January 15, 2021
We have a beautiful tradition as Jews – we make sure that we remember our loved ones, at least five times during the year. We say their names. The names recall memories; they mean something to us. These names are passed on to our children and embedded in our hearts.
This past year, we are also encouraged to say their names. It’s a 2020 mantra. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Jacob Blake, and so many others. We did not know these people personally, but for the simple fact that these people were assaulted or killed unjustly, we say their names too. Hopefully, by committing to remember them, we’ll be inspired to make the changes needed in our country so that meaningless deaths like these will not continue.
For many of our friends of color, these fears and many others are the reality of life in America. For the sake of injustice and discrimination so rampant in our country, we need to support Black Lives Matter. With the election of Obama, we convinced ourselves that we’re no longer prejudiced. But it’s obvious the problems for Black Americans in our country are far from over. I know some of you object. There are Black Lives Matter leaders that view Israel as an apartheid state. They support boycotts and sanctions against Israel. Furthermore, black anti-Semitism seems to be on the rise. If we haven’t experienced it ourselves, we’ve seen it in the news and in professional athletes’ tweets. I acknowledge these truths. But should it stop us from doing the right thing? Was there ever a time when it was unbecoming to target Jews? Even on January 6, 2021 in the insurrection attack on our nation’s capital, Jews were a target again. Throughout history, we have been despised for a multitude of reasons. We never let it stop us from being true to ourselves.
Bari Weiss writes in her book “How to Fight Antisemitism”: “On the far right, Jews are condemned as internationalists, disparaged for being insufficiently white, and for refusing to renounce universalist values. The “logic” goes like this: Whites are at the top. Blacks and browns and immigrants are at the bottom. And Jews occupy the duplicitous middle position. They can—and often do—appear to be white. But they are, in fact, slavishly loyal to those at the bottom. Thus the Jews are the ultimate betrayers of the white race, the most powerful racial enemy white people have.”
To the White Supremacists, we’re betrayers to our white skin. But to certain Blacks, we’re just Whites who have created another apartheid state in Israel. Bari continues, “leftwing Anti-Zionist anti-Semitism cloaks itself in the language of progressive values—standing up for the downtrodden, protecting the underdog—even as anti-Zionists make common cause with some of the most regressive ideologies and regimes on earth. Both types position the Jews as a people apart, a people arrayed against the interests of the people.” In the end, we’re not appreciated, by either side. So what?!
We just need to do what is right. This week’s Torah portion, Vaera (Exodus 6:2-9:35), we read, “I will take you to be My people, and I will be Your God (6:7).” Our ancestors are enslaved in Egypt and God will let them free, from bondage as well as redeem them from low self-worth. The plagues will soon follow, namely because those with power do not want to relinquish their control. It takes a miraculous, significant event. It’s not good enough to say, “Well I’m not the cause of the problem, I’m not a racist.”
Standing up for Black Lives or other minorities is not an issue of one hand washes the other. We don’t stand up against racism and inequality because we want concessions on Israel or anti-Semitism. We don’t stand against racism and inequality because someday the racists will come for us. We stand against racism and inequality because we stand up for what’s right. We know that God is with us and that is why we continue to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. each and every year as a reminder that our sacred task is still not done.