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Shabbat Shalom from Rabbi Lisa Delson

Today is an Independence Day for the former slaves in our country. As Jews, we know how to celebrate emancipation, our entire Passover narrative is about being freed from slavery. Every year, we are supposed to feel as if we were personally freed from bondage and now have the chance for freedom. Had I not been listening, this day would have passed by me. I’m not proud of that fact, but it is the truth.

“A time for listening, and a time for speaking”
“What day is it again?” I ask myself this question all the time. Throughout the Stay-at-Home order, time has been distorted. Some days feel extremely long while the weeks seem to fly by and it is Shabbat all over again. It feels like yesterday that we made the decision to cancel our Purim celebration in March but now it is the middle of June! Our world has changed so much in just 17 (or is it 18?) weeks. We have had to rearrange our lives to avoid spreading COVID-19 by changing our shopping habits, our social calendars, our expectations of birthdays and celebrations, and our interactions with people who do not live in our homes. More recently, we have also been reminded in a very public way of the need to dismantle white supremacy and proclaim that the lives of black and brown people are systemically treated differently than white people. While this fact is not new, it has renewed a sense of urgency in public life and in our own personal lives.

“A season is set for everything, a time for every experience under heaven:

A time for being born and a time for dying, A time for planting and a time for uprooting the planted;

A time for slaying and a time for healing, A time for tearing down and a time for building up;

A time for weeping and a time for laughing, A time for wailing and a time for dancing;

A time for throwing stones and a time for gathering stones, A time for embracing and a time for shunning embraces;

A time for seeking and a time for losing, A time for keeping and a time for discarding;

A time for ripping and a time for sewing, A time for silence and a time for speaking;

A time for loving and a time for hating; A time for war and a time for peace.” Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

“What time is it now?” I could make an argument that it is time for all of these experiences under heaven, except, God forbid, hating and war. Each of these experiences, whether they are positive or negative encompass the fullness of our lives. But since we are in such a time of turmoil in our country, I actually think the phrase, “A time for silence and a time for speaking” is most relevant.

Since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, I have done a lot of reading about how to be a white ally. I don’t claim to have all the answers but I have learned one of the most important things I can do is listen, truly listen to the experience of black people and people of color in our country. The listening I have been doing has come in the form of reading articles, following Instagram posts, and watching the protests from home. Right now, listening is not inaction, it is quiet action. It is a reflection on how my experience and our experiences are vastly different to those of people of color due, in part, to the white privilege and systemic oppression.

Today, June 19th marks Juneteenth, 155 years since Texas outlawed slavery in 1865, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was announced. While not a national holiday, 47 out of 50 states celebrate this day. Today is an Independence Day for the former slaves in our country. As Jews, we know how to celebrate emancipation, our entire Passover narrative is about being freed from slavery. Every year, we are supposed to feel as if we were personally freed from bondage and now have the chance for freedom. Had I not been listening, this day would have passed by me. I’m not proud of that fact, but it is the truth.

“When is it time for speaking?” Now is also the time to speak. Now is the time to talk about how each of us has been affected by and propagated white supremacy in our words and our actions. After we have done a great deal of listening, reading, and listening some more, then we must speak out for black lives. We must do what we can with the privilege that we hold to make the systems better. This summer and beyond, we are going to explore how we can make a difference in the world, how to create a more racially just society. It’s going to require a lot of listening, a little speaking, embracing change, weeping, discarding old ideas, and most of all loving.