Sadness, anger, empathy, shock, devastation — words alone are inadequate to express our deep distress at the violence that erupted after the death of George Floyd of Minneapolis, whose pleas for his life were captured in a disturbing video. We wonder: How do we move forward as Jews, especially as people who have been victims? We reached out to the leadership of the DFW Jewish community to help us frame our response through the lens of our tradition, to provide healing and to take meaningful actions to eliminate racism and intolerance.
By Sharon Wisch-Ray
TJP Editor and Publisher
‘Justice, justice shall you pursue’
We must respond, strongly and compassionately. The Torah demands it:
“Do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed.” Leviticus 19:16
“God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him….” Genesis 1:27
“Tzedek, tzedek tirdof. Justice, justice shall you pursue.” Deuteronomy 16:18
• Check out the NAACP website, naacp.org. If you are so inclined, sign their petition which demands four specific reforms and actions to help stem the tide of racism.
• Support peaceful protests, even if safety or COVID-19 concerns prevent you from joining one yourself.
• Use your voice. Whether that means attending a protest, calling members of Congress, signing a petition, volunteering, or sharing your thoughts with others, remember that what you have to say matters.
• Vote. This is, perhaps, the most important thing we can do to help ensure that we elect leaders who reflect the Jewish values we cherish: respect, dignity, equality, compassion.
—Cantor Sheri Allen, Congregation Beth Shalom, Arlington
Be the light
It is time that each of us rededicates ourselves to illuminating our communities. For as we know, “a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.” (Anne Frank) Let us defy the darkness of trouble and travail with the light of friendship and mutual support. Thus, defining ourselves by standing in the light of God and bringing the radiance of His light to the battle against the darkness of bigotry. This can only be done when we act in the spirit of two central values. Those values being, Shalom/Peace, acting peacefully, and with kavod ha’breiot, honor toward each other.
—Rabbi Andrew Bloom, Congregation Ahavath Sholom, Fort Worth
We extend our deepest sympathies to the Floyd family and to all those who suffer from needless violence and discrimination.
In addressing any tragic event and framing a proper Jewish response, we look to our sacred texts. In Pirke Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) 1:18 we learn, “The world endures on three things — justice, truth and peace.” This Mishna teaches us that the absence of these three things will cause the disintegration of the world and the very fabric of our society. It is only when justice is served with truth that there can be lasting peace. There must be justice administered impartially without bias or favor, and based on truth. Only that will bring about true peace.
The Torah describes the creation of man — ki betzelem Elokim nivrah haadam — in the image of God was man created. This precise description of all of humankind, we believe, should be the guiding light of our world perspective. Each human being possesses a soul that is deserving of, at the very least, our respect.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe has led by example with this truth: that each of us has a purpose in bringing our unique, Godly light in this world, one positive thought, speech and action at a time. It is our prayer that we use this dark moment in time to inspire us to be the light, to use our energy to reach out to others and seek the common ground we all share, the tzelem Elokim, the sacred energy of God within each of us.
—Rabbi Mendel Dubrawsky, Chabad of DFW
Pushing past the mayhem
As Jews, we cannot simply wring our hands and say, “Oy, this is terrible.” The source of Jewish thought and practice, the Mishna, teaches us a profound lesson: “Pray for the peace and welfare of the government, for without the fear of government people will swallow each other alive” (Pirkei Avos 3:2). We are, sadly, witnessing the wisdom and truth of this Mishna.
Let us fulfill the exhortation of this Mishna, to pray for our government and nation….
More than ever, in times like these, it is incumbent upon us as Jews to lift up our hearts and voices to Heaven and pray for the peace and prosperity of this great country, with brotherhood, understanding and respect among all of its inhabitants. We should increase our study of Torah, which brings peace, spreads light and wisdom among us and the land.
—Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried, Dean/Rosh Hakollel, DATA
The time to act: now
Judaism teaches that each person has dignity and value and every life is sacred. Our nation witnessed a murder and we are rightfully outraged. There are obviously inequities in the life outcomes for the black community that began long before any of us were born, but must be urgently addressed, and to do so would be a fitting way to honor Mr. Floyd’s memory. I am humbled to serve in a position that allows me to influence policy and affect the quality of life for all Dallas residents. I welcome your input and engagement in improving our city and community.
