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Parshat Re’eh – Rabbi Alyson Solomon

Parshat Re’eh / 8.18.17 Rabbi Alyson Solomon

Miles to Go and Promises to Keep: A Response to Charlottesville

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel called it moral grandeur and spiritual audacity. Martin Luther King spoke of it as the call to bend the arc of the moral universe towards justice. Rabbi Sharon Brous this week announced without metaphor or the mincing of words that white supremacy is our country’s original sin.

Rabbi Brous said, “The legacy of slavery, the genocide of Native Americans and the gross exploitation of immigrants remain unresolved and largely unacknowledged. But in my lifetime, over the past 40 years, while racism persisted, it was generally sanitized in public discourse, left to fester in the back rooms, behind bars in the prison industrial complex, in discriminatory hiring practices, in segregated schools and neighborhoods and among internet trolls.”

In the last few months the attacks are getting louder against Mexican Americans, Muslims, Blacks and immigrants. In Charlottesville this past Shabbat the white supremacists had nothing to hide. They wore no hoods. They marched in the day light and at night. The fuel for their rage was not simply contained in the tiki-torches they carried but stoked by the national surfacing strength of white supremacist ideology and domestic terrorism.

It’s disturbing that almost daily we hear about the rise in these in these types of acts of hate and violence. Charlottesville broke our hearts for multiple reasons

  • As Jews we watched in disbelief as armed Neo-Nazis and white supremacists cased the synagogue with their Hitler salutes. The Jews gathered in the synagogue prayed in fear and eventually the rabbi was pained to advise the community, for their own safety, to leave through the back
  • But Charlottesville was more than attack against Jews, it was an attack again humanity. It was the largest public gathering of white supremacists in at least a decade
  • There was remarkable cohesion among a broad cross-section including, even the racist skinhead group the Hammerskins showed up
  • The alt right, embolden by the divisive political rhetoric as is now campaigning with their own hashtag #whitecivilrights and claim on line that “Charlottesville was a turning point for white people in America” and “The white civil rights movement began in Charlottesville.”

All of this unspeakable and yet here we are speaking about it, again. I was proud to see so many of our Beth Israel members at the JCC this past week. We heard the indomitable voice of Fanny Lebovits, a survivor who lost 32 family members, remind us that love is more powerful than hate. Our country and our world urgently needs this teaching.

The ADL is calling for the White House to combat white supremacy and extremism in these three ways:

  1. Direct the department of justice and the FBI to ensure all the law enforcement is trained on how to deal with hate and extremists
  2. Task the department of education to prioritize anti-bias, anti-hate content in schools across America and reteach pluralism
  3. Engage the department of homeland security to re-up the counter violent extremism grant program which was defunded in the recent budget

Meanwhile Heather Heyer’s mother is refusing to speak to the President since he equated her daughter’s, and the group of counter- protesters, efforts with the KKK and white supremacists saying that these groups also were to blame. Two of my rabbinic colleagues were in this gathering of peaceful protestors, plowed into by a car, killing Heather Heyer.

The ADL is calling on the White House and to name the hate. We all are calling for the White House, and each other, to name the hate. The ADL reports that right here in San Diego we are home to the largest concentration of white supremacists groups in the country.

We cannot white-wash our country’s history just as we cannot forget our own. These times we are living in are the outgrowth of our country’s history of slavery, the confederacy, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement, the lynchings and the witch burnings. These are the monuments of hate that are left behind.

Members of the Yale Class of 1985 just wrote to their fellow classmate, Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin, calling for him to resign in protest of our Commander in Chief’s recent support of Nazism and white supremacy. They wrote: …We can be Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Greens and a number of other things and still be friends, classmates and patriots, but we cannot be Nazis and white supremacist. We can disagree on the means of promoting the general welfare of the country, on the size of the government, on the nature of freedom and security, but we cannot take the side of what we know to be evil.”

As Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe said, “A right to speech is not a right to violence.”

We, particularly as Jews must stand up to belittling jokes, bullying, harassment, discrimination and violence.

My teacher Rabbi Arthur Green wrote this week in response to Charlottesville, “Shabbat was given us, we are told, in the second version of the ten commandments, to help us recall that we were slaves in Egypt.” At our very root, the narrative of our own redemption we are challenged and reminded to look out for each other.

Charlottesville forces us to take a stand, writes Rabbi Green. “The tradition we represent calls forth loud and clear that every human being lives fully in the image of Gd. “Why was Adam created singly? The Talmud asks, “So that no person may ever be able to say, ‘My parent was greater than your parent.”

This is I believe where we need to stand. Everyone is invited to join us after the service, grab a nosh and make your way to the Foster Family Chapel for a community conversation and opportunity to HEAR each other’s hearts.

Also, we know that our congregation has a long, strong history of speaking up and speaking out. Even if you can’t join us for the conversation in the chapel, please come to our next Social Action

Committee meeting on Sept. 5th at noon. We meet the first Tuesday of each month from noon to 1pm. This is not a sprint but a marathon.

Send a postcard to Washington. Wear your “No place for hate sticker” tomorrow.

As the great Robert Frost reminds us,

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But we have promises to keep, And miles to go before we sleep, And miles to go before we sleep.”

May we on this Shabbat know community, know renewal and know that the imprint of our being born into this world is to be Gd’s partner in creation. Creation was not complete in seven days, we need each day to bring more healing, more humility and more love to our families, our neighbors, our strangers, our orphans and our widows.

Join us in the on-going revelation of living Torah, being prayer and standing for love.

Oh, and by the way, Steve Bannon, may your exit from the White House open a new chapter of decency and diplomacy in Washington, Charlottesville, San Diego and everywhere in between.

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