- Posted by tisrael
- On June 13, 2019
- 0 Comments
Charleston, SC. There we stood on sacred ground, surrounded by voices of those who were forced to come. They came on ships through the Middle Passage, shackled, yoked, stacked on shelves like items in a grocery store, stripped of their humanity—proud Africans made to bend under the whip of the slave trader; sold to white masters; families separated; inspected like meat going to the slaughter house.
The Old Slave Mart Museum was overwhelming. We had all heard the stories before, maybe even seen the photos, but being in that space, the reality of enslavement came alive—no longer theoretical or historical. These were real human beings with names and faces and stories. As much as we wanted to, we could not avert our eyes; we could not cover our ears. Inside we could not help but cry out—How was this possible?
Those of us from the North judge this period of Southern enslavement as a terrible stain on our country’s history. But who are we to judge? Did the African-American community do any better in the North? As we work toward fair housing and health care, the reminders of discrimination and abuse are our legacy. The fact that there is a huge wealth gap between the descendents of those African slaves and white Americans remains today. Redlining caused Black Americans to live in neighborhoods that were less—less in education; less in health; less in infant mortality; less in safety…less. And we are only beginning to acknowledge and pay for this.
Just 2 weeks ago at TI we heard about the destruction of an African American community right here in Newton. The Mass Pike was built through the community without real compensation. People were forced to give up their homes to the government with a promise that they would receive a fair price for their investment. Many never received anything from the government. We are surprised we never heard about this before and we are ashamed. Are we doing any better?
This week’s Torah portion Be-hukhotai is about blessings and curses. The curses are pretty horrendous, including cannibalism of our sons and daughters. But the blessings only come with taking responsibility—im be-hukhotai telekhu “if you walk in My laws.” And what are those laws? We have seen them repeated throughout the Torah. We know that many of the laws are about living in society—about how to create a holy community. We are told early on that we cannot stand by our brothers’ and sisters’ blood. We know that we are not to take advantage of the poor or give advantage to the rich. We know these things; they are essential to our tradition of justice.
And if we “walk in God’s laws” we are told, God will give blessings to the people and to the land. The final verse of the Blessing portion ends with the words: “I Adonai am your God who brought you out of the land of the Egyptians to be their slaves no more, who broke the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.” Now we are responsible; we must act alongside the descendants of those who were enslaved to end the curse that they have lived, to break the yoke so they may walk erect again.
Rabbi Serena Fujita, just returned from the TI trip to Savannah and Charleston, shared this devar Torah with the TI-GBIO Core Team. To learn more or join the TI-GBIO local action for affordable, equitable housing in Newton, rsvp to Fran Godine [firstname.lastname@example.org]. The next actions will be Wednesday, June 12 and Tuesday, June 25. If you live in Newton, you can make a difference now.