York City, from large metropolitan centers to small towns dotting the landscape of this extraordinary country flames of anger, pain and rage rampaged across our nation. Black Lives Matter gathered attention, strength, momentum, and money as its burgeoning ranks multiplied.

 

What were we Jews supposed to think? How were we to respond? The age-old tensions between the Jewish and Black communities were re-ignited as antisemitic and anti-Zionist elements of the Black Lives Matters Movement’s platform were highlighted once again.

 

How do we support a cause when it involves anti-Semitic tropes? Should we support a cause that has any antisemitic undertones, especially when the organization allies itself with the likes of Louis Farrakhan and the virulently antisemitic Nation of Islam?

This question is so very important for us to confront. We have been educated to stand up to injustice whenever and wherever we see it. We, Jewish people have been in the forefront of some of the most significant movements in our country, marching and speaking out on behalf of the downtrodden, the forgotten, the orphan, widow, and stranger. The Civil Rights Movement was a showcase of Jewish leadership. The Feminist Movement was defined by Jewish women throughout its ranks. The Gay Rights Movement reflected Jewish values and Jewish voices across the rainbow coalition.

 

Politics is messy- we all know that. But, as a Jewish community we have always heard the resonating voices of our prophets proclaiming- you cannot rest until every individual in your community is treated with dignity. Your voice must be heard until every stranger, homeless man, woman and child amongst you is cared for. Your voice must rise above all other concerns when you see injustice, when you observe wrongdoing, when you know we can improve our ways.

 

  1. Black Lives Matter Movement reflects many voices. Some of those voices reflect hate and disdain for the Jewish people- shockingly expressed at the very same moment the movement attempts to stifle the voices of hate directed against Black individuals! We have an obligation to address the voices of antisemitism and anti-Zionism, calling out discrepancies, indiscriminate practices, and unacceptable actions by supporters of this movement or any other movement. You and I must not never hesitate for a moment to standup with courage and pride in the name of the Jewish people and in the name of Israel.

 

At the same time, our country is not color blind- not yet. There are too many examples of white supremacy actions that reflect nothing but bias, prejudice, and a disgusting reflection of what God expects of us as human beings. You and I need to realize that the cause for equality must be answered. What is happening on the streets of our country isn’t imagined. So many of those demonstrating have felt the wrath of our harsh world too many times. The recent spate of shocking events at the hands of our policemen- so many of whom are outstanding upholders of the law- demands our attention.

 

If there is a march to support Black individuals who have been oppressed, if there is a rally to support those amongst us whose dignity has been tarnished, if there is a gathering of people who imagine a better world based upon the democratic ideals and capitalist environment of this great country no one will deny me from standing with those people. But, should they claim intersectionality, voice their displeasure with the so-called Zionist oppressors in the land of Israel they will lose my support and my voice. They may not need my support but I need my self-respect. We can’t paint everyone with the same brush stroke. But, we, as a Jewish community must speak with pride and courage, and demand the respect we have earned.

In this week’s sedra, Pinchas is rewarded for his extremist actions recorded in last week’s parsha. Having killed a couple to demonstrate his passion for Judaism and displeasure in their actions he is apparently rewarded with the status of serving the Jewish people in an important capacity.

 

However, a courageous rabbi from Izbica, Poland, Mordechai Yossef Leiner suggests an entirely new reading of the story. He suggests that Pinchas, in his immature zealotry and rash judgment acts wrongly and tragically, failing to see the deeper motivation of the tragic couple in the story. The couple’s civil disobedience was their attempt to heal the world. Rabbi Leiner follows a long line of Torah commentators who have struggled with the role given to Pinchas following his expression of zealotry.

 

While trying to heal our world, so many expressions of zealotry and rash judgments have led us down a dangerous path. I pray that even with the guidance of people like Steven A and Julian Edelman- spokesmen of the sports world who are using their platform to address bigotry- along with so many other outstanding spokesmen and women addressing the civic responsibilities we ought to aspire to, we will redirect the efforts on our streets, away from the destruction of monuments to the erection of pillars of love, respect, dignity, and understanding.

 

Shabbat Shalom

 

Rabbi Stefan J Weinberg
 

 

Thu, April 15 2021 3 Iyyar 5781