Give Bigotry and Racism No Quarter

Published inthe August 14 edition of the ArizonaJewish Post

By RabbiThomas Louchheim

In one month, many of us will gatherin our synagogues, observing the beginning of the New Year. Ten days later wewill fast and be called to look beyond our needsand our yearnings to care for those whose basic needs are not being met. Irealize today that my fulfillment is not found by remaining isolated. True gooddepends on my participation with others in need. The Prophet Isaiah calls usto, “Wash yourselves clean; put your evil doings away from My sight. Cease todo evil. Learn to do good. Devote yourselves to justice; aid the wronged.Uphold the rights of the orphan; defend the cause of the widow.” (Isaiah1:16-17)

While writing this article, I reviewed some events of the last severalweeks. On July 27, the national board of the Boy Scouts of America removedrestrictions on openly gay leaders and employees and the Mormon Churchthreatened to abandon their association with the group. On Aug. 3, Inbar Azrak,a 27-year-old Jewish Israeli, was injured after a firebomb was thrown at hercar in the Arab neighborhood of Beit Hanina in East Jerusalem. On July 19,Samuel DuBose, a 43-year-old black man, was killed in his car by a Universityof Cincinnati police officer during a routine traffic stop. On July 30, sixpeople were stabbed at an annual LGBTQ Pride March in Jerusalem by an OrthodoxJewish man, including 16-year-old Shira Banki, who died from her wounds. On July31, in Duma on the West Bank, the Dawabshe home was burned to the ground, anact suspected to have been carried out by Israeli settlers. Saad Dawabshe andhis wife, Riham, managed to escape with their 4-year old, Ahmad, but all threewere severely burned. Eighteen-month-old Ali was already dead. Hebrew graffiti wasscrawled on two walls, reading “revenge” and “long live themessiah.” Prime Minister Netanyahu responded, “We are shocked by it, wecondemn it fully, the entire Israeli government and all the citizens of Israel.We decry it as a terrorist crime.”

In just a few short weeks we were again spectators to ongoingracism and bigotry. These are not isolated incidents. Over the past few monthswe have been witness to events in Ferguson and Baltimore, the shooting at theEmanuel AME church in Charleston, the controversy over the Confederatebattleflag in South Carolina and other southern states, Sandra Bland found deadin a Texas jail, and the fires this summer at six predominately AfricanAmerican churches. Isaiah is not accusing usof these outrages, but he is questioning us on whether we have, in any manner, devoted ourselves to justice and provided aid to thewronged. We may not have caused these atrocities; but we do bear responsibilityfor them.

In 1963, Abraham Joshua Heschel attended the “second”conference on religion and race. He said that at the “first” conference onreligion and race, the main participants were Pharaoh and Moses. Heschel observedthat “it was easier for the children of Israel to cross the Red Sea than for aNegro to cross certain university campuses.” He categorized racism as ‘‘universaland evil,’’ and as “man’s gravest threat to man, the maximum of hatred for aminimum of reason, the maximum of cruelty for a minimum of thinking.”Unfortunately neither conference concluded with an end to racism and bigotry.

We cannot dodge these issues or remain quiet. We cannot yieldone inch to bigotry and racism. Our concern for the dignity for anyone who isterrorized, discriminated against, or oppressed is part of our creed as Jews.Anyone who offends another offends the majesty of God. An act of violence byword or deed is an act of desecration.

On my office wall hangs a lithograph. On it is a verse fromthe Torah, lo tuchal l’hitalem, “youwill not remain indifferent,” followed by the words of Rabbi Leo Baeck, “Aspirit is characterized not only by what it does, but no less, by what itpermits, by what it forgives and what it beholds in silence.” As we enter our sacred spaces inSeptember, let us not pray for God to make us a better person this year. Let usreaffirm God’s love and commitment to all humankind equally through ourpersonal involvement, mutual reverence and concern for all of those around us. Itis our moral duty to “unlock the fetters of wickedness” (Isaiah 58:6) and to“put evil doings away from [God’s] sight. Cease to do evil; and learn to dogood” (Isaiah 1:16-17). We will thrive individually and as a society only if wereach and accept this divine undertaking.