Anger. Sadness. Fear. Recognition.
I would not presume to speak for the community of color. But these are some of the things I would be feeling if this were happening to the Jewish community. Outrage that these things could happen again and again. Sadness that they happen at all. Fear that they might happen to me or mine. And finally, recognition that this has happened to many communities over many times.
This is not the first time that marginalized communities have been attacked and abused. It has happened to us too. For three generations, we have cried out, “Never again.” Never again will we allow any people to be victimized because of who they are.
Well, “never again” means not now. Right now.
Defining “Never Again”
When we wrote the ritual for Yom HaShoah, we sought to define what we meant by “never again.” “Never again” means more than being vigilant against the recurrence of genocide.
It means never again shall we stand and watch while people are mistreated. Never again shall we allow groups of people to be made unequal. Never again shall we excuse those who hate.
Never again shall we think we are helpless to stop evil. Never again shall we forget our own strength. Never again shall we allow hatred and bias to go unanswered.
“Never again” means we must be vigilant, and it means we must be strong. We must be responsive and empathetic. We must listen.
Never again is a goal, not a path. To reach that goal, we need action and activism. What can we do?
- Say something, vote
- Befriend a person in need of an ally
- Write a person in authority, march for a cause
- Donate money to the cause
- Join an advocacy group
- Form a coalition with other advocacy groups
- Lobby people in authority
- Run for office
The beauty of this ladder of activism is that it gives us many paths for action. Not all of us have the means or temperament to run for office or lobby people in authority. I know I don’t. I participated in a lobbying session once. I found myself hopelessly out of place.
I know that I can write and speak, though. I know I can vote. I can donate money. I have even had the opportunity to help coordinate a coalition of advocacy groups. Every one of us can find somewhere on that ladder to stand. We all have a path to activism.
A year ago, we looked outward to our borders, watching in horror the cruel treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. “Does our treatment of these refugees reflect our values?” I asked.
Now, we find ourselves looking inward, watching in horror as the police, the representatives of our values, treat people with brutal cruelty. We ask the same question: Does our treatment of people of color reflect our values?
A year ago, we gathered to say: We will not stand idly by while people are mistreated. We will not stand idly by, thinking we are helpless to change a broken system.
Now we find ourselves gathering again, to say the same thing: Never again means not now.
A more perfect union
As Jews, we are commanded to work for justice and tikkun olam, to repair the world. As Americans, we are enjoined by our founding documents to work for a more perfect union. We are not obligated to complete the work but neither are we free to abandon it.
We do this work not only for those who are marginalized but for ourselves as well. When everyone stands tall, everyone benefits.
“Never again” means not now. “Not now” is our call to action, to climb the ladder of activism and make our difference in our community.
 Moses Maimonides, a 12th century Spanish rabbi, defined eight levels of charitable giving, from giving but only grudgingly to helping someone find a job or become self-sustaining so they no longer need charity.
 Thank you to Rabbi Geoffrey Dennis of Flower Mound, Texas for this idea.
 Rabbi Tarfon, from the Pirkei Avot (The Ethics of the Fathers)