SACRED TEXTS “AMERICA ABLAZE”
AMERICA ABLAZE ACCOUNTABILITY & RESPONSIBILITY
Rabbi Joachin Prinz, August 28, 1963, March On Washington, Speaking Before Dr. King:
“As Americans we share the profound concern of millions of people about the shame and disgrace of inequality and injustice which make a mockery of the great American idea.
As Jews we bring to this great demonstration, in which thousands of us proudly participate, a two-fold experience — one of the spirit and one of our history.
The most important thing that I learned under those tragic circumstances was that bigotry and hatred are not.. the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., April 14, 1967:
“I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard.
“And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met.
“And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.”
Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 54b:
“Rav, R. Hanina, and R. Yohanan taught. Whoever can protest to his household and does not, is accountable [for the sins] of his household; if he could protest to his townspeople, he is accountable for their sins; if he could protest to the whole world, he is accountable for the whole world.”
Maharal of Prague [1525-1609], Netivot Olam:
“While a person may be individually pious, such good will pale in the face of the sin of not protesting against an emerging communal evil. Such a pious person will be accountable for having been able to prevent it and did not.
“A tzadik who remains quiet and passive is ultimately responsible for the communal evil which he could have and should have prevented.”
Rabbi Paul Kipnes, May 31, 2020:
A Psalm for our cities on fire
Aflame with the fires of fear
With anger burning ‘bout brazen brutality:
From a kneed neck Floyd’s breath snuffed out over there
A Psalm for our cities on fire
Veering vigorously toward violence and hate
Preventing protests that promote another vision:
Of justice that we all must create
A Psalm for our brothers and sisters
Who fear for their lives, black and brown
When they jog, shop, go to church, or go bird watching
With their hands held up high, or when lying down
A Psalm to remind us ‘bout justice
And the debasement that threatens their lives
Because our silence can no longer silence
The real pain of widowed husbands and wives
So Pray for our cities on fire
And sing out songs of protest ‘gainst hate
But since lives, they are holy and matter
It’s time for action; we’re way past time of debate
WE STAND IN SOLIDARITY – JEWISH ORGANIZATIONS RESPOND
ADL – CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, Anti-Defamation League
We stand in solidarity with the Black community as they yet again are subject to pain and suffering of a racist and unjust system… We say once again: Black Lives Matter. And we commit to creating a country that lives by this statement.
JCPA – Jewish Council for Public Affairs
JCPA condemns the killings of Black Americans by law enforcement. We stand in solidarity and will do everything in our power to see through systemic changes in law enforcement and in our criminal justice system. We agree with Rep. Lewis that all protests should be nonviolent.
NCJW – Sheila Katz, CEO, National Council of Jewish Women
We will not remain silent….We are outraged and devastated by the murder of George Floyd… It is both unacceptaboe and exhausting in 2020, we still need to insist over and over again: Black Lives Matter… For now it is important to support Black and Brown communities and the leaders spearheading the peaceful, anti-racist response unfolding. Together, we will make sure the memory of George Floyd will be for blessing.
The Rabbinic Assembly – Conservative Rabbis
We join in the collective call for peace and reflection during civil unrest, but understand that to achieve this end we must act. For these reasons the Rabbinic Assembly calls on legislators at the national, state and local levels to fundamentally change their approach to law enforcement and the justice system so that they serve and protect all Americans regardless of race or ethnicity… We must forever strive for a free and just society for all people.
RAC – Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director
“The national rage expressed about the murder of Mr. Floyd reflects the depth of pain over the injustice that People of Color – and particularly Black men – have been subjected to throughout the generations. In recent months we have seen, yet again, too many devastating examples of persistent systemic racism, leading to the deaths not only of Mr. Floyd but of other precious souls, including Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.
We remember others before them: Eric Garner. Tamir Rice. Trayvon Martin. Sandra Bland. Oscar Grant. Philando Castile. Walter Scott. Terrence Crutcher. Samuel Dubose. Michael Brown. The list feels endless, and so too is our despair. But as we recite the Mourner’s Kaddish for them all, we say now, again: We will not sit idly by.
Our country simply cannot achieve the values of “justice for all” to which it aspires until we address ongoing racism in all sectors and at all levels of society. We remain in solidarity and action with the NAACP’s urgent #WeAreDoneDying campaign, whose policy demands cover areas of criminal justice, economic justice, health care, and voting, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disproportionately impact Black Americans.”
CCAR – Central Conference of American Rabbis Statement on Racist Killings (5/31/20)
Once again, the lethal reality of systemic racism has shown its evil face. The rabbis of the Central Conference of American Rabbis are horrified by the murders of George Floyd this past week and Ahmaud Arbery three months earlier, heartbreaking deaths which add further to the already long list of extra-judicial executions of African-Americans in our country. The appalling actions and images we have witnessed, of deadly police brutality in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and homicidal armed civilians in Brunswick, Georgia, are shocking, though tragically unsurprising. Racist extra-judicial executions are an American epidemic, a blight that has continued because, time and again, perpetrators have not been brought to justice. In the wake of these latest murders, CCAR members add our voices to all those throughout the nation in demanding that the individuals responsible for these heinous crimes be brought to justice, and also that the policies and systems which have led to few (if any) consequences in the vast majority of prior instances finally be addressed…
Today, Reform rabbis vehemently, and with even greater urgency, renew these demands. Further, we invite all Americans to join us in demonstrating our solidarity with Black Americans by :
- Reaching out to African-American friends who are in pain, frightened, or angry to offer support and to demonstrate our enduring presence;
- Patronizing Black-owned businesses;
- Supporting community efforts and organizations that work to empower African-Americans; and
- Learning how to be an anti-racist and joining efforts to change policies that perpetuate systemic racism.
The CCAR mourns the loss of the lives of Mr. Arbery and Mr. Floyd, who were tragically taken, and we grieve with the mourners. We stand in solidarity with communities that are peacefully protesting these murders, and we implore, despite the understandable and justified frustration and anger, that the vandalism, looting, and rioting end. We seek solidarity with good, noble, anti-racist law enforcement officials whose good names have been tarnished by these horrific crimes. And we commit ourselves anew to working to bring closer the day when the policies and systems governing the citizens of our nation treat every person equally—both in theory and in reality—regardless of the color of their skin. May that day come soon.
Rabbi Ronald Segal, President
Rabbi Hara Person, Chief Executive, Central Conference of American Rabbis
 Adapted from suggestions by Rabbi Wendi Geffen, Senior Rabbi, North Shore Congregation Israel, Glencoe, Illinois.