Rabbinic Window Dressing

Honor your father and mother so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth. – Ephesians 6:2

You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they can and should do for themselves. – Rev. William J. H. Boetcker

The presence of members of our community marching together with their congregation [Bright Star Church, Chicago, Illinois] will mean a great deal to our friends in Bronzeville. … It will be appreciated.” – a Conservative Lakeview (Chicago) rabbi

The year 2014 was another bloody year in the streets of America. Two black men made news, one by being shot, the other by being strangled—both while resisting arrest…and communities went up in flames.

Michael Brown, a black teenager, robbed a convenience store in Ferguson, Missouri. Confronted by a policeman, he resisted arrest, rushed at the policeman and reached for his gun. (Not a good idea.) Brown was shot and subsequently died. No charges were brought against the policeman after a grand jury determined that the policeman had acted in self-defense. Eric Garner, a black father, was tackled by five policemen after resisting arrest, wrestled to the ground, and while being subdued, was choked and subsequently died. A grand jury determined that the police were not responsible for his death. In America, resisting arrest and going for a policeman’s gun can be hazardous to your health. Although the race hustlers were at their megaphones, the root cause of both deaths was a lack of respect for the law. It had nothing to do with race. Two sad events in today’s America, but the stage was set well before.

While in Israel last July, my favorite television station, Al Jazeera, was reporting various death tolls in the Middle East. In Iraq that week, 32 were killed by a suicide bomber in a mosque. In Afghanistan, 46 were killed in a marketplace bombing. In Somalia… and in Yemen …and so on. But at the end of the commentary, the reporter calmly stated, “And in Chicago this weekend there were 36 shootings and 13 killed!” Chicago’s well-earned nickname “Chiraq” is a painful reminder of a reality few of us encounter in Chicago on a daily basis. But what does this have to do with Jews?

John Fountain, a black opinion columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, posed the question, “Why won’t we stop killing each other?” (December 21, 2014), referring to the hundreds of black-on-black murders committed in Chicago each year. If black lives matter, why not in black communities?

When I was a freshman at the University of Illinois, Psychology 101 was a required course. Discussed at length was the concept of a conditioned response – a learned, reflexive response which comes about from a repeated experience. In human terms, if a person is walking down the street and sees a group of young black kids on the street corner, the conditioned response is apprehension. If a person is walking down the street and sees a group of young Asian kids on the corner, you barely notice them. Right or wrong, that is the sad reality. Some might call it “communal expectation.”

Attorney General Eric Holder says Americans must have the courage to have a conversation about race in America, and I agree. But every time I hear those words, I think of Jack Nicholson playing a Marine officer during a military trial in the movie, “A Few Good Men.” In the role of Colonel Jessup, a tough commander on a Marine base, he is being questioned about a murder on the base. When the prosecuting attorney demands, “I want the truth!” Jessup screams back, “You can’t handle the truth!” Can you, Mr. Holder?

John Fountain asks, “Do black lives matter? To whom?” he keeps wondering. “To us African Americans? Then someone please tell me why won’t we stop killing each other? Or why too many of us simply don’t respect black life. Why the music to which we bob and twerk denigrates black life…punctuated by music videos with shirtless thugs pointing guns or squeezing trigger fingers. … We help perpetuate thug life. … From 1980 through 2008, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice, nine out of every 10 black victims were killed by blacks. … I have more to fear from certain black males than certain white cops. …” (Chicago Sun-Times, 12/21/14). Well, Mr. Holder – Let’s have that honest conversation! Can you handle the truth?

Perhaps No. 5 on our hit parade called the Ten Commandments tells us something since today almost 75 percent of all black babies are born out of that anachronism called marriage. In Michael Brown’s case, Lesley McSpadden was his mother. She never married his dad. Louis Head was Lesley’s live-in boyfriend. He was not Michael’s stepdad. Michael did not live with them; he lived with his grandmother, Pearlie Gordon. She raised him. If anything is to be mourned, it is the fact that Michael Brown never had a chance to live with two real parents who loved and raised him in their home. Maybe G- d knew something about the people He endowed in His image with free will when He dictated No. 5 to be etched in stone: Honor thy father and mother…

Jewish liberals are always at the forefront of the pro-choice-to-abort movement. As a conservative, I have always been pro-choice because I believe in personal responsibility, hoping that people will make the right choices with their G-d-given freedom. But listening to National Public Radio one afternoon, I heard a staggering statistic and then went on the Internet site Abortion and the Black Community to verify it. “On average, 1,276 black babies are aborted every day in the United States.” That’s over 465,000 per year. Blacks make up 12.6 percent of the U.S. population, but the Center for Disease Control puts the percentage of black abortions at over 36 percent of all abortions. Do black lives matter? Almost 80 percent of all Planned Parenthood abortion clinics “are located in communities with minority populations.” (Ibid.) They obviously know their customers.

But what does this have to do with Jews? Jews today are America’s oldest minority group. Statistics claim the average age of American Jews is 47; that Jewish families are getting much older and having fewer babies. Is abortion a Jewish issue because Jews are having too many babies?

