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Racism In Our Time

“That Justice is a blind goddess, Is a thing to which we black are wise: Her bandage hides two festering sores, That once perhaps were eyes.”

This is a painful and turbulent time in our country. The murder of George Floyd provokes outrage, anger and sadness. The violent images I see on screen hurt my eyes and heart. My ears and soul are pained by the divisive language I hear. And as I consider the decency and values which I have always thought were the foundations of our society, the ties that bind us together appear fragiled.

We know from our Torah that our tradition teaches that every human soul is created in the image of the Divine. We read in Genesis that we are all our brother’s keeper. The Holiness Code in Leviticus teaches us not to stand idly by the blood of our neighbor. It also teaches us that we have to consider our actions, words, and the impact they have on others: “Love your fellow as yourself.” These moral precepts are meant to shape how we regard and treat all people.

In our community we talk a lot about what justice looks like and that justice anywhere must mean justice for all people. Since the time of the prophets we’ve been aware that the righteousness of a society isn’t measured by the number of people who are comfortable, but by the way the vulnerable are treated. We will not have arrived as a society until we have addressed and rectified the systemic and institutional racism that has affected the black community for generations. The killing of George Floyd has become a symbol of repression, just as the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the disparities in the treatment of affluent and low-income communities.

The poem, Justice, by the great poet Langston Hughes, resonates powerfully at this time:
“That Justice is a blind goddess
Is a thing to which we black are wise:
Her bandage hides two festering sores
That once perhaps were eyes.”

Right now we are painfully aware that there is so much work ahead that is needed, and I hope that every one of us will all be part of the solution.

It’s not enough not to be racist. We have to be antiracists. We need to be allies to the black community. I would encourage all of us to make sure we are well read when it comes to the current issues in the news, look to literature to expand our world view, and immerse ourselves on the subject of racism and its sad history in our country.

I would encourage all of us to be following current events and to turn to some works of non-fiction that have shaped the national conversation about race, such as How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi and Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I would encourage you to take part in justice efforts led by communities of color, such as the NAACP’s #WeAreDoneDying campaign.

If you would like to take action, please let Rabbi Delson, who leads our Social Justice efforts, know that you would like to be part of the solution. You can also look for book group and discussion opportunities for adults and teens in the near future.

We will do what we have always done at PTS. During times of pain, we come together. Please join us this Friday night, at 6:30 pm, for a Shabbat service that incorporates themes of justice and equality through music and liturgy. Rabbi Delson will be speaking on the subject of racial injustice and social inequality.

And let the fire that fuels us toward justice keep burning. For as Martin Luther King Jr. liked to quote, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”