I have been attuned to the issues facing our beloved country, one in which I am proud to be a citizen. When I first learned of Kenosha man Jacob Blake being shot several times in the back and being paralyzed from the waist down, I got chills down my shoulders and back. Kenosha was 45 minutes from where I grew up and I remember going to a Bar Mitzvah there during my elementary school years. While Kenosha is a whole different world from the Glendale, Wisconsin of my childhood, hearing about the shooting hit me hard, just as George Floyd’s murder did three months before and just Ahmad Arbury and Breanna Taylor’s murders did before that. It is telling about a wrong in our country which we need to find a way to make right-the systemic racism that we are facing.
While I have background in Community Organizing, I have not used it to its fullest potential in my rabbinical career up to this point. The closest I have come is serving on the board of Humane Borders in Tucson, Arizona and going on water runs in the desert to ensure migrants had full water stations during their trek through the hot Sonoran Desert. Since becoming a solo rabbi I have not gotten involved in the same way, for organizing constituents to have large-scale Actions is a political act, and I am a people pleaser by nature. I can no longer stay silent. Rabbi Shai Held reminded me last week at our Miami Board of Rabbis High Holy Day Sermon Seminar that there is no such thing as an innocent bystander.
I was very proud of my Milwaukee Bucks, who I have been watching in the NBA playoffs, being the first team to officially boycott a game in protest of the treatment of Jacob Blake and of police brutality primarily towards African Americans. It is time that we demand change, and I am proud to be working with Steve Gutow and Miami Rabbis on ways to organize around police reform as well as a related issue of fighting gun violence.
While this has become a political issue, I view it as a human rights issue. I have congregants who admirably serve as police officers, putting their lives at risk each and every day. They kneeled along with the Miami police in solidarity with peaceful protesters against the murder of George Floyd, a courageous act that we should laud and which I will remind my congregation about on Yom Kippur. Just as I viewed defending migrants as a human rights issue on minimizing deaths, so too do I view defending the most vulnerable citizens, who are too often judged by the color of their skin, as a human rights issue on minimizing deaths. Kohelet teaches t(3:1) “to everything there is a season,” and this is the time to take action and stand in solidarity.
I know some will not see eye-to-eye with my views, but as they come from the heart and pen went to paper (or pixels were typed :)) in a steady flowing way, I know that I am saying what is true for me. As we continue in Elul and approach the High Holy Days, I hope that each of us will take action in ways that are meaningful for us and that we will work with every fiber in our beings to make this world a better place. May it be our will to do so.