The plague of racism is insidious, entering into our minds as smoothly and quietly and invisibly as floating airborne microbes enter into our bodies to find lifelong purchase in our bloodstreams.
– Maya Angelou

How apt are Angelou’s words, written prophetically years before this confluence of plagues. As Jews invested in Tikkun Olam, we acknowledge the brokenness in our world as we mourn the deaths of
Eric Garner
Philando Castille
Mike Brown
Alton Sterling
Oscar Grant
Tamir Rice
Freddie Gray
Breonna Taylor
Delrawn Small
Sandra Bland
Ahmaud Arbery
Tony McDade
David McAtee 
George Floyd
and the countless other Black lives killed by those who were supposed to protect them, in a society that promises but has never delivered justice for all. 

And as we commemorate this first week of Pride month, we remember the violence against the transgender community and People of Color at Compton’s Cafeteria here in San Francisco, and around the country, that led to uprisings against police brutality and systemic marginalization. As we say in this letter  signed by Sha’ar Zahav and hundreds of LGBTQI and other organizations condemning racist violence: “ we cannot remain neutral, nor will awareness substitute for action. The LGBTQ community knows about the work of resisting police brutality and violence…We celebrate June as Pride Month, because it commemorates, in part, our resisting police harassment and brutality at Stonewall in New York City, and earlier in California, when such violence was common and expected. We remember it as a breakthrough moment when we refused to accept humiliation and fear as the price of living fully, freely, and authentically .”

Judaism teaches us to value action over words. In the Ethics of our Ancestors, we learn from Rabbi Shammai to “ say little and do much [Pirkei Avot 1:15].” I have been collecting resources and actions over the past week that I'd like to share:

  • Sha’ar Zahav's Social Action Committee and Racial Diversity group work on issues relating to racial justice and are committing to voting rights activism in the coming months, including participation in the nationwide Every Voice, Every Vote campaign. Get in touch with Social Action Committee leaders Nancy Wecker and Geri Kahn for information or join me at our next virtual meeting, July 6 at 6:00pm. Zoom Meeting ID: 683 592 660

  • Sha’ar Zahav is part of a massive network of Reform Jewish communities fighting for racial justice. We work closely with the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (including lobbying legislators last month about reducing the prison population during COVID and our state budget) and they posted a list of actions for Reform Jewish communities to take right now.

  • Bend the Arc is calling for support of the PEACE Act (HR 4359), a bill by South Bay representative Ro Khanna that would change the federal standard for the use of force by federal officers to require that force be used only when necessary to prevent imminent death or serious bodily injury. Contact your congressional representative today to confirm their co-sponsorship and full support of HR 4359.

  • Support the Jews of Color Field Building Initiative, a national effort that is based here in the Bay Area, focused on building and advancing the professional, organizational and communal field for Jews of Color.

  • Last January, Sha'ar Zahav's “Sinat Chinam = Senseless Hatred” series examined the ways hatreds feed upon one another and intersect in our society. A central reading in our class was Skin in the Game: How Antisemitism Animates White Nationalism written by Eric Ward, Senior Advisor with Race Forward and Executive Director of Western States Center, especially known for his analysis of why anti-Semitism is locked into the heart of American racism. You can hear him speak here. His list of 21 things people committed to inclusive democracy can do right now includes:
  • Recognize the precarious moment that American democracy finds itself in right now.
  • Demand that law enforcement prioritize de-escalation and that all violence against non-violent protesters cease immediately.
  • Build the collective memory that law enforcement has a long-established track record of disproportionate response to social movement protest that comes from the left, and of employing agent provocateurs to incite violence.
  • Insist that police not equate property damage with the taking of a human life to justify state violence against protests.
  • Support networks like the Movement for Black Lives (#DefendBlackLives #DefundPolice) and local NAACP chapters (#WeAreDoneDying) who are calling for concrete and tangible changes to systems of policing.

In this week’s Torah portion, Naso , we receive the Priestly Blessing, the words we have bestowed on our communities for centuries: “ May G!d bless you and guard you. ” But we don’t sit back and rely on G!d to protect us. We are G!d’s partners. May G!d give us the strength and wisdom to fulfill our obligation to create a world of blessing and safety.
Rabbi Mychal Copeland