Back in 1988, a Chicagoan by the name of Steve Cokely was working in the administration of then- mayor Gene Sawyer. Cokely had given a weekend series of lectures accusing Jewish doctors of injecting black babies with AIDS. Sawyer was flummoxed, as was the city’s Jewish corporation counsel, Judson Minor. Although Cokely was eventually fired, the American Jewish Committee (of which I was a member in good standing at the time) decided to have a get-together with a group of black business leaders. I don’t remember who was silly enough to ask me to participate, but I agreed. It didn’t start off well, with the black leaders accusing the Jewish community of betraying and exploiting the black community. As tensions grew and the black voices became increasingly strident, I asked to say a few things:

Rather than bashing Jews, you should be emulating Jews, for we have three things that aren’t on your communal radar. First and foremost, we value education more than a pair of Nike sneakers. Jewish parents will work two or three jobs to earn enough money to ensure their children of the best education their money can buy. It is a matter of parental pride and self-respect.

Second, we cherish a thing called “family” – which doesn’t mean an unwed, single mother or grandmother trying to raise three or four kids who don’t have a clue who their father is. If there is no father, you don’t have a family—you have insecurity, instability, and a chronically poor self-image.

And third, we have a thing called “community” – institutions that help Jews in need. That sense of community functions as the greater family, so that no Jew falls through the cracks. A Jew knows he can reach out for help because Asur lifnot gav l’Yisrael…a Jew is forbidden to turn his back on a fellow Jew! Our institution is called the Jewish Federation. There are plenty of black athletes who can give up a Bentley or downsize their mansions to help your community, but most don’t! And by the way, where’s the Oprah Winfrey or the Michael Jordan wing at Northwestern Memorial Hospital? (Chicago’s latest billionaires). But you surely know the Feinberg Pavilion, the Galter Pavilion and the Lurie Children’s Hospital. And finally, Until you face reality and stop scapegoating Jews for your community’s self- created problems, your future generations will be nothing but a bunch of beggars, and if that’s what you want for your grandchildren, keep looking for excuses. If you really care, only you and your community can solve your communal problems. And I left. Nothing came of the meeting – and that was 27 years ago.

The rabbi’s statement about our “friends” in Bronzeville appreciating the Jewish community marching together with their church was in earnest, but then what? The rabbi quoted Psalm 121:1, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains, from where will my help come?” You know, if I’m in trouble and I lift up my eyes, I would hope my help would come in the form of someone in blue with a badge and a gun. Yet the rabbi continues, “In order to effect change, we are going to have to take a long hard look at how our institutions function in this country.” What does “we” mean? What is this babble? What about personal responsibility? Is this rabbi blaming the police for the tragedy of the black community? “While the horrific events of Ferguson and Staten Island should challenge all Americans to give consideration to the direction of this country, it is especially painful for the black community. People are feeling devalued, and parents fear for the lives of their children.” Aside from the obvious racism, how about the fear felt by the children of all police officers!

After the platitudes, finally comes the punchline: “The signs that many are carrying in protests around the country say a great deal: Black Lives Matter.” Really? To whom – if nine out of ten blacks are murdered by blacks? Does this convoluted thinking mean that white lives don’t matter? I thought all lives matter…that each life is a world. It’s nothing more than liberal racist babble. Enough excuses! All men and women are created sorta equal, but life isn’t an even playing field. Maybe we’d all like to be the children of Bill and Melinda Gates or be seven feet tall and able to dunk a basketball for the big bucks.

And to those pretentiously inclined seekers of that Heschel moment: Don’t waste your time with images for posterity. Instead of a $90,000 playground rendered useless by Chicago’s winters, how about contributing to a learning center of books and computers? Yet as one of the Lakeview rabbis recounted, “Like Jacob [???], it begins by looking within and considering not only where we are today, but where we want to go as a nation. We deserve better and certainly our children deserve better. … The presence of members of our community marching together…will mean a great deal to our friends in Bronzeville.” This is nothing more than rabbinic window dressing. If you really care about all children’s future, think education, family, and communal responsibility leading to communal self-respect.

Yet most reflective of the beggarly Jewish passion for acknowledgment, Susannah Heschel recently whined about her dad being photoshopped out of the movie “Selma.” She can’t accept that the movie was not a history for her father—it was about black civil rights – by and for American blacks. Poor Ms. Heschel told anyone who would listen how “shocked and upset” she was. Where was her dad in the 1940s after he was lucky enough to make aliyah to America? Where was he as an activist for the rescue of European Jews? Where is an iconic picture of him at the gates of the White House while Jews were being gassed and incinerated? I haven’t been able to find any.

Shabbat Shalom, 03/27/15

Jack “Yehoshua” Berger

About the Author
Educated as an architect with a Masters in Architectural History, Jack Yehoshua Berger became a practicing architect and real estate developer. In his late 30's he met a Rabbi who turned him on to the miracle of Israel and he began learning how the amazing country, against all odds, came to be the miracle of the modern world.
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