We Are Made in These Times

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

— Wendell Berry, Collected Poems

I am grateful to have returned a month ago from sabbatical to be with all of you, albeit in the same home office I had been in since mid-March when the Covid-19 pandemic necessitated this. I also share with many of you I have spoken with, the disorientation and challenge of our times, As a more extroverted and social person I find my wings clipped without interacting with you face to face as a community notwithstanding the blessing of being able to connect through various screens.

At the same time, what has been wonderful to see, out of these weeks turned months, is that so many of you have found the creativity and energy for offerings and ways of connecting in general and through Mishkan Shalom in particular. We continue to find our stride through on-line means, food drop-offs and safe “people-pods” of our choice. Community Pastoral Care, Torah for Our Times, Solo Tuesdays, Afternoon Healing Meditation, community gatherings as needed, rugelach baking sessions, on-line Tot Shabbat with animal puppet friends, and so much more along with the regular offerings, have emerged and will continue through the summer. Rabbi Yael and I, the High Holy Day team and Spiritual Life Council are already into planning our on-line High Holy Day offerings as our building remains closed until in tandem with health officials, we feel it is safe to return and a deep and ongoing cleaning is possible. I try to remind myself and everyone I speak with that we are not having “virtual” encounters- these are real experiences with each other through electronic means. All of this to support, engage and encourage our connections as a sacred and diverse community in the uncharted Covid-19 impacted times ahead.

Then came a series of killings by officers of African-Americans and the broad daylight execution of George Floyd--another in the four hundred years of public lynching and racist oppression black people have been subjected to in the “land of the free and the home of the brave”. For many of my black clergy colleagues, friends and Mishkan members of color I have spoken with who have endured racism and micro-aggressions for a lifetime, the 8 minutes and 46 seconds watching the officer’s knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck was shattering on a whole other level, even as it horrified us all.

For those who are and benefit from being white, (and the majority of Asheknazi heritage Jews are considered white in the U.S. and benefit from this, regardless of how those of us in this category see ourselves), a curtain of complacency or illusion of equity has been torn down. The oppression and the ensuing responses or lack thereof, are and will be televised!

We speak the names of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Sean Reed, Tony McDade, Jameek Lowery. As each of the lives of these African-American men and women have been erased in public murder or in the “safety” of their own homes, another unique soul has been torn from the fabric of the world by officers and individuals informed by white privilege and white supremacy.

Devastating grief needs space and individual pace. Listen deeply to each other without rationalizing or defending. Open into our own broken hearted-ness and determined hopefulness before each action- though we must act. Learn when good-willed attempts to do something without checking first misfire and do not ask to be made to feel okay by those most affected by ongoing trauma. Acknowledge and be with numbness, fears and internalized oppressions without shame and blame, and with each other’s support- move forward together.

 

The Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 54b, states: “Whoever can protest for their household and does not, is accountable for their household; if they could protest to their townspeople, they are accountable; if they could protest to the whole world, they are accountable for the whole world.” 

Protest will look different for each other. This is not a time, especially in the middle of a pandemic, to judge or assess each other on what the form of protest and action looks like uniformly. Some of us with underlying conditions or who are responsible for young ones and/or elders need to find other forms of involvement or become more activated than we are used to. Those of us who are used to taking the lead might need to witness and support our young leaders or people of color up front. I’d like to share the words of one of our members, David Love, who sent this to me with permission to include here:

"This is a time both of tremendous fear, anxiety and uncertainty, but also of possibilities and transformation. On the one hand, I feel as if we are in the last days of the Weimar Republic in Germany in 1933. On the other hand, we are witnessing an awakening, a movement for justice we haven't seen in this nation before. George Floyd was the catalyst, but this is about something more than Floyd and even more than police violence. We see multiracial coalitions and class solidarity building. We also see a frightening government response, blatant authoritarianism, and brute force to stop this new movement for justice. 

This moment in time reflects years of failing to come to terms with racial injustice. But now that so many eyes are opening up, I believe it is a prime opportunity to confront Dr. King's evil triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism. Black people always were and always will be on the front lines of this struggle, but I think it is time for white people to take the lead and reach their own white brothers and sisters. Black people have been the focal point of the police violence, but it is clear that they will not remain the only targets of violence.

The Jewish community can relate to this, and I'm reminded of the German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller and his poem "First They Came..." which dealt with his criticism of the cowardice of German intellectuals and clergy for not speaking up during the rise of Hitler. I'm also reminded of King's Letter from Birmingham Jail, where he took the moderate white clergy to task for preferring order to justice and wanting the civil rights movement to wait until a more convenient time to fight for freedom. 

I think this is the time to put our ideals to work. It is the time to deal with white privilege and white supremacy and racism, but also the ways society wages economic and social violence against people. Even as we socially distance and organize simultaneously, we all need each other more than ever."

Listen and Pay Attention,

Lift up the Ideals and the Visions We Long For,

We Are Here Together and We Need Each Other,

Keep Justice and Love- the Sacred at the Center

In this time of ongoing shattering, unrest, and uncertainty, we as a community, as we have many times before, look to one another for support and wisdom, to our Jewish and many traditions for guidance, and to all Earth. Rabbi Yael and I, Acts of Caring, the Community Pastoral team and our staff and leadership are here for you. We are here for each other. We are being made anew in these times.

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