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Justice, Justice, You Shall Pursue

“You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.”
Pirkei Avot 2:21

Now, more than ever, we are obligated to ensure that the lives and welfare of all of our brothers and sisters are safeguarded; specifically, we must actively condemn and eliminate brutality and unjust treatment against all people of color.

Beth Israel Congregation has always engaged in education and activities that respond to the needs of our community. Our focus has been in Ann Arbor, but also in our country and world. The SAC endeavors to lead those efforts, most particularly in addressing social justice goals as systemic and policy issues. Initiatives to challenge racism and police violence directed at persons of color in the United States are exactly the kind of issues for which we exist. The SAC is committed to help broaden our community awareness and understanding of these issues, and to help become an active partner in community efforts that promote justice and equity. We will be sharing resources, initiatives and events that we can join as a congregation and/or as individuals.

There are myriad ways to get involved. We encourage everyone to do something. Engage with the local community, read and re-read relevant books, or actively support efforts to fight injustice. Whatever paths you choose, we ask that all of us continue to actively participate in learning about what can be done to combat systemic, rampant racism that is so embedded in our culture, and the damage racism wreaks on the whole of American society. 

We can read and reread:

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

White Fragility by Robin J. Diangelo

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race by Beverley Daniel Tatum

White Rage by Carol Anderson 

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Renni Eddo-Lodg

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Learn about Jews of Color by one of the originators of the term, Jews of Color

A Response to George Floyd's Death by Jews of Color

The Rabbinical Assembly’s Statement on Police Brutality 

Truah’s Resources on Racial Injustice and Judaism

We can learn more about what to do locally and beyond. Here is a list of 97 things we can do -- from quick, one-off actions you can take from home, to meritorious causes and anti-racism organizations to engage with or donate to. That’s a start.

And, as Rabbi Caine writes, we must continue to connect ourselves to Torah:

Race has been at the heart of Beth Israel’s Torah this year. On Rosh Hashanah we considered the striking parallels between the 1619 Project and the foundations of Israelite religion. On Shavuot, we formulated an 11th Commandment that specifically outlaws racism. On the second day, we saw Jews of color (indeed, all humanity) as family members at Sinai holding our hands, not as a significant “fraction” that should be acknowledged -- and we prepared ourselves to see people of color as family, not as a “percentage” of the electorate, in the months ahead. We began Numbers by “counting” the non-white victims of coronavirus as well as the black murder victims of law enforcement. We saw Leviticus’s demand for redeeming our kinsman as our need to stand up for immigrants, people of color, and people in service jobs whose lives are put at risk during COVID, even though they die at the greatest rates and have the least access to health care. We viewed Wisconsin’s attempt to separate the numbers of virus cases into the people-of-color meat-packers and “the regular folks” through the disapproving outrage of Leviticus. We took in the Torah’s demand for redeeming the less privileged through structural forgiveness of debt, equal opportunity, and re-appropriation of societal resources. Each week, we’ve connected Torah to the injustices against victims of racist structures in our society, remembering victims by name. Our need to bring Torah to ourselves and to America has never been more interconnected.  

We will honor the life of George Floyd and the countless others who have been victims of police brutality with a minute of silence at the end of our Friday Minchah services  at 5:45 pm. We hope that you will join us to say Kaddish and pray for those who have been murdered at the hands of those who were supposed to keep them safe. Please place a lit candle in your Zoom window as a sign of respect for their lives.

We have much work to do. We hope you’ll join us.


Rabbi Nadav Caine
Rabbi Emeritus Robert Dobrusin
The Beth Israel Congregation Board
The Beth Israel Congregation Social Action Committee
Beth Israel Congregation Religious School

Thu, December 3 2020 17 Kislev 5781