—Cara Mendelsohn, Dallas City Council Member District 12
A prayer for our city
Let us be the city that prays with our feet in peaceful, vigorous and persistent ways. Let our nonviolent demonstrations be the clarion call for change in our policing, our governing and the way in which we serve and care for all those in our city. And most importantly, let us stand together as brothers and sisters of every color and every creed, with our police, with our elected leaders, with our churches and temples and mosques and other places of worship and gatherings and with all those organizations and groups who care about us. Let us work peacefully together for the change that we deserve as we declare loudly and clearly that we will not stand by while our neighbor bleeds, nor will we cause our neighbors or our neighborhoods to bleed, but that we will work, tirelessly, to lift the cloud of oppression that has blocked the sun for so long, so that, once and for all, our city and our nation can be filled with God’s blessing, with Shalom — wholeness and peace.
—Rabbi Andrew M. Paley, Temple Shalom, Dallas
The view within
The Jewish response to the anguish and rage being felt across the nation is to perform a soul searching to determine if we are part of the problem, and even if not, how we can be part of the solution. Rather than pointing fingers on deficiencies in other groups, we need to look inward and find out how we can be better ourselves. There isn’t one way, and each person has different talents and strengths, but we can all at least try and listen.
—Rabbi Ariel Rackovsky, Congregation Shaare Tefilla
Be the change
I invite our Jewish community to come together, not just to raise our voices but through our actions to try to enact the change we seek every day; to stand with those protesting injustice while condemning the expressions of violence that have destroyed property, threatened already-struggling businesses and put the safety of our police officers in danger.
As we learn in Pirke Avot, “It is not your obligation to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.” All of us must play a role, to do what we can to improve our corner of the world and ensure that the voices of hatred, bigotry and racism are drowned out by those of mutual respect and appreciation of diversity.
It starts with listening, truly listening, to what our black friends and neighbors are experiencing. By actively increasing our understanding and expressing empathy we can begin to chart our personal course in the fight for justice and equality.
—Joel Schwitzer, Regional Director, AJC Dallas
Support and civil protest
We need to voice our support for the victims of prejudice and discrimination and demand the fair treatment of all minorities on every level of government and society. At the same time, we should also use any tool at our disposal (connections with the African American community leaders, etc.) to encourage civil approaches to protest, albeit resounding and powerful.
—Rabbi Zecharia Sionit, Sephardic Torah Center
So many of us have been feeling helpless, hopeless, and overwhelmed in the face of everything that is happening in the world today. We have felt a sense of futility that nothing will ever get better. But you know what else has happened before? Redemption has happened before, that’s what: “I have marked well the plight of My people in Egypt and have heeded their outcry because of their taskmasters; yes, I am mindful of their sufferings. I have come down to rescue them…” Overturning systematic injustice and oppression can happen because it has been done before. But don’t sit back waiting for God to redeem us. As Rava taught (Babylonian Talmud, Pesachim, 64b), “We do not rely on a miracle.” We have to overturn the injustice. We have to reform the system. It is only futile if we sit back and do nothing.
—Rabbi Ben Sternman, Adat Chaverim, Plano
Grief to action
What does security look like when trust has been eroded? What does solidarity, love and support look like when broken systems remain broken, year after year? In this week’s Torah portion, the Priestly Benediction expresses our hope for our people and for all people: safety, compassion, peace. Right now, many in the African American community are feeling none of that. Neither are many Jews of color.
Many of us are wondering what to do. While peaceful protests help to express our collective grief and anger of this moment, we need systemic change that won’t happen all at once.
Please consider statements and suggestions from the URJ (urj.org) and the CCAR (ccar.net). Reach out to me to discuss these issues. I’ll be returning to these issues on Friday night.
—Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, Congregation Beth Israel, Colleyville
Beyond our comfort zone
Today, we must engage and utilize our blessings. Today, we must accept responsibility for the plight of our world. There are too many of us who haven’t yet learned how to live with each other’s differences. As our greatest teachers have stated, let us begin with ourselves — to rectify this world, to inject our communities with a sense of compassion, empathy and understanding, and establish the dream of peace and tranquility on the streets of our great country…
We have to accept responsibility for the flaws we see. We have to reach beyond our own secure families. We have to reach beyond our pristine neighborhoods. We have to reach beyond our comfort zone and comfort those who need our embrace, our support, our human expression of empathy, compassion, understanding and ACTION.
—Rabbi Stefan J. Weinberg, Congregation Anshai Torah, Plano
Protest with purpose
Ethically, I firmly believe that we all condemn the killing of George Floyd. We call upon the authorities to prosecute to the fullest extent the police officers involved. All who call for protests and who join in protesting are responding in a responsible way to what Mr. Floyd’s death represents.
Thank God we live in America where protests are our right as citizens. However, rioting and destroying the property of others are not rights enjoyed by anyone. Ethically, we may not harm others or damage their material possessions. We respond by being steadfast in acting ethically toward Jews and non-Jews alike. We respond by participating in community dialogue groups that seek to enhance mutual respect and camaraderie in our Dallas.
