Events of the past few weeks have been heart-wrenching and it is hard to put into words what we are feeling. Again last night we mourned the tragic loss of lives, this time in France.
Our country is deep in a conversation. It’s about race. It’s about identity. It’s about equality. It’s about respect and it's about assumptions. It’s about senseless killings of African-Americans, police and other innocents.
Today, we have more questions than answers.
We cannot shy away from the immensity of the challenge before us or the depth of the pain we may feel. And as we grapple with the enormity of it all, let us not lose sight that members of our Jewish community also are touched personally by the issues at play, among them those who work in law enforcement, including police officers, and the growing numbers of Jews who are people of color.
Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt, president of the Rabbinic Cabinet of The Jewish Federations of North America, shared with me the following:
“In the aftermath of the turmoil and tragic events, many question what is happening to our nation. The voices of hate, of division, of violence and of racism seem to be so pervasive that we cannot help but feel a sense of overwhelming despair and anguish.
“Yet at precisely a time such as this, we must raise our voice, a voice of reason, of hope, and of tolerance to counter the darkness that threatens to envelop us…”
Let’s seek opportunities not only to stand together at memorial services or to lend our voices, but also to sit down and talk, as we try to understand the perspectives of others. Part of the challenge stems from the increasing polarization and breakdown of social trust in our society. As Federation leaders and as individuals, we can help address that part of the problem.
Let’s seek out our neighbors and co-workers, our fellow congregants of varying hues, those whose experiences differ from our own. Let’s do a better job of sharing on social media not only articles and passages from Jewish perspectives, but also those from the communities that have varying perspectives.
Too many of us live insular lives, making it more difficult to understand the hurt and fear that others feel. Let’s create safe spaces in our communities for people to talk about their different perspectives and learn to listen with earnest interest and respect.
Following a vigil in Dallas for the slain officers, Rabbi David Stern, president-elect of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, wrote:
“And maybe the greatest complexity of all: the racial healing we seek will be painful, and the pain will be evidence that we’re healing. The involvement of Jews in the civil rights movement fifty years ago does not grant us a free pass today. As Jews, we will need to expand our circle of prophets—because the voices of Jeremiah and Amos are carried forward in our day by writer/activists like Ta-Nehisi Coates and Bryan Stevenson.
“Instead, the God who heard the cry of the oppressed requires us to listen—to narratives of racism, to exposures of white privilege and educational inequities and mythic meritocracies. We do not need to agree with everything we hear, but we need to hear it. And when that hearing produces pain, then we need to feel it. And if that pain motivates us to create a more just and safe society instead of silencing the truths that disturb us, we will know that we have broken through the silence towards hope. The books of the Hebrew prophets are fundamental to our identity as Jews, but they do not make good bedtime reading. This healing will sting before it salves.”
With the senseless, outrageous killings of the past few weeks, complex issues have surfaced and the social and political environment, the very fabric of our nation, is strained. We can be exemplars of a different path—one that brings light, hope and connection to repair the social fabric of our society.
We must try.
Jerry Silverman is president & CEO of The Jewish Federations of North America