Dear chevrei (friends),
In our prayerbook, Rabbi Chaim Stern writes: “In a world torn by violence and pain, a world far from wholeness and peace, give us the courage to say, Adonai: There is one God in heaven and earth.”
These words were originally written by Rabbi Stern in the 1960’s, then published in the Reform Movement prayerbook, Gates of Prayer, in 1975. In his day, the world was indeed “torn by violence and pain, a world far from wholeness and peace.” The 1960’s were among the most tumultuous times in our nation’s history. The fight for civil rights was valiant and overdue, but arduous, bloody and hard-fought. That time was also a precarious one for Jews to raise up their voices in support of civil rights. It was only in the 1960’s that Jews approached the kind of acceptance and public prominence we know today. That is why the second part of Rabbi Stern’s verse says what it does: “give us the courage to say….” We are Jews and therefore we are compelled to speak up!
Today, our world remains torn by violence and pain. Many of the systemic underpinnings which were hard fought in the civil rights era are still in place in reality, even if no longer by law. What we see spilling into the streets across America in the wake of the death of George Floyd among so many other injustices, is protest over those very systemic underpinnings. His tragic death, once again has shown that we have not come as far as we had hoped. The persistent racism embedded in American life far exceeds just police brutality; it extends into education, healthcare, housing, lending, poverty, and more. Mr. Floyd’s death set a match to a pile of kindling 400 years in the making, and dried even more by the disproportionate impact Covid-19 has had on communities of color.
For us, we Jews and the Jewish community, the question is, do we still have the courage to combat the world torn by violence and pain? Do we—two generations later, with more privilege and more comfort, more acceptance and more power than had our forebears in the 1960’s—have the courage to say once again: we are Jews and therefore we are compelled to speak up?
We do. We most certainly do.
How, you may ask? Since the protests began, time and again, leaders of the African American community across this country and here in New Rochelle, have asked us to stand up and be counted–white people, and Jews specifically. We’ve been asked to stand with our partners because we have done so time and again. Rabbi Weiner did just that on Sunday, when he represented us at City Hall as religious and political leaders gathered in solidarity. Tonight, June 3rd, we all have the same opportunity, as two different peaceful protest gatherings will unite into one. At 6 pm, the Remington Boys & Girls Club and alumni of New Rochelle High School have organized a prayer vigil at Lincoln Park, itself an important landmark in New Rochelle’s battle for civil rights. At 6:30 pm, that gathering will march up North Avenue to City Hall. Similarly, under the auspices of County Legislator Damon Maher, at 5:45 pm, a march will begin from Beth El Synagogue Center down North Avenue to meet the other marchers at City Hall, our City Hall. Two marches, one city, united. Beth El will have its lot open to as many socially distanced cars as it can allow, otherwise, there is ample public parking in the area. We know that members of Beth El, Temple Israel, and Young Israel will be joining us there. Or, start downtown with our partners in Lincoln Park and march with them. If you feel you can do so safely, we hope you will join us. Social Distancing and Masks are a must!
Likewise, we can make our voices heard in a Jewish fashion that far precedes that of the civil rights era, in prayer. This Friday evening please join our LiveStream Service at 6 pm. Our Shabbat service will feature special music and words that will address our collective anguish and buoy us with the strength we need to work to right the wrongs of our society in the days, weeks, and months ahead. We know you will find it both moving and inspiring.
Lastly, for now, we encourage you to act in solidarity with the African American community in all the ways you know how. Be an upright member of the community. Call out injustice when you see it. Be outspoken with friends and family. Press elected officials to enact policies and laws that break the yoke of systemic inequality. In short order, live out our Jewish ideals.
This is our generation’s time to join side-by-side with our neighbors. “You shall not hate your brother in your heart… but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am Adonai!” – Leviticus 19
Wishing to see you soon, in solidarity,
Photo: Singing loudly at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration Service/Dinner, 2019