.לֹא תַעֲמֹד עַל-דַּם רֵעֶךָ
.לֹא תִשְׂנָא אֶת-אָחִיךָ בִּלְבָבֶךָ
Do not stand by while your neighbor’s blood is shed.
Do not hate your brother in your heart. (Lev. 19:16-17)
At Congregation Kehillat Israel, we are pained and disturbed by the events unfolding across our country, including in our hometown of Lansing. The killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police Department has once again laid bare the fact that too often our current policing system does not value Black lives. Our hearts break for his young daughter, who now will have to grow up without her dad. Our hearts break for his community, who lovingly knew him as Big Floyd. In the short span of eight minutes and 46 seconds, Mr. Floyd lost his life and the lives of those who loved him were irrevocably changed. In less than 10 minutes, George Floyd became yet another Black man killed by American police.
Our hearts also break for the thousands of people all over the country taking to the streets to peacefully protest this violence, only to be met with yet more violence. Whether it is a video of tear gas being used against non-violent demonstrators or an account of police attacking protestors without provocation, the information flooding our news feeds raises many urgent questions about how our law enforcement handles protests.
Jewish tradition teaches that every human being is born carrying a spark of the Divine. We are all awesomely and wondrously made betzelem elokim, in the image of G-d. It is our duty as Jews to stand up for those whose inherent holiness is being demeaned and disrespected. Thus, we cannot be silent when we see racist violence and prejudice on full display as we have over the past week, for we are commanded, “Tzedek! Tzedek tirdof! Justice! Justice shall you pursue!” (Deut. 16:20).
The Prophet Isaiah says in the haftarah we read every Yom Kipur, that “thoughts and prayers” in difficult times are not enough. We must “unlock the fetters of wickedness… and break off every yoke” (Isaiah 58:6). Jewish communities the world over must take hard looks at ourselves, evaluate how we can best be allies to Black people and other people of color inside and outside of our communities, and spring into action to “untie the bonds” of structural racism wherever we find it.
We stand in full support of our Black friends, neighbors, and family members. Congregation Kehillat Israel says, without hesitation: Black lives matter.
In addition to this statement, we sign onto the Reconstructing Judaism and Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association’s June 2nd statement “Standing up for Racial Justice and Against Racial Violence.” We echo their demands for reform, accountability, and justice.
Kehillat Israel Board of Directors
Rabbi Michael Zimmerman