Editor’s Note: This week’s blog from guest writer Erika Davis of “Black, Gay, Jewish” may not at first seem to be explicitly about Jewish ritual. However, when Erika interrupted her scheduled series to write about her grief around the Eric Garner case, we knew that her story touched on the very things that have brought so many of you to our site over the years. We thank Erika for sharing her story with us and hope you will find comfort and sustenance in her words. After her blog, we have also included links to other racial justice resources on our site. We hope they are helpful to you during this time.
I was supposed to write about my continued transition to Jewish life in Seattle. I was putting the finishing touches on this, my second blog post for Ritualwell, when I saw via Facebook that the Staten Island Grand Jury in yet another case about excessive force and police violence against black men in this country came back without an indictment.
From the comfort of my couch I watched while my friends and acquaintances stepped toe-to-toe with police officers in riot gear while they protested. I reposted and offered prayers of strength, solidarity and courage. I wonder if I will have to teach the children I (B’H) will have to watch their back, and mistrust the police officers whose job it is to serve communities. I wonder how many more lives will be lost before the rest of the country wakes up. I wonder what it will take for the Jewish community to not just speak the word צדק—justice, but also to work toward it.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
When I am stopped before entering synagogue by security guards and white Jews are allowed to enter freely, racial injustice exists in the Jewish community, too. Being Jewish doesn’t make us immune to the systematic racism still alive and well in America.
As a child I listened in horror and disbelief when my mother told me stories of her youth in the Jim Crow south. Born in 1954 in North Carolina, she saw segregation before her own eyes. She was barred from using any entrance, water fountain or waiting room that wasn’t designated for “Coloreds Only.”
Fast forward to 2014 and while there are no signs above doors, the racial color line is still there. There are some of us, Jews included, who have the privilege of not seeing this dividing line. Some of us have been able to assimilate, and white wash our Jewishness to the point of blindness. But Jews like me, Jews who wear our brown skins every day, who aren’t seen as Jewish first, but always first black, have seen the lines of racial divide.
If Trayvon Martin was the spark and Michael Brown the fire, let Eric Garner be the blazing fire that blazes deep not into the hearts of individuals, but into communities from NYC to Ferguson. As Jews, we like to pat ourselves on the back for the work we did in the 1950s. We talk about Heschel and King, we re-post quotes from King and talk about solidarity. I urge us to make our parents’ proud. To continue to take to the streets, to use not only our words, but also our wallets and our votes to change the system. To quote Hillel, “If not now, when?”
More racial justice resources on Ritualwell: