Dear B’ShERT family and friends,
Jewish tradition prioritizes pikuach nefesh, saving a life, over almost everything else. In this pandemic, we have been urging our congregants and friends to stay home, be cautious, and practice social distancing. This week we have seen many in our city and country congregate in protest, catalyzed by the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police.
The protests are also about so much more. They are about the systemic racism that is built into our nation: the substandard healthcare, the systems that have prevented black Americans from building wealth, the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on African-American and Latinx communities, the disproportionate number of deaths of black Americans at the hands of police, the ways in which Americans are treated differently by the justice system, business owners, and individuals because of the color of their skin.
Those of us who are white cannot ever fully understand what the daily experience of people of color—Jewish and non-Jewish—is like. We can listen to and believe those who tell us what that experience is, we can read about it, we can learn, and we can stand with those whose lives are impacted daily by systemic racism, in ways large and small, obvious and subtle. I respect the grief, the rage, the sense of powerlessness, and the desire to be heard and acknowledged that led to the uprising of African-Americans across our country. I respect the allies—including some police—who have joined the marchers. I stand with them.
In this time of pandemic, it is risky to join protests in person. Should you choose to do so, please be as careful as possible not to expose yourself and others to the virus—wear a mask over your nose and mouth, and keep your distance from others. In your decision-making, take into account the others in your life who are at greater risk—older people and those with health issues.
There are also other ways to take action—write messages on your sidewalk with chalk; call elected officials and demand change; sign petitions; donate to organizations working for change; put signs in your window that reflect your beliefs; write an op-ed—these are some possibilities.
Black lives—both Jewish and non-Jewish—are not valued today in our country as much as white lives, and #BlackLivesMatter. Because our inherently racist systems lead to disproportionate, unjust deaths of people of color, working to change those systems also contributes to pikuach nefesh, to saving lives.
Please be safe and take care,