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Kol Ha Bayit: BST & BLM - A Personal Opinion

06/08/2020 11:07:14 PM


Robert Jobrack

What is our congregation’s position on Black Lives Matter, the protests, the civil unrest,  and the politics surrounding it all? 

If you want the Union of Reform Judaism’s official statement, you can read it here:

One key sentence from that position: “Our country simply cannot achieve the values of "justice for all" to which it aspires until we address ongoing racism in all sectors and at all levels of society.”

But what do we, a small congregation in Fredericksburg, Virginia, do about this?  We are a diverse congregation in terms of our political beliefs and standing.  One of the things I really like about our congregation is this diversity of opinion: we can respect and like one another while having widely different solutions to society’s issues.  It would be intellectually numbing if we all felt the same way.

Personally, I like to first agree on what I think we all agree on:

  • Racism is a problem in the U.S.   Even those of us who think it’s less prevalent than it was 30, 40 or 80 years ago are under no illusions that it doesn’t exist
  • AfricanAmericans, the only group of Americans whose ancestors came to the Western Hemisphere as slaves, have been subject to the worst racism over the course of our nation’s history up to and including the present day.
  • While society cannot and should not control what every person thinks, racist expressions and behavior by entities of the state are exceptionally offensive.  To me, this is far more terrible than the random ignoramus who believes one race is inherently superior to another.
  • Civil protest, even if it is disruptive to society, is permissible and should be encouraged so citizens can express their passionate beliefs and rights.  That’s frequently the only way society addresses wrongs. 
  • Destruction of property and theft are not permissible, and law enforcement has a duty to prevent it and to pursue legal action against those who commit it.
  • Judaism demands we pursue justice.  It’s not optional if we consider ourselves Jews.

I think we can agree on all of these points.  If not, I invite you to discuss it with me over a shared beverage, even if it’s via Zoom. 

I confess to being one of the “glass is half full” contingent about racism.  I believed that explicit violent acts were done by individuals.  I believed that most institutions exist somewhere on a spectrum of racism and much of it is unconscious.  While no institution is totally immune, most want to do the right thing.   I believe racism is fading in most of society and would eventually diminish as each generation matured.  I’m pretty sure that explicit displays of racism when seen are condemned.  However, the recent incidents involving George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery make me reexamine my views.  The graphic videos accompanying the Floyd killing make me wonder how often this happens when no cameras are present.    

So what should we, as a Jewish community, do right now? I’m unsure about specific, concrete steps we can take that will change things.  But I know that we can and should speak our minds. We should  participate in protests when we are moved.  We should contact our elected officials to let them know how we feel.  At some point, specific policy and legislative actions will be proposed to address institutional racism and those of us who think some of these swing the pendulum too far should speak up.  Each of us should vote for officials who take action we deem appropriate, and vote against  officials who don’t live up to the standards and values we hold  (Yeah:  Vote.  It’s mundane but critical).  We should do what American Jews have always done:  we should be a loud voice for compassion and reason in our pursuit for justice.  We should be adding to the debate through words and actions to move towards solutions.  We all want justice and now we have to figure out how we imperfect humans can work to achieve it.

Fri, February 23 2024 14 Adar I 5784