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Flattening the Curve on the Global Pandemic of Racial Injustice

*With today’s ruling concerning the Theriault Brothers, our city is waking up to police brutality.  With this month’s shocking deaths of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, Chantel Moore, and Ejaz Choudry, our country is waking up to the fact that our police are unable to handle distress calls and need mental health professionals as their partners.  With recent protests, our world is waking up to systemic racism everywhere. 
*Corrected text

Maimonides taught in the 12th century that the act of teshuvah or repentance requires taking responsibility for our culpabilities, apologizing, and then, when confronted with the same situation, acting differently.  We all have biases.  We make hundreds of assumptions and judgements every day.  They are not hateful, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t damaging.  We are good and strive to be good.  But Judaism clearly teaches that our sins of omission are nevertheless sinful and “standing idly by while our neighbours bleed” is a sin, which we know all-too-well, leads to dangerous places.

“We Take this Pledge:
A Prayer In Memory of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery”
by Rabbi Naomi Levy of Los Angeles
 

Innocent blood is calling out, God,
Echoing through the universe.
We must ask ourselves
What have we done?
What have we ignored, allowed, denied,
Excused?

But today we shed our excuses
In a time of soul-searching.
We take this pledge
For our black brothers and sisters
and for You, God:

“I am my brother’s keeper
And I will change!
Change my heart
Change the laws
And change the unwritten law
That says the way it’s always been
Is the way it will always be.
I will do my part to uproot hatred, prejudice and racism.
I will speak out against police brutality
And a system of justice that is unjust.
I will vote out leaders who do not lead.
And together we will unite as one in a time of repair
We will build
And we will rise
Black and white
All races and faiths
To a new way, a new day.

As the marches fade our work begins.
Bless us, God, work through us.
Teach us to lead with love.
Help us to turn our helplessness into actions that will heal our nation.
Shield us from indifference and despair and our tendency to forget.
Fill us with strength and hope and the perseverance to make lasting change.
In memory of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery
And the countless souls whose blood cries out from the ground
In their memory and in their honor
We take this pledge:
“I am my brother’s keeper.”
Amen.

Racial injustice can be hard to recognize, but, like a virus, can nevertheless be powerful enough to tear lives apart.  It often lurks right on the surfaces like a contagion, but until we are taught  about it, we can go through our days oblivious to our exposure and how, unknowingly, we carry it with us like an infectious disease.

“Vaccinate Us”
By Rabbi Jen Gubitz of Boston

As our world suffers,
sickened by this virus – we pray:

Inoculate our hearts with fortitude
to dismantle systemic racism
Inject our souls with compassion to love
and then to love harder
Mitigate our structures of power
against abuse, exploitation and violence.
Protect our siblings, among us and beyond,
beloved humans who lay bleeding in our streets

Strengthen those wearied by oppression,
with renewed energy, tenacity, hope and rest.

Fortify our hearts to listen deeply and amplify the voices
of Black people
of Brown people
of Indigenous people everywhere

Immunize us, O Source of Healing,
Immunize us against this viral historic hate,
Course through our veins courage and conviction
to reckon with our implicit bias
to apologize for our role in the pain
to fight to end this oppression
Vaccinate us, vaccinate us, O Source of Healing
with the sacred power of love. 

 

Summer Reading, Listening, and Watching

Rabbi Israel Salanter, the 19th-century teacher of Mussar, famously wrote: “When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world.  But I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my country.  When I found I couldn’t change my country, I began to focus on my town.  However, I discovered that I couldn’t change the town, and so as I grew older, I tried to change my family.  Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself.  Now I’ve come to recognize that if long ago I had started with myself, then I could have made an impact on my family.  And, my family and I could have made an impact on our town.  And that, in turn, could have changed the country and we could all indeed have changed the world.“

I honestly don’t know if this wisdom is true.  I’m curious to hear your thoughts – especially those who have many years of life experience to draw from.  If it is true that we must start with ourselves, here are some recommended resources to help. Please share your insights in the comment section below.

 

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  • Suzanne Heft
    Reply

    “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” — Viktor Frankl

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