COVID-19 & Injustice


June 2020

I am a Jew because in every place where suffering weeps, I weep.

Edmond Fleg (1874-1963) was a Jewish French writer, thinker, and playwright of the 20th century. His life experiences are reflected in his writing. One of his pieces is called “I am a Jew” (1927). Part of this work reads –

“I am a Jew because in every place where suffering weeps, I weep.
I am a Jew because at every time when despair cries out, I hope.”

As I think to the events of this past week, I an ever reminded of our sacred obligation of Tikkun Olam  – “repairing the world.” Tikkun Olam has become synonymous with the notion of social action and the pursuit of social justice.  It is one of the important tenants of our faith.

As Jewish men, we cannot be silent or turn a blind eye to the events, which encompass us, and the actions, which are causing so much pain to our neighbors.   Arnold Eisen, Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary wrote this week, “ We are horrified and saddened by the murder of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and so many others who have come before. This is a devastating and dangerous moment in our country, the history of which is so stained by racial injustice. This injustice has been on dramatic, public display—from the disproportionate rate of COVID-19 deaths to the pervasive racism in many areas of public life….We know that these three recent murders, and so many others, have caused acute pain in the Black community, in the Black Jewish community, and among many in our broader American society. We must acknowledge this pain and respond in every way we can.”

In our Torah Portion this week, NASO, we read in Numbers 6:23, the three-fold priestly blessing –

The Lord bless you and protect you!

The Lord deal kindly and graciously with you!

The lord bestow His favor upon you and grant you peace!

Rabbi Ron Kronish, the Founding Director of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI) provides an understanding to the three parts of the blessing.

The Lord bless you and protect you!

And we could all use the blessing of Divine Protection to help us navigate the difficult journeys in our lives.

The Lord deal kindly and graciously with you!

The second half of this 2nd blessing adds the words “May the Divine Presence deal graciously with you”. The attributes; graciousness, loving-kindness and mercy are essential if we are to live moral lives. They will enable us to be more fully human; they help us care for the underdogs and the underprivileged in our communities; and they will help us relate to all human beings with greater understanding and compassion.

The Lord bestow His favor upon you and grant you peace!

Too many people have become apathetic and only care about themselves, and maybe their families, but have given up on seeking cohesion for their communities or peace for their country. We need to be blessed with the attribute of seeking peace and pursuing it actively in our lives, for the betterment of our people and all peoples in our world.

On Friday evening these words are also used by parents to bless their children.  This week I have heard about the talk that African American parents must give their children. The one where they remind their children that when they leave the safety of their homes, they have to keep their guard up, mouths shut, and hands on the wheel in even the most casual encounters with law enforcement. It’s an unfair but necessary burden that is carried by the African American community, one which is reluctantly passed down to children in the hopes of keeping them alive and safe.

This is a time for us to be blessed with the attributes of seeking peace and actively working for the betterment of the world. The recent murders that have led to rioting and looting which are not the answer; peaceful protest can deliver a strong message regarding the challenges facing our world.   We must work to seek peace by helping to repair the world.

We are taught, “Do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed.” (Leviticus 19:16). I call on the Jewish community, to do all in our power to respond responsibly to this moment of crisis by taking action to build a more just world and to remember the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel  -“Morally speaking, there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings, that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.”

“I am a Jew because in every place where suffering weeps, I weep.

I am a Jew because at every time when despair cries out, I hope.”

May the Lord bestow his favor upon all of us and grant our neighbors and us peace.

Shabbat Shalom,

Tom Sudow, International President

Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, Inc.