—Rabbi Howard Wolk, JFS Dallas Community Chaplain
Three ways to act
The Torah teaches, “Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.” The Jewish response in this moment is to take action to make the world more just. Here are three ways to do that. We can reach out to our African American friends and colleagues and ask how they are doing and how we can support them. We can make donations to organizations that advocate for justice or support the African American community. We can educate ourselves about how the city of Dallas and local leadership is responding to systemic racism. I recommend watching a dialogue among County Judge Clay Jenkins, Dallas Police Chief Renee Hall, Dallas District Attorney John Creuzot, Dallas City Manager TC Broadnax and local clergy on Reverend Michael Waters’ Facebook page. facebook.com/revdrmikewaters
—Rabbi Elana Zelony, Congregation Beth Torah, Richardson
Strength to strength
These are heartbreaking and challenging times. What can we do right now?
When groups are demonized, when we are asked to see all others as only “other,” when we think our image of God is more divine than the one in the person standing across from us, when we allow hate and injustice to grow unchecked, eventually it rages blindly. Stay safe, limit your news consumption, call a friend, reach out to a clergy member. When this is over, there will be real work to do, questions to ask and relationships to rebuild. But for now, please know that you are not alone. When we finish each book of the Torah, we say, Hazak, hazak v’nitchazek, may we be strengthened. May we strengthen one another and may we fight for a better, less broken world.
—Rabbi Brian Zimmerman, Beth-El Congregation, Fort Worth
ADL, Central Division
ADL’s timeless mission “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people AND secure justice and fair treatment to all” has recognized for more than a century that hate against anyone means there is not justice for everyone. After George Floyd’s horrific death, ADL is heartbroken and outraged but also determined to address the deep, pervasive, systemic issues that fueled this tragedy….
We must all contribute to the effort to dismantle the thinking and systems that have institutionalized racism. We hope that you will join us in the days ahead to find solutions to help support our friends and allies. Each of us can begin, right now, by taking a stand in our own communities, on social media platforms and in daily conversations, and by supporting organizations engaged in this effort. Collectively, we must imagine a country that is better, believe that it is attainable, and work together to create it.
-Cheryl Drazin, Vice President, Central Division
Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum
It is deeply disturbing to watch the video of Mr. Floyd pleading for his life, and to witness Ahmaud Abery, a young black man, killed in broad daylight while out for a jog. These incidents evoke the anger and pain of the unequal justice experienced by African Americans in this country still today. We share a responsibility to stand up and voice our shock and disapproval when human rights are violated. Our commitment to creating a world free of human rights violations must be strong and it must be unwavering. We should be particularly concerned about police brutality disproportionately experienced by people of color.
—Mary Pat Higgins, Museum President and CEO
—Frank Risch, Board Chair
Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas
The Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas and its Jewish Community Relations Council share a profound sense of loss and grief as we grapple with the brutality and senselessness of George Floyd’s death. Judaism teaches that every individual is created b’tzelem Elohim, in God’s image. With this notion, we affirm that every life is precious and has value. We honor the voices, emotion and pain of the peaceful protests taking place in the wake of recent tragedies targeting African Americans, and strongly condemn those who take advantage of this time to invoke hatred and destruction in cities across America, including ours. We express our solidarity and are deeply committed to our ongoing relationship with the African American community in Dallas. It is with great humility that we offer our deepest sympathy and our commitment to a more just society for all. We also express our gratitude to the civic and faith leaders working to keep our city and community safe through this increasingly challenging time.
—Lay and professional leadership of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas and its Jewish Community Relations Council
Message of healing
We hope and pray that the legal system will bring justice for Mr. Floyd, and that in the meantime, those who are devastated by his loss, as well as by the societal ills his death represents, return to the peaceful and thought-provoking protests that our democracy was built to handle and from which it is able to grow and mature. We pray that this new week will yield a restoration of calm here locally and around our country, giving everyone a chance to reflect, regroup and heal, and focus us all on the vitally important mission of working together to create a free and just society for all.
—The Klei Kodesh, Shearith Israel, Dallas
“Please, I can’t breathe.” George Floyd’s final gasping for breath comes at a time not only of recent deaths, at the hands of police, of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, but when people of color are disproportionately impacted by our current pandemic — as many are hourly and essential workers thereby facing illness, death and unemployment. The pain is palpable, and we, as heirs to Sinai, are summoned to stand against violence, and for justice. We stand by engaging in conversations about privilege and our own inherent biases, through listening and learning, through partnerships within our city and across our own diverse Jewish community.
—Senior lay and staff leadership and clergy, Temple Emanu-El, Dallas