- Posted by Elaine Zecher
- On May 31, 2019
- 0 Comments
Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection on our way toward Shabbat.
The strategy of this week’s Torah portion is clear. Follow the way of Torah and all will go well. If not, failure, indignity, and loss await. The picture painted can either be bleak or beautiful, but not both.
I joined members of our congregation on a trip to the South this week to Savannah, GA and Charleston, NC. The experience of our trip painted a picture that is actually both beautiful and bleak. To travel here is to learn about the way Jews received acceptance and inclusion early in their days in ways Jews in the North did not. Male Jews held public office, led Masonic orders, prospered as merchants and contributed time and money to the community. The women joined Daughters of the Revolution with ease and moved in social circles. Acculturation came easy.
In 1790, President Washington had sent a letter to the Jews in Savannah, Touro, and elsewhere making it clear to the Jews how they should expect to be treated:
It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support…May the children of the stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.
And yet, the 18th and 19th century yielded an economy and culture dependent on slave labor. As states to the north outlawed it, the south thrived because of the enslaved people in their midst. We met no denial of Jewish involvement in slave ownership and loyalty to the Confederacy. What surprised us was that we hardly heard reflection of the immorality and indignity caused by enslaving African Americans. (We did only have five days here!) There is no memorial to the thousands who suffered. However, there are many statues devoted to those who legislated and ensured slavery.
When slavery ended, mass incarceration and Jim Crow laws took its place as other methods of humiliation and destruction. What we learned here holds a mirror to what we know happened and exists where we live as well. We can’t condemn without examining our own accountability as well.
We also learned that the devastating terrorist murder of beloved members and clergy at the local Mother Emanuel AME church propelled the Charleston community to join together in ways they had never done before. Last year, the city government passed a resolution “recognizing, denouncing, and apologizing on behalf of the city of Charleston for the city’s role in regulating, supporting and fostering slavery and the resulting atrocities inflicted by the institution of slavery…”
The Torah lifts up that every action has consequences. Right within the portion, I found these words:
They shall be heartsick over the iniquities of their ancestors. Lev 26:39
The commentators agree that this deals with cases when subsequent generations have opportunity to protest against wrongdoing but they do not and are therefore responsible.
Our whole country inherits what those before us have done with regard to slavery, not just those in the South. I rejoice that Southern Jews could prosper but we must never forget the world in which they and their neighbors thrived. Nor can any of us ignore the work we all need to do to ensure that generations to come will know that we set our hearts and intentions in the direction to right terrible wrongs perpetuated on fellow human beings with whom we share this world.
Please join together for Qabbalat Shabbat tonight at 6:00 p.m. If you are unable to join us, please live stream HERE.
Torah Study begins at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow with a short service, Torah reading, and a lively discussion. Thank Goodness It’s Shabbat (TGIS) for the little ones gathers at 10:00 a.m.
I look forward to your thoughts and reflections, please connect with me directly HERE.