The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
On Friday May 1, a number of us boarded the MARC train to Baltimore on our way to a march and rally organized by Jews United for Justice. We were once again disappointed and outraged by the death of an unarmed black man at the hands of the police. Though we were standing up for justice for Freddie Gray, we knew that we were also asking for justice in our broader criminal justice system.
In our backpacks, we each had snacks, water and a scarf or bandana to cover our faces with in case we got tear gassed - a hopefully unlikely, but certainly possible situation. When one of our friends texted us the night before telling us to pack the bandanas, I started to freak out. The march we were attending had been planned, the police had been notified, and it would be the middle of the afternoon—was tear gas a real possibility? I pushed the thought out of my head, packed the scarf just in case, and went to sleep.
Less than 24 hours later, I was marching through the streets of Baltimore, holding a sign that said “I’m a Reform Jew and I support #BlackLivesMatter,” with roughly 400 other people, mostly white, and full of rabbis and other clergy. As we turned a corner and began walking past the inner harbor, we saw hundreds of law enforcement officers. It appeared to be a combination of sheriffs, police officers in riot gear and National Guardsmen holding assault rifles. There were tanks scattered throughout the city and as we walked past them, I watched a cop line up zip tie handcuffs along the hood of the tank. I was completely taken aback. While I realize I should have expected this law enforcement presence, I was entirely unprepared for the sight I was seeing. I felt as though I was walking through a war zone.
Fortunately, the march and rally were entirely peaceful. When it was over, we went to Baltimore Hebrew Congregation to celebrate Shabbat and the peace those 25 hours promise us. However, more than a week later, I still can’t stop thinking about how I felt walking through the streets of Baltimore. We were exercising our right to free speech; we weren’t doing anything wrong, and yet, the entire situation felt like it was one small misstep away from being entirely out of control. I felt uncomfortable and scared.
As I walked through Baltimore, I began to understand firsthand the severity and significance of the mistrust between law enforcement and communities of color. I thought about the quote from Pirkei Avot that tells us, “You are not obligated to complete the work but neither are you free to desist from it.” While I may not be able to repair the broken relationships in Baltimore or communities around the country, I know that I must do everything I can to bring about positive change. I hope that in the weeks and months to come, our nation, and the Jewish community, will continue to shed light on this problem and come together to create a just world for everyone.
For more information about the RAC’s work on civil rights and criminal justice, check out our website.