This Jewish mother is dedicating her Yom Kippur to Kalief Browder

We have trespassed; We have dealt treacherously; We have robbed; We have spoken slander; We have acted perversely; We have done wrong; We have acted presumptuously; We have done violence; We have practiced deceit; We have counseled evil; We have spoken falsehood; We have scoffed; We have revolted; We have blasphemed; We have rebelled; We have committed iniquity; We have transgressed; We have oppressed; We have been stiff necked; We have acted wickedly; We have dealt corruptly; We have committed abomination; We have gone astray; We have led others astray.

אשמנו. בגדנו. גזלנו. דיברנו דופי. העוינו. והרשענו. זדנו. חמסנו. טפלנו שקר. יעצנו רע. כיזבנו. לצנו. מרדנו. ניאצנו. סררנו. עווינו. פשענו. צררנו. קישינו עורף. רשענו. שיחתנו. תיעבנו. תעינו. תעתענו

Kalief Browder. Sandra Bland. Philando Castille. Chyna Doll Dupree. Trayvon Martin. Kiwi Herring. Eric Garner, Dontre Hamilton, Jordan Davis, Michael Brown, Hadiya Pendleton. The list goes on.

I dedicate my Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, to these innocent souls, taken from their families, in front of their families, violently.

In Essence, Mariya Moseley summarize the tragedy: “Twenty-two-year-old Kalief Browder spent three years in Riker’s Island, which has been ranked as one of the most violent prisons in the country. Reports show that of the 7,500 people detained at the prison, almost 80 percent have not yet been found guilty or innocent of the charges they face. After an unjust arrest at the age of 16, Browder endured beatings, starvation and torture without ever being convicted of a crime. On his first day there, he was beat by officers repeatedly, many of which were caught on surveillance video. He was eventually released after the case was dismissed. In June of 2015, Browder hanged himself with an air conditioning cord after he suffered from things like depression and several flashbacks from his imprisonment.”

Murdered by systematic racism, many times murdered by state employees who were caught on camera and still not convicted. Men and women, stopped and frisked, pulled over, shot, tortured and held without due process. Our system is broken but more urgently it is racist and it is breaking entire communities of people. I dedicate this holy fast day to all those mothers who legitimately fear for their child as they leave the house in the morning, I stand with you. To the girls, boys, women and and men in jail for nonviolent minor offenses- the punishment for not being able to make bail, I am ashamed. To black women and girls incarcerated, sexualized, raped, murdered and disappearing on our streets, I’m sorry. To trans women of color taken too soon in brutal serial murders, ignored by mainstream media and law enforcement, I see you.

I’m a white, cis, liberal Jewish activist, I enjoy Jewish traditions but I have always been more drawn to the Jewish values of justice and integrity than to liturgy. When the March for Racial Justice was planned for Yom Kippur I was hurt, for Jewish activists who believe that our participation in the movement is a moral imperative and were excluded from this event. I felt sad for Jewish people of color who, this Yom Kippur would have to choose and splice identities. Personally, I haven’t found meaning in Yom Kippur for many years. I take stock of my behavior every day, I’m far from perfect but I try to apologize, make amends, and do better as I go. Many Jews around the world find deep spiritual connection and meaning in this holiday but I don’t identify with a one day, ticking of the box of regret, apologies and forgiveness. I don’t fast because it makes me mean but I also don’t see how it helps anyone. So when my pain of feeling excluded from the movement subsided, after the apology and time had passed, I decided to go to DC anyway.

This Saturday, Yom Kippur, will be a real a day of reckoning for me. We white people must take responsibility, not for violent acts we haven’t perpetrated with our hands but for benefiting from and supporting a system of white supremacy that kills and jails people of color unequivocally. We have to acknowledge this system and all of its broken parts: health care, mass incarceration, rape culture, segregated education and housing. Our tax dollars support these systems that kill and incarcerate people of color at alarming rates and we can not continue to turn a blind eye. White men and women, among them Jews, elected a white supremacist, Nazi sympathizer to the White House. It is unconscionable.

If Yom Kippur is the day for taking stock, then let’s take it. Get real. Colin Kaepernick is not kneeling about Trump or Patriotism — he takes a knee because police officers are killing Black boys and men, and they are walking free, exonerated on account of their illegitimate and racist “fear” of people of color. Was 2016-2017 the year of Netflix and chill for you?Make 5778 the year of Netflix and get woke. Watch 13th and the Kalief Browder Story. Listen to the mothers, scholars, pundits and activists. Cry. Don’t turn it off. Get uncomfortable and then take action.

Support a candidate fighting for prison reform and health care for all. Attend a March or gathering. Speak up when you see and hear racism on the street and in your office. As the bloody events of Charlottesville reminded us, racism and anti-Semitism do not happen in a vacuum and they do not happen “over there” to “other people.” They are all around us, they are organized, they walk amongst us and sometimes, not always, they wear blue uniforms or suits with a red tie.

I will march in Washington on Yom Kippur for all of these sins and more. Marches are symbolic, a coming together to amplify the voices for Racial Justice. Marches are important but they are not a replacement for the rest of the work that we all must do: consciousness raising with other white people, calling, sending letters, supporting policy work, and listening to the voices and experiences of people of color. This Yom Kippur, fast, don’t fast, go to synagogue or don’t, but let’s use this day to wake up.

About the Author
Shira Pruce is an activist and communications professional. After living in Israel for 13 years, she has recently moved back to New Jersey. She is former director of public relations for Women of the Wall, and has advanced the work of MASLAN- the Negev’s Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Support Center and the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, to name just a few. She received her BA in Women and Gender Studies at Douglass College, Rutgers University.