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Hearing a Riot

06/03/2020 11:20:59 AM


Rabbi Brent Spodek

One of the many names the Jewish tradition has for the Holy One is Shomea Tefila - the One who hears prayers. Every day in the Amidah, the central Jewish prayer, we hope that the Holy One hears our formal prayers, uttered in the sanctuary, and the intimate prayers, whispered in a hospital room.

We need our innermost truth to be heard. 

A human can hear only those prayers which are articulated in words, but the Holy One of Blessing can hear all prayers - not only those which are verbalized, but those which are not. 

It’s an aspect of Divine presence to hear what is not said with words; it is an aspect of human obstinance to refuse to hear that which is said with words.

America's white supremacist legacy is no secret - among thousands and thousands of others,  Fredrick Douglass spoke about it in 1852, Bob Dylan sung about it in 1975 and Michelle Alexander wrote about it in 2012

So many of us are unable or unwilling to hear about this legacy and yet are shocked when the message is repeated. 

A lifetime ago, in 1967, Rev. Martin Luther King taught that “In the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity.”

The Biblical verse nearest to my heart is Psalm 122:7 - May there be peace in your battle stations, tranquility in your citadels. So much of my spiritual life is about trying to go through the world as a tranquil presence, girded for love, not war. 

The streets of America are not tranquil right now; perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the streets of America have never been tranquil for those with black and brown skin, such as George Floyd. Now, white Americans such as myself are aware of it. 

There are those - such as our traitorous abomination of a president and those who continue to support him - who refuse to hear. 

For the rest of us, our work begins, but surely does not end, with a sincere effort to imitate the divine and hear those voices which are difficult to hear, those voices which articulate what it is to be black in this country.

It is, for sure, a small step, but as an effort to help us hear those voices, I invite you to join with me and Education Director Julia Alexander in reading three essential contemporary books on race in America:

These sessions are only available to members of BHA and you must register to receive the Zoom link.

To state the obvious, our readings and discussions will not solve America’s shameful racial legacy; I pray only that it will be a small, but effective step towards imitating the Divine and hearing those who are too often unheard. I hope you’ll join us. 

Fri, September 18 2020 29 Elul 5780