Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Time to Make A Difference

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath, and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel 
I will admit that I am not the best when it comes to paying attention to the local news. I do not subscribe to the Baltimore Sun. And when I watch the local news, it is primarily to get the weather, traffic and sports reports. Because of this I had no idea who Freddie Gray was until he died. I was only nominally aware of the early protests mostly because of what was mentioned on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

As a suburban Jew and rabbi representing a mid-sized congregation, I am not very involved in Baltimore City. However, I have recently become engaged with a group facilitated by the Industrial Areas Foundation (IDF), which is working to organize congregations in Baltimore County to combat issues like affordable housing and gun violence. We have lofty goals and aspirations, but it is taking time to get this movement going.

But when it comes to Baltimore City, if I encounter the areas of blight and poverty, it is mostly driving through them with my doors locked and windows closed. I think to myself, someone should do something about this until I arrive at my destination. And then I don’t give it any more thought. I leave that up to others like BUILD and the strategic partnerships that are being formed by the University of Maryland, Baltimore. However, I would like to note that Har Sinai Congregation has been working with Paul’sPlace even inviting many of their clients to our most recent Women’s Seder.

The irony is that Maryland is one of the wealthiest states in the nation per capita, and yet it has some of the worst poverty stricken areas in the country. Others have written quite eloquently about the ‘Two” Baltimores made up of the haves and the have-nots. It has been a tinderbox waiting to explode which it did this past Monday.

Then like so many others in the country, I watched the news from the safety of my living room. This was taking place in Baltimore City and not in the suburbs. I watched from social media where people easily condemned the violence from the safety of their homes passing judgments on people whose lives we cannot possibly comprehend. And yet, I said nothing.

I noticed with frustration the expression of anger at the destruction and the inconvenience of field trips and baseball games being postponed. A disenfranchised, voiceless group is finally getting the city, state, and nation to pay attention to them, and we are upset because we can’t go to a ball game.

It was only then that I realized one of the fundamental problems is that we have almost no connection to the “Other” Baltimore. We are scared of “them,” while at the same time holding them to values that if we were in the same situation, we ourselves, would not hold ourselves to.

I have been silent. I have been silent in part because, as a rabbi of a suburban congregation of medium size I feel I have no platform from which to speak. I am not politically connected, though I have met many politicians. I am not close to the movers and shakers and I have looked to others to speak for me.

So when I received an email from the Jews United for Justice stating that there would be a communal non-violent rally tomorrow, Friday May 1st, at 3pm at the Maryland State Attorney’s office on Baltimore Street before heading to City Hall at 4pm, I thought to myself, others will march. I have Shabbat obligations.

What a convenient excuse. I am a proud Reform Jew, and our understanding of Judaism is based on the tradition of Prophetic Justice. We praise Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel for marching with Martin Luther King, Jr. at Selma. Here now is our chance to march.

I may not be the most powerful rabbi in Baltimore or Baltimore County, but I do have a voice. The only way things will change is if we as a community speak out and do not let others speak for us. I plan to be present at tomorrow’s rally not just to stand up for justice for Freddie Gray, but to stand up against the indifference and the silence. I will stand up against the Two Baltimores. It is time we have one city where all can have hope. I believe in the movement that #AllLivesMatter, and what happens to the poorest among us is a reflection upon us all.

I hope to see some of you there. And my apologies in advance if I am late making it back for the start of Shabbes, but without peace, is it truly Shabbat?

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