Black Lives Matter is a Jewish Value

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6 mins read

This week’s Torah portion is Sh’lach L’cha ( Num 13:1-15:41) in which the Israelites must decide if they will respond out of courage or out of fear. Our history is replete with instances of moral reckoning, including the present moment. Leaders of the Reform Movement have responded courageously by issuing this statement: Black Lives Matter is a Jewish Value .

These are unprecedented times. 
This moment we are witnessing will be remembered not only for the powerful social forces that have been unleashed, but also for the remarkable sense of solidarity that has been emerging.
Many of you remember when calls for famine-relief in Africa inspired some of the greatest performers ever to come together and sing ” We Are the World .” The special instruction Quincy Jones sent out to the several dozen pop stars who were invited to participate in the recording was: ” Check your egos at the door .”

The record Jones produced from that session would eventually sell more than 7 million copies and raise more than $60 million for famine relief. The music video from that late night recording session remains as a testimony to the beauty, creativity and solidarity that is possible when we “check our egos at the door.”

Many remakes of the song have been done since, including one Lionel Richie completed just a month ago in response to the isolation so many of us are feeling in the wake of the pandemic. It was Richie who co-wrote the song with Michael Jackson, and it was he who sang the first words: ” There comes a time when we heed a certain call; when the world must come together as one. ” This is definitely a time for us to heed the call.

Yet even a month ago seems like a year ago, now that the world is consumed by protests against police brutality sparked by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Rayshard Brooks. Today’s holiday, Juneteenth (also known as Freedom Day), has taken on unparalleled significance and is being celebrated with protests across the nation, even here on the Coastside.

I’ll be participating in a protest today from 12-4pm at the intersection of Main Street and 92 in Half Moon Bay. I’ll be joined by about ten other CJC members as we stand in solidarity with our African American brothers and sisters to demonstrate that our shared history of oppression makes us natural partners in the struggle for equality and inclusion.

If you are concerned about COVID-19, there is no need to risk your health. Fortunately, there are many other ways to protest the systemic racial inequalities that we can change:

Protest with your money – boycott institutions who are not on board with this racial justice revolution in which we now find ourselves. Invest in causes moving forward the work – especially those that are Black led.
Protest with your vote – get engaged and support candidates who reflect your values. Research your ballot thoroughly and thoughtfully in advance of the elections to find out what each candidate stands for and is behind.
Protest with your voice – post and speak out against racist stereotypes when you hear them and help others to understand the systems of racism that continue to shackle and harm our Black and brown brothers and sisters.
Protest with your handwriting – writing letters is a simple, effective way to volunteer from the comfort and safety of your home. Receiving a hand-written Vote Forward letter will make people more likely to vote in a way that will bring about much needed change.
Protest with your creativity – with your art, poetry, writing, music, face masks, clothing, signs on your car windows, social media…[fill in the blank.] And support the creativity of others. Here’s a powerful music video by Jewish musician Beth Schafer entitled, ” I Can’t Breathe. ” You can help circulate messages like this. Protest with your love – expand your circle to include more people, including people of different backgrounds and identities.

As individuals, we are all different. But when we get to know one another, we discover that these differences exist mostly on a superficial level. When we begin to fully understand our common essence and destiny as members of one human race, rivalry and competition for scarce resources disappear. This discovery leads to deep love, empathy, solidarity and freedom. When we check our egos at the door, we can celebrate our unity with all our brothers and sisters, knowing that we are one.


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Rabbi Moshe Tom Heyn is a musician, pastoral care professional and spiritual activist who practices and teaches a synthesis of humanism and mysticism. He is also the Spiritual Leader of the Coastside Jewish Community, which is celebrating a spiritual renaissance along the breathtakingly scenic 40-mile stretch of the Pacific Coast just south of San Francisco.

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