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Rabbi Stiefel's Monthly Article

Rabbi Sharon Stiefel

Current July/August 2020

 

This Moment


    As I write this, we are battling two pandemics. The first is the pandemic of COVID-19, which we hope will be short lived --- even if that means it’s prevalent for up to two years. The second is the pandemic of racism.  This pandemic did not start on May 25th of this year; it has unfortunately been with us for centuries. There is no vaccine for racism; and, no matter how much progress we make, it remains persistent in the fabric of our society. And in fact the two pandemics are related, as COVID-19 disproportionally affects African-Americans, who die at three times the rate of white people. The NAACP has launched a campaign called “We are Done Dying” to mark multiple struggles against senseless hate crimes and staggering incidences of coronavirus.

    This moment is a time for us to learn even more about racism in the Jewish community, white privilege, and Jews of Color. I bring your attention to Evolve, an initiative of Reconstructing Judaism, which focuses on groundbreaking conversations. Evolve has many articles facilitating our commitment to a lifetime of fighting racism. Their page on race (http://evolve.reconstructingjudaism.org/judaism-and-race) includes articles such as: “Racism in the Jewish Community,” “Preparing Our Communities for Conversations About Race,” “Slavery and Its Atonement,” “Radical Inclusion,” “One Synagogue’s Experience With a Racial Justice Discussion Group,” “Jews and White Privilege” and “Anti-Racism Work in the Jewish Community.”

    But learning is not enough.  Many have participated in protests and marches, myself included.  Now that there are fewer protests and marches, we cannot grow complacent. The criminal justice system needs reform. Learning about and taking a stand on legislative efforts at the city, state, and national levels is one way to continue our activism.  Beyond criminal justice, other policy areas need reform.  Organizations within and outside of the Jewish community have been working to reduce poverty, increase access to health care and affordable housing.  Joining in those efforts can truly make a difference. It is imperative that we fight against voter suppression and work to increase voter turnout.

    Despite the enormity of the tasks before us, I am also heartened by this moment. George Floyd’s death has sparked an awakening in our country. Numerous organizations, Reconstructing Judaism included, have issued statements regarding fighting racial injustice. I am stunned by public pledges made by retailers who send me marketing emails. I know this is not enough and words are cheap, but then again, I have not witnessed visible commitments like this before. I am encouraged by community solidarity: donations of food and other items, neighborhood watches, and projects for mutual aid. People are partnering together.

    At this time, we need to open our eyes even further and be fully attentive to racism and inequality, to educate ourselves and to take action. Rabbi Tarfon in Pirkei Avot, (Ethics of our Fathers) taught, "It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but you are not free to desist from it either." Yes, the work is enormous. Let us seize this moment and do even more.