The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
This summer, I found myself in rural Georgia alongside dozens of other people of all races, religions and ethnicities who marched together for justice. This was “America’s Journey for Justice,” a forty day, 1,000 mile journey from Selma, Alabama, to Washington, D.C., sponsored by the NAACP. As I marched, carrying the Torah safely in my arms, I heard the stories of racial injustice and prejudice that my fellow travelers endured. I prayed that the Torah’s words of justice and righteousness would impel us all to create a better tomorrow.
After returning from Georgia, I realized that I must do something to heal the rifts and the cracks in our world. I decided to preach about my experience at the High Holy Days, sharing my journey as well as the stories I heard during my time in the South. This was a good start, but in my heart of hearts, I knew that marching and preaching were not enough. We as a Jewish community could and must do more.
I decided to reach out to Pastor Victor Lewis of the Friendship Baptist Church of Roslyn, a predominately African-American church just minutes from my synagogue. Over the years, our two houses of worship have joined together for musical programs and debated theological differences in various lectures. As Pastor Lewis, Rabbi Michael White and I sat down to talk, we recognized that it was only now, after years of friendship, that we could truly discuss issues of deep significance to our various communities. Our relationship, built upon honesty and trust, allowed each of us to speak openly and candidly about the prejudice, discrimination and fears we each faced.
After months of preparation, our two communities came together for a discussion entitled “Walking in Each Other’s Shoes.” Pastor Lewis opened and spoke candidly about the day he taught his teenage son how to drive. Right before he handed over the keys for the first time, he taught his son step-by-step how he must act when the police pulled him over. Pastor Lewis told his son to call him right away and put the phone on speaker, so that he could listen to the entire conversation. He reminded his son to put both of his hands on the wheel so that the police could see him clearly and won’t be worried that he’d have something in his hands. And he should politely answer, “No sir, or yes sir.” Hopefully that would be enough to prevent anything from happening to him. The room was silent, many totally in shock of the fears our neighbors live with each and every day.
What followed was truly remarkable. Members of our two faith communities gathered in groups of eight around round tables to share their own stories about prejudice, racism and discrimination. We listened to one another and shared ways that we could come together in the future to help build upon these conversations and create a world of justice and righteousness.
In the wilderness, the Israelites joined together to build the Mishkan, a home for the Holy One. As the Book of Exodus teaches: “Let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” Our conversation that evening was only the beginning, but all of us in the room recognized that we had begun to build a sanctuary together. When our hearts, minds and souls are truly present, we can become one and work together to build a community of fairness, of justice and of hope.
Rabbi Andy Gordon serves on the clergy team of Temple Sinai of Roslyn.