shared 4/30 in hope of helping rabbis and Jewish leaders speak to events unfolding in Baltimore
Dear colleagues -
Jews United for Justice (JUFJ) educates, organizes, and mobilizes the Jewish communities of the greater DC-Baltimore area to work locally for economic, social, and racial justice. Click here for more about us.
We are heartbroken by the death of 25-year-young Freddie Gray z"l in the custody of Baltimore police, and by the larger issues of racial inequality and police brutality that were laid bare yet again by this incident. But we have also been moved and grateful for all of you who have written or called us to offer support and ask what you can do to help in this tumultuous time.
Our partners in the Black community tell us that one of the most important things you can do as a rabbi is to begin or deepen a conversation with your community about racism, police brutality, and inequality in Baltimore and beyond. We are, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, in the midst of “the fierce urgency of now.”
We know it can be hard to speak about these topics from the bimah and want to offer you all possible support to have this courageous, necessary conversation. This resource guide is a step in that direction.
Below you’ll find some of the tools you may need: links to articles to help you understand the facts of what has happened, statistics on racial inequality in Baltimore, commentary on the events of the past few weeks, sermon starters for this week’s parshiot, Rabbinic texts you can connect to the issue, and suggestions for how you and your community can be a force for hope and change, even if you don’t live in Baltimore.
A group of Baltimore rabbis met earlier this week and articulated a framework that we wanted to share with you for engaging your community around this issue. The role of our rabbis, they told us, is to help move our people into awareness, and then guide them from awareness to caring, from caring to action, and from action to the long-term and sustained commitments that will bring into being the changes we all seek.
Kein yehi ratzon.
Thank you for all you do. Please reach out to either one of us if we can help you in any way as you guide your community through these difficult times.
No doubt many of you are following this story closely. Some media sources are reinforcing racist tropes and focusing on "rioting," while thousands more of us here are working peacefully in unity for justice and praying that no harm comes to anyone.
- The Baltimore Sun is a source for basic information about Freddie Gray’s death.
- For background on the larger picture of police brutality in Baltimore, see this investigative report from the Sun and this article from The Atlantic
- A brief and disturbing list of statistics on racial disparities in Baltimore
- To learn more about how JUFJ has responded, see this article in the Forward by JUFJ volunteer leader Owen Silverman Andrews and this article featuring Baltimore’s Rabbi Daniel Burg.
We also wanted to add a word about violence:
What we are seeing ourselves and hearing from our partners is that the overwhelming majority of responses to Freddie Gray’s death have been peaceful. As Rabbi Daniel Burg wrote, “On Saturday, the violence was very limited to a few pockets. And while there was some violence – I certainly don’t want to justify it in any way — it was not the story on Saturday…. The story on Saturday was the thousands of people who came out to do what Americans do best, which was to protest in a civil fashion when they’re concerned about the state of their city.”
Despite this, we have seen the media focus disproportionately on the limited incidents of violence that have occurred. We believe that it is our rabbis’ job to help move our communities toward a focus on understanding the longstanding pain and suffering that found their expression in violence, even as we do not condone the violence itself.
For more on the meaning of riots, read Ta-Nehisi Coates' piece here. Calls for nonviolence, he writes, are “the right answer to the wrong question.” Rabbi Susan Talve, who has been deeply involved in Ferguson, picks up the same theme here: “I think the violence around the world is calling us all to respond… When we’re more upset about property damage than lives, in the religious community, we call that idolatry.”
From Awareness to Compassion and Compassion to Action: Framing the Conversation Jewishly
- We have put together a group of “sermon starters” (download PDF) for Acharei-Mot Kedoshim and Emor, to help you link the parashah to these issues. Thanks to Rabbi Jessy Gross for her incredible help.
- We have also compiled a set of texts and translations (download PDF) you can use to begin the conversation with your community.
How You and Your Community Can Help
- Stay updated on the many ways you can provide direct assistance by checking JUFJ’s Baltimore support page. We update the page daily except on Shabbat.
- For ways to help make larger structural change on racism and police brutality nationally, scroll down to the end of Rabbi Susan Talve’s article, “Find Your Fergusons."
- For some powerful thoughts on what it means for rabbis and their communities to serve as allies to the Black community, see Rabbi Michael Latz’s reflections on serving as a witness in Ferguson.
- T'ruah, the rabbinic call for human rights, has a lengthy set of resources on policing reform.
Again our thanks to the many people who made these resources possible, especially Rabbi Jessy Gross and T'ruah for helping distribute them.