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Rabbi's Week In Review - 01/11/2021

01/11/2021 02:33:19 PM


I usually try and stay understated about the flurry of events that transpire in any given week. My sense has been to give things time, to gain better perspective, to learn what is important and meaningful to us in the long run.

This past week, however, has been like no other, and I am compelled to respond sooner rather than later. The events not only hold meaning for us as Jews but demand vigilance and action.

I want to emphasize that last Wednesday, January 6, began as an historically positive day. That the day was a day of extremes in both directions is alluded to in this week’s Torah portion.

We begin a new book of the Torah this week, the Book of Shemot, which means names or the Book of Exodus. We read about our journey into Egypt at a time when there was a positive relationship between Joseph and the ruler. We also know from the Torah that there would be a new pharaoh who did not know Joseph, who saw us Jews as a threat, not as allies.

Our Torah illustrates to us that our choices for leadership matter. Our welfare, safety and security can shift from positive to negative or from negative to positive in not much time. With that as a backdrop, let me address how I experienced the events of last Wednesday.

I woke up that morning to an interview with Sen.-elect Raphael Warnock, the minister of the renowned Ebenezer Baptist Church, the spiritual home of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. At one point in the interview, he mentioned the other new senator-elect from Georgia, Jon Ossoff, the Jewish son of immigrants.

They had virtually run together in the runoff race. Warnock compared his relationship with Ossoff to that of Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel, referring to Ossoff as “my Jewish brother.” Heschel had marched with King in Selma. Warnock, in turn, quoted Heschel’s famous statement about praying with his feet.

The relationship between Warnock and Ossoff immediately drew me to my relationship with the Rev. Dr. Rodney Williams and other Black clergy — how meaningful those relationships have been to me and how much I value those relationships. Whatever one sees as the present status of Black-Jewish relations, I wanted to allow myself this moment to bask in and be grateful for those relationships in my life and the blessing of being welcomed to walk with these special people on the journey.

And then came Wednesday afternoon. Among the incredibly troubling aspects of seeing our U.S. Capitol stormed and vandalized by neo-Nazi domestic terrorists, three stand out.

First is simply the needless loss of life. Rhetoric and lies spewed by political leaders put these people in a known dangerous situation.

Second, the troubling ease with which our Capitol was overrun. I am in agreement with those who note the glaring disparity between the treatment afforded these white-supremacist terrorists and the treatment given to Black protesters or other people of color. 

Third and most troubling is the display of anti-Semitic animus and vile. T-shirts that said “Camp Auschwitz” or “6MWE” (six million was not enough). We should make no mistake that these neo-Nazis are who our present president has consistently seen as his base. It is the same base that Josh Hawley raised a fist of support at, and who Hawley and Ted Cruz will seek out in a run for president in 2024. On the Kansas side, the newly elected Roger Marshall should not be forgotten for his support of this ugly show of self-serving ambition. All of it comes at our expense and creates a more dangerous country for Jews.

Yet, I don’t want us to get cheated out of Wednesday morning. As Jews, we should celebrate this moment when Jon Ossoff, the son of Jewish immigrants, became senator-elect from the state of Georgia. As Americans, we should celebrate and lift up the diversity represented by the relationship of Warnock and Ossoff.

May we have the fortitude to fight those who threaten us as Jews and who threaten our American democratic experiment. May we have many more opportunities in the days and years to come to lift up and celebrate meaningful relationships that bring down the false barriers created in the name of race and religion, and celebrate the strength of our diversity.

Wed, January 20 2021 7 Shevat 5781