Dear Congregants and Friends,
Six days ago our nation and the world witnessed the killing, caught on camera, of George Floyd, a 46 year old Black American man in the custody of the Minneapolis Police Department. By now the horrific image has been seared into the consciousness of the American public – a Minneapolis police officer with his leg on the neck of a black man lying prone and handcuffed on the ground, the victim pleading with the officer that he cannot breathe, even calling out to his dead mother for help, while three other officers stand by and watch. By the time the paramedics arrived, George Floyd was unresponsive. Massive protests have erupted nationwide and in other countries against this travesty, emblematic of the racism and inequality that has long afflicted our country.
As we know this is not an isolated incident. We have become used to periodic reports of police violence against Black citizens, often caught on cell phones by passers-by. This is not a matter of a few over-zealous policemen. This is a problem of systemic racism. A recent Washington Post analysis showed that black Americans are shot and killed by police at a rate that is twice as high as for White Americans. Tragically this is happening with the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic which has struck far more members of the Black community than any other group in the United States.
We are all accountable for doing our part to end the racism that has long been part of American society. At times like this I am reminded of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s statement published in an essay entitled, “Why I am Involved in the Peace Movement”. He writes, “The more deeply immersed I became in the thinking of the Prophets, the more powerfully it became clear to me what the lives of the Prophets sought to convey: that morally speaking, there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings, that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.”
The Torah teaches us that we must “not stand by the blood of our neighbor”. (Leviticus 19:15) We cannot do nothing. We must not look the other way. It is imperative we elect officials on the local, state and national levels who will make racial justice a priority in this country. We must speak out when we hear racist comments made by our family members, friends, fellow workers and business associates. We must demand that we end discrimination in all walks of life. We must work toward the day when equality truly exists for all Americans regardless of the color of their skin. Perhaps most of all we need to examine and discuss with family, friends, and neighbors our own attitudes toward African Americans, reflect on and discuss with people in our lives our own prejudices, our own biases. Let us make sure we are not part of the problem, but part of the solution.
Rabbi Marc Rudolph