Most of what I understand from being a white skinned liberal is in question for me now. The events of this summer have moved my understanding from my head into my heart and body.I am not defending myself by repeating that I have Black family members. I am not defending myself by repeating that I choose voluntary simplicity over intergeneration class privilege.I am not defending myself by repeating that I have Black skinned friends and work for justice and fairness.I am not defending myself by repeating that I am a Jew, a member of a different oppressed group. Etc. I am not defending myself.I have white skin privilege because I walk in the world in white skin. I was born into it. I have never experienced anything else. I have no idea how it feels to not have white skin privilege.I was born into a system and miseducated in a system that gives Whites supremacy in every aspect of institutional life. Therefore, I am a white supremacist. Say it with me people, if you are white skinned. We are white supremacists because we are in a social structure that gives us automatic supremacy. Not because we are evil or racist, individually. The only possible response to KNOWING this is to actively work to dismantle racist structures and thoughts. This is White on White work. I know that many of you are further along in the process of dismantling racism in yourself and the social structures around you. I experience myself as being at a new beginning of a life-long work. It is the inner work that I am urgently calling myself to now. Our progressive social work and our alliances with non-white people will not be properly grounded if we skip this step.Please excuse me to the extent that I am preaching to the choir. I find that many of us need to, as Robin D’Angelo says “sit in the discomfort.”
This moment calls for tremendous moral courage and clarity. This is a time to call things by their right name: Police lawlessness; Murder;Organized and Intentional Right Wing Provocateurs;Intentionally Sown Confusion and False Flag Operations.We are in grief. And we are angry. And that anger gives us the power to be brave, to use the right words, to say “NO!” to what is intolerable.This moment calls for tremendous courage and moral clarity. This is a time for all of us to use whatever privilege we have to be allies to justice. We have to learn how to be allies and how to cultivate allies. In a time of moral confusion and deliberate misinformation knowing and speaking truth is oxygen, countering the dizzying effects of gaslighting.We are in a moment of tremendous and layered stress. Along with the obvious challenges -of pandemic and ecomonic free fall- are the subtler contextual challenges: a sense of powerlessness and of not knowing what to do to effect and embody the change we crave so deeply. This powerlessness and unknowing can be toxic and disempowering at a time when our need for right action could not be more necessary. To be outraged by what is outrageous is an act of moral courage.To hear and care about and support the voice of the oppressed is a commandemnt in the Torah, 42 times!To be angry about what is intolerable is an act of human clarity. These co-crises are social, environmental, emotional, political. They require a whole body and whole-hearted response. We live in interesting times. Our next thought, our next donation, our next vote, our next political action, our next conversation can all impact our collective human consciousness and our individual inner clarity.Rabbi Tarfon of the mishna, 1900 years ago said: It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it.
From the Mishna Pirkei Avot Chapter 4, Mishna 23, we learn: Rabbi Shimon ben (son of) Elazar said, do not appease your fellow at the time of his anger, do not console him at the time his dead lies before him, do not ask him [to regret his oath] at the time of his oath, and do not attempt to see him at the time of his downfall.I am very loath to give advice in a time where much of the grief we must confront is still in front of us. Many of the losses we may experience are still unfolding. Advice which is from a position of “I know what will help you. Here’s what you should do” is likely to fall on deaf, or perhaps numb ears. Rather words that come from the heart, go into the heart. I will try to speak from the heart.We are experiencing multiple emotional and spiritual challenges. Some of us are confronting medical challenges as well. We have all lost our routine schedule and some (perhaps false) sense of mastery over our lives. We may have income loss and financial burdens. We have grief and anticipatory grief. We have fear and anticipatory fear. We have rage. Many of us are struggling with isolation and other burdens that were with us from BC, before corona virus.All this is real. The tool that I use to stay aware and open-hearted is quiet. I sit quietly and watch the racing thoughts. I do not push them away. Each of them is a messenger from my true concerns and true feelings. All those that I mentioned above: grief, isolation, rage and fear. I try to quietly watch and acknowledge these messengers. With this effort, for me, a sense arises of a greater spaciousness. When I fear death – which we will all face in time – in that spaciousness, I remember that I am a body AND a soul. There is a part of me out of reach of death. When I face grief, in that spaciousness, I remember that I am part of a whole body of humanity that is in this with me. My body of grief is a drop in the ocean of all the griefs, past and present. I feel MY portion of the grief in the great sea and I remember the great sea. When I feel isolated, in the spaciousness, I remember that I am together in this moment with everyone else in a more uniquely poignant way. In a way, we have never been more together. When I feel rage, in the spaciousness, I feel the sorrow and the great tragedy of all human foibles that increase human suffering. In accepting this, I can open the door to compassion: “Oh the humanity.”Our grief for our losses, collectively, is experienced, as it were, by the Creator. God too, feels isolation, grief, rage and fear, so to speak. When we do not abandon our true feelings, we are not abandoned. We are in fact connected with the heart of one who made us. From The Sacred Fire, Torah from the Years of Fury 1939-1942, translated by Rabbi J. Hershy Worsh, Rabbi Kalanymous Shapira wrote: There are times when a person wonders about himself thinking: “I am broken. I am ready to burst into tears at any moment…” He is lost inside his introspective, self-analytical confusion…the pain and grief he suffers over his own isolation, alone, can break a person…but the crying a person does together with G!d makes him strong. He cries and takes strength. He is shattered and then emboldened… “
A broad consensus has emerged to practice social distancing to slow the spread of corona virus. Many gatherings large and small will be cancelled and altered for public health and safety. Jewish law supports actions like these, because the primary mitzvah is “live by them (these laws).” When life is threatened, this mitzvah, to live by them, becomes operational.This “social (physical) distancing” will shift our understanding of community. Social cohesion is a factor in our well-being. Social cohesion, can in fact be life-giving. How will we do this? Our lay and professional leadership will spend the next days considering how to gather safely, how to bring teaching, counseling and other services on-line, when to meet and when to cancel meetings. I would love to begin using social media, including our own Moishe’s List congregational list serve to announce needs, wants and offers. For example: Do you need someone to shop for you?Do you need someone to check in on you?What can we do to relieve the stress of kids at home with working (or idled) parents?Do you have access to some resource that might be helpful to people at this time?Do you know of other social needs that members of our community might safely be able to offer to others? I am thinking of how people who depend on community meals will eat as churches and other agencies do what they need to do to limit close contact? How can we help with that? People have shared with me resources, from poems to disease tracking websites to advise for disinfecting. I don’t expect Temple Israel to be a source for medical or epidemiological expertise. I hope that we will be a source of social wealth for each other and a study in good deeds and kindness. We will need prayer and preparation.We will need concern and caution.We will need promptness and patience. We will need self-care and love of neighbor. It is extraordinarily difficult to live with the dread and unknowns of this threatening and fluid situation. But this time, in fact, is like every other time. We do not know the number of our days. We do not know what each day will bring. This virus has humbled us and reminded us of this fact. It has focussed our minds and made us remember what is truly important. Whatever your prayers are – silence, Hebrew, mantras, intentions – they are more real and meaningful and needed at times like this, times of remembering.