By RABBI MARK KULA
AND RABBI ED STAFMAN
As Bozeman rabbis, we are horrified by the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and far too many others. We stand in solidarity with people of color and indigenous populations in calling for equal justice under the law. As Jews, we cannot remain silent nor stand idly when the blood of brother and sister is shed, for we are infused with compassionate Jewish teachings commanding us to love our neighbor as ourselves and the truth, that, each person is created in the divine image. We bring our voices to the fight for justice. We demand that perpetrators of murderous racism be brought to justice. And we commit to continually speaking out to disrupt the systemic racism that allows these tragedies to occur.
Our formative story recalls our people’s slavery in Egypt and our struggle for liberation, a history which we re-enact every year at our Passover seders. In Hebrew, Egypt means a “narrow place,” a place of constriction, and the slavery experience is often described as one where we could not breathe. The Hebrew word for Pharaoh is related to the word “neck,” so we empathize with the experience of neck-breaking pressure choking off the ability to breathe. The very purpose of our slavery was to teach us what that feels like so that we would stand up to the oppression of others.
We also remember that breath – of which George Floyd was robbed — is sacred: Our stories teach that God created the first human being by breathing into him, and one of the Hebrew names for God is “the Breath of Life.”
The Talmud teaches, “Whoever destroys a single life, it is as if they destroyed an entire world and whoever saves one life it is as if they have saved the entire world.” From this, we learn that every life is sacred, humanity is inexorably bound, and all of God’s children suffer when one precious life is lost.
There is specific work and action we can each take to confront our bias and understand our privilege, to learn about systemic racism and how it manifests, and then join others with whom we can work. For example, Montana has incredible racial inequity in incarceration rates, on which Montana’s ACLU is working; we can learn about dismantling racism from the many offerings of Montana’s Racial Equity Project; and there are several organizations working on indigenous justice issues, such as Hopa Mountain and We Are Montana. In addition, we must engage in the political process by holding our elected officials accountable.
We pray for peaceful approaches to redeem our world and take the necessary steps to heal the hurt and eliminate racism. We send our condolences to the families of George Floyd and join in
solidarity with peaceful protesters. We commit to work towards the day when the Prophet Amos’s words, “justice flows down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream” become reality.
Rabbis Mark Kula and Ed
Stafman serve at Congregation Beth Shalom in Bozeman.
Bozeman Daily Chronicle Guest Editorial 6/13/20