From Saturday Night’s Interfaith Zoom Vigil for George Floyd
I didn’t know until I got there how important it was to show up. I was the only Rabbi on the panel of speakers and one of only two white faces. We must do whatever you can to show up. Call your friends, co-workers, and neighbours of colour, because they are suffering now. (And if you don’t have any, that tells you something about how segregated our society is. Ask yourself what you might do to change that.) The news has been triggering for many. Just as we gather around people in their hour of grief, we must reach out to hold the anger, the sadness, and the pain of those who fear they have lost their place in the world. We must reassure them that the only world we want to inhabit, includes them.
Here are the words I shared at Saturday Night’s Interfaith Zoom Vigil for George Floyd.
Thank you, Chaplain Martin. No need for reading from my biography. There are many more important things tonight. But I will share with you all something about where I come from.
My grandfather had his rights taken away from him one by one. He fled Nazi Germany for America in 1936. He became a Rabbi and devoted much of his work to building interfaith and interracial bridges. He loved America and all of its promise. He heeded the call of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and went to march in Selma. He went with my grandmother’s blessing. And he went again to Washington to hear “I Have A Dream.” A reserved seat was waiting for him at the front by the stage, but he never made it to his seat, because as he was walking across the mall, an older black man fainted from the heat, maybe dehydration. He hit his head on the pavement. My grandfather stayed with him a long time until help eventually came. He understood that Dr. King’s words, inspired by the Hebrew Bible instructed him to stay there on the hot pavement with a man’s head in his hands. So he never made it to his seat in front of the stage, but he heard the echo of King’s dream that day. And so do I.
Now you know something about where I come from.
Saturday is the Jewish Sabbath. Normally it is a day of peace and rest, but not today. Today’s unrest, prompted me to turn to this prayer written by Rabbi Mitchell Salem Fisher: “God, make us dissatisfied. Dissatisfied with the peace of ignorance, the quietude which arises from a shunning of the horror, the defeat, the bitterness and the poverty – both physical and spiritual — of human beings. Shock us, Adonai, deny to us the false Shabbat which gives us the delusions of satisfaction amid a world of war and hatred…Disturb us, O God, and vex us; let not your Shabbat be a day of torpor and slumber; let it be a time to be stirred and spurred to action.”
One of the treasures of our archives at my synagogue, Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto, is a letter from The Rev Dr. King. It is a thank you letter for hosting him in March of 1962 and for raising funds to support the Civil Rights Movement. When he addressed my congregation from a packed sanctuary, he famously said: “The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.” I want to believe him. But I’m not seeing it today.
A lot of good people don’t know what to do. A lot of good people don’t know what to say. Myself included. When Imam Habeeb Alli invited me to join you tonight, I knew I had to say Yes. I had to be sure the Jewish Community was counted among the supporters, among the mourners, among the outraged, among the distraught, among the justice seekers. Dr. King also taught us that “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” So here I am. But the truth is silence seems best. There are no words. We are dumb-struck today. But, God-forbid, our silence is misunderstood as indifference. Holocaust survivor and justice activist Elie Weisel famously said: “The opposite of love is not hate; it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness; it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy; it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death; it’s indifference.”
If we want to be alive in this world, we cannot be indifferent to the racial injustices which are raging today and we cannot be silent. This is a good country, we are blessed to call Canada our home, but we shouldn’t be so smug or so ignorant or foolish to believe that this is only a problem South of the Border. We know better.
I’d like to recall the names of just some of the human beings whose lives were at risk simply because of the pigment of their skin. May remembering them move us to act.
If you like to go birdwatching, remember Christian Cooper.
If you like to go jogging, remember Amaud Arbery.
If you like to relax in the comfort of your own home, remember Botham Jean and Atatiana Jefferson.
If you want to be able to ask for help after being in a car crash, remember Jonathan Ferrell and Renisha McBride.
If you want to carry a cellphone, remember Stephon Clark.
If you ever want to leave a party to get to safety, remember Jordan Edwards.
If you like to play loud music, remember Jordan Davis.
If you sell CDs, remember Alton Sterling.
If you want to sleep in peace, remember Aiyana Jones.
If you like to walk from the corner store, remember Mike Brown.
If your child likes to play cops and robbers, remember Tamir Rice.
If you like to go to church remember the Charleston 9.
If you like to walk home with Skittles, remember Trayvon Martin.
If you’ve ever left your own bachelor party, remember Sean Bell.
If you like to party on New Year’s Eve, remember Oscar Grant.
If you’ve ever gotten a normal traffic ticket, remember Sandra Bland.
If you choose to legally carry a weapon, remember Philandro Castile.
If you’ve ever had car trouble on a public road, remember Corey Jones and Terrence Crutcher.
If you like to shop at Walmart, remember John Crawford.
If you like to read a book in your own car, remember Keith Scott.
If you like to take a walk with your ten-year-old grandchild, remember Clifford Glover.
If you like to decorate for a party, remember Claude Reese.
If you want to be able to can ask a police officer a question, remember Randy Evans.
If you want to cash a check, remember Yvonne Smallwood.
If you want to take out your wallet from your pocket, remember Amadou Diallo.
If you like to run, remember Walter Scott.
If you want to breathe, remember Eric Garner.
If you want to live, remember Freddie Gray.
If you want to sleep in your own bed, remember Breonna Taylor.
If you want the right to be arrested without fear of being murdered, remember George Floyd.
May their names be for a blessing and prompt us to do the hard work it takes to bend the arc of history away from violence and bigotry and back towards justice and knowledge of the fact that every human being is created in the image of God.
I am pleased to announce that we will welcome a very special guest this Friday evening. As part of our Kabbalat Shabbat Service, The Reverend Doctor Anthony Bailey from Ottawa, will join me for “A Sermon in Conversation.” We met this spring when we were interviewed for CBC Metro Morning. In just those few moments, I knew he was someone I’d like to get to know better. His extraordinary leadership is a gift at this trying time. I hope you’ll join us.
This Kabbalat Shabbat, we are honoured to welcome Rev. Dr. Anthony Bailey who will join Rabbi Yael Splansky in a “Sermon in Conversation” promoting greater understanding and allyship. We hope you will join us. To join us for Kabbalat Shabbat Services, we will be Livestreaming through our Facebook Page as well as through our website.