Black Lives Matter To Jews As Well
“The Messiah will come before President Trump appeals to the better angels…”
Andrew Silow-Carroll is the the editor in chief of the Jewish Week in New York. In his weekend update he wrote about events of the past week including President Trump’s photo op in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church. He said, “Mashiach will come before President Trump appeals to the better angels of our nature, or to our common humanity.”
It reminded me of a sermon I gave about a year and a half ago,( the last sermon I gave at Temple Beth Am ) that proved to be quite controversial.
In the sermon I talked about the President as a human being not his politics. The line that sticks with me till today is an imaginary quote Iattributed to my bubie, “Azoy rett a president?” That is how a President speaks? ( please add yidish accent to the question for full effectiveness)
Though the sermon ended with an ovation, the blow back afterwards was quite passionate. As I engaged the dissenters, I saw immediately that the emotional divide I was experiencing was all about Israel. How could I say such things about the president who was so good to and for Israel? How could you focus on demeanor and behavior when he was moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, the capital of Israel?
One encounter was with an elderly holocaust survivor who did not like my sermon. She said he was so good for Israel and for the African Americans? At this point I asked her in Yiddish so there would be no misunderstanding, “ The president , err is a ligner or nsiht”? The president is he a liar or not?
She answered, “Err is nisht a ligner.” He is not a liar. I knew I had hit a wall. All could be forgiven or ignored because he was so good for Israel.
All of this came back to me again this week when in the same Jewish Week paper, a colleague of mine, Rabbi Avi Olitsky the senior Rabbi of Beth El in Minneapolis wrote an oped entitled “I, A Minneapolis Rabbi , Changed My Mind About ‘Black Lives Matter’”. Before this article I always knew of him as a kindred soul because he brought kosher hot dogs to Target Stadium where the Twins play.
In the article he points out how despite his hate of racism he always grimaced when he heard the cry of , “Black Lives Matter” because in the 2016 platform for BLM, they referred to Israel as an “apartheid state” and condemned the US for its alliance with Israel and therefore allying with the genocide against the Palestinian people. For 4 years whenever he heard the phrase Black Lives Matter, all he could see was the anti-Israel and antisemitic tropes coming from them. Then came the murder of George Floyd in St. Louis Park, his home, his shule’s home and George Floyd’s home.
He saw a senseless murder that shook him to his core but his black friends saw a lot more. They saw a history of police brutality, hundreds of years of “neck-kneeling aggression” and of “white privilege leaving the black community behind”. In his town the disparity between whites and people of color on the issues of poverty, unemployment, at risk youth, and homeownership is one of the greatest in the country.
He points out that Jews are supposed to be a light unto the nations, but he says, “when we spend so much time shinning and speaking and teaching, we simply aren’t doing enough listening”.
There are bad cops but also good cops. There are black people who hate Israel but also many who love Israel, but for now his priority will be ensuring that George Floyd’s life won’t be in vain. He has not forgotten Israel or downgraded its importance, but he has changed the priority of his causes. He says, “We can argue and joust and cry about Israel another day. Today, we have a categorical moral imperative to hear the pain of our black brothers and sisters.”
And for those who are about to attack me for sharing this article, note the irony of Israelis protesting in solidarity against racism in Israel and the United States.
Enough is enough.