When the Ground Is Shifting
I stood up from the deck chair on our front porch, one of a series of improvised workspaces scattered around our two bedroom home in San Jose’s Latino, working class Guadalupe-Washington neighborhood, feeling flush, dizzy, and sick to my stomach. I’d finally succumbed to the urge to watch the video of the horrific murder of George Floyd. It was Thursday afternoon, May 28th, three days after both Floyd’s murder and the now infamous Central Park Birdwatching incident, and the day before Shavu’ot, the Holyday commemorating the receiving of Torah at Sinai. It felt like the ground was shifting beneath my feet.
After spending much of the night in our backyard hammock participating in Facebook Live tikkun leil Shavuot study sessions, I joined my wife Tricia and my daughter Dahlia (16) at the first of many protests in downtown San Jose. Tricia is a natural-born leader and organizer with a knack for sign-making and relationship-building. When she asked me what I’d like written on my sign, I hesitated before settling on “Black Lives Matter.” It felt right to let go of the lingering doubts I might have about the Black Lives Matter movement and embrace the central message my sign proclaimed. It felt right, on Shavu’ot afternoon, to march, to chant, to raise my fist, and to follow youth leaders through the streets. This was the first time I’d been in a crowd since we began to shelter in place and the energy was electric. We peeled off before the marchers shut down Highway 101, and well before the violence started. We spent much of the next day convincing ourselves and others in our circle that the movement would not be hijacked by the violence of a few. In the days that followed, the militarized violence of the police response to protesters became a central part of the story.
The following Wednesday, June 3rd, I marched with Tricia, Dahlia, and my son Elijah (12), all three Jews of Color, and alongside a team of Los Gatos clergy down Main Street to Town Plaza Park. The clergy group had been in dialogue with the youth leading the march and were mobilized to support the protest. As we listened to young leaders of color name the racism they encountered on the streets, in the shops, and in the schools of Los Gatos, it became clear to me that we are entering a distinct moment of opening in which individuals and institutions are rolling up their sleeves to confront the entrenched and systemic racism in our communities.
I will continue to march, to follow the lead of young people of color, to lift up the voices of Jews of color and to join with local interfaith clergy groups in support of personal and institutional tikkun or repair. But as I write this, I’m aware that my allyship must be much more than performative. I have real work to do in enacting an anti-racist agenda in my life. It feels clear that in this moment, I, and we, are not free to desist. I hope you will join me in this effort in the days and weeks to come.
[To continue this conversation with Rabbi Hugh, please contact him at email@example.com]