Date: May 31, 2020
Protesters in Minneapolis demonstrate against the May 25 death in police custody of George Floyd. (Stephen Maturen/Getty Images, via JTA)
By Philissa Cramer
National and local Jewish groups are expressing outrage over the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man killed last week by a Minneapolis police officer who has subsequently been charged with second-degree murder, and solidarity with the sweeping national protests that have followed.
Here are excerpts from the statements seen so far:
Truah, a social justice organization of rabbis, issued a statement May 27 after the first night of protests in Minneapolis:
This week, the divine image is diminished as we mourn the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police. This is yet one more tragic example of the racist violence too often perpetuated by police officers, who are charged with protecting all of us–not only some of us. We again face the reality that people of color in our country live in fear that encounters with law enforcement will result in serious injury or death.
We say once again: Black Lives Matter. And we commit to creating a country that lives by this statement.
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an organization working with 130 local groups across the United States, tweeted an image of two dozen black men, women and, in one case, a child who have been killed by police officers, and wrote, “JCPA condemns the killings of Black Americans by law enforcement. We stand in solidarity and will do everything in our power to see through systemic changes in law enforcement and in our criminal justice system. We agree with Rep Lewis that all protests should be nonviolent.”
We stand in solidarity with the Black community as they yet again are subject to pain and suffering at the hands of a racist and unjust system. While it is a necessary first step in the pathway towards justice that former Officer Derek Chauvin was taken into custody yesterday, it is simply not enough. Based on the horrifying cell phone footage that has rightfully outraged Americans across the country, it is clear that the three other former officers who participated in Mr. Floyd’s death need to be held responsible for their actions to the fullest extent of our legal system. The Hennepin County District Attorney and local investigators must do everything in their power to ensure the wheels of justice turn swiftly. As an organization committed to fighting all forms of hate, we know that this brutal death follows an explosion of racist murders and hate crimes across the U.S. As an agency that has stood for justice and fair treatment to all since our founding in 1913, we know that this has occurred at a time when communities of color have been reeling from the disproportionate health impacts and economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.
In short, systemic injustice and inequality calls for systemic change. Now.
Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, reiterated his group’s commitment to ongoing action:
The national rage expressed about the murder of Mr. Floyd reflects the depth of pain over the injustice that People of Color – and particularly Black men – have been subjected to throughout the generations. In recent months we have seen, yet again, too many devastating examples of persistent systemic racism, leading to the deaths not only of Mr. Floyd but of other precious souls, including Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.
We remember others before them: Eric Garner. Tamir Rice. Trayvon Martin. Sandra Bland. Oscar Grant. Philando Castile. Walter Scott. Terrence Crutcher. Samuel Dubose. Michael Brown. The list feels endless, and so too is our despair. But as we recite the Mourner’s Kaddish for them all, we say now, again: We will not sit idly by.
Our country simply cannot achieve the values of “justice for all” to which it aspires until we address ongoing racism in all sectors and at all levels of society. We remain in solidarity and action with the NAACP’s urgent #WeAreDoneDying campaign, whose policy demands cover areas of criminal justice, economic justice, health care, and voting, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disproportionately impact Black Americans.
Keshet, a group that advocates for LGBTQ Jews, expressed solidarity with black leaders:
For the past two days, the Jewish community observed Shavuot, a holiday rooted in learning and action that commemorates when the Jewish people were given the Torah. The Talmud teaches that anyone who destroys one life has destroyed an entire universe. The systemic racism that allows Black people to be murdered with impunity is destroying our world.
As we work to advance equality and justice for LGBTQ Jews, we take seriously the need to build a world in which people of all races and ethnicities can live in safety; a world in which the bodies of Black, Brown, Trans, and Queer people are treated with dignity and respect. Keshet stands in solidarity with Black leaders – in the Keshet community and beyond – whose wisdom and insights are instrumental to building a just and equitable future. We vow to voice our outrage and demand justice. #BlackLivesMatter
Sheila Katz, executive director of the National Council of Jewish Women, said this:
We will not remain silent. As a national organization made up of over 100,000 advocates in communities around the country — including Minnesota — we are outraged and devastated by the murder of George Floyd. Mr. Floyd was murdered by multiple police officers who held him down with their knees, however, the underlying cause of his death is systemic racism. It is both unacceptable and exhausting that in 2020, we still need to insist over and over again: Black Lives Matter. …
Through legislative reform, local activism, and by educating NCJW advocates, we will make sure each individual we engage helps end the toxic culture of racism that permeates our country. For now, it is important to support Black and Brown communities and the leaders spearheading the peaceful, anti-racist responses unfolding. Together, we will make sure the memory of George Floyd will be for a blessing.
We also know that racism goes beyond individual acts of bigotry, hatred, & violence. It infects the beliefs, policies, & institutions that limit opportunity, allow discrimination, and perpetuate inequalities. It is clear that we cannot #EndHunger without confronting racism. 3/4**MAZON**@MAZONusa
Here’s what the Jewish Federations of North America said:**The Jewish Federations of North America**@jfederations: This week has reminded us yet again that we have a long way to go in our work towards a more just society for all. We will not stop fighting for a world free of racism and bigotry in all of its forms. #JusticForGeorge #StandingTogether.
In a statement released May 31, the Baltimore Jewish Council, the political and community relations arm of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, expressed its grief over the death of George Floyd.
“Our country has experienced too many incidents of police brutality, including the detention and death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore,” the statement read. “We stand in solidarity with our friends in the Black community, united as an ally in the fight for equality and the right of all people, regardless of the color of their skin, to live without fear of our government. We must stand together against hatred and bigotry in any form and uphold the core American values of justice and equality.
“We commit to taking concrete action to improve relations and enhance understanding between communities here in Baltimore, and between minority groups and law enforcement officials. Because the function of law enforcement is so vital to society, and the because the majority of law enforcement officials are dedicated public servants, it is incumbent upon us to quickly and effectively address violations and violators in a manner that preserves public trust and achieves justice and equality for all.”
The leadership of Pikesville’s Chizuk Amuno Congregation sent out the following message to congregants:
“We are a nation literally and figuratively ablaze. Whether actual fires burning in many of our cities, or the pungent flames of institutional racism that have burned far too long, our country is on fire, and there appears to be little water in sight. By now, many of us have watched in horror the video of George Floyd’s last minutes on this earth. Murder in any form is horrific, but to watch a killing that could have been prevented, and one that was perpetrated by the very people tasked with protecting our lives, should shatter us all.
“Just hours prior to Floyd’s killing, in Central Park in New York City, a different but equally ugly racist incident transpired. Amy Cooper and Chris Cooper (no relation) had what seemed like an ordinary dispute. The kind that happens every minute in New York, and that barely warrants a second glance. He wanted her to put her dog on a leash, as per the rules of this area in the park, and when she did not comply an argument ensued. When Ms. Cooper yelled in his direction, ‘I’m taking a picture and calling the cops. I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life,’ the altercation took on a more extraordinary tone. Her use of white privilege by preying on institutional racism at its worst should illicit disgust in us all. But we can no longer stop with a public display of disgust, followed by inaction. Many of us are unfortunately, inherently guilty of the very problem without realizing the role we play.
“In the Mishna Torah, Maimonides writes, ‘It is a positive commandment from the Torah, to cry out and sound trumpets for all evils that happen to the community.’ We have cried out enough against racism, maybe even more than many others, but little has changed. Maybe that is because as Maimonides states a few sentences later, ‘But if we do not cry out and sound [trumpets], but rather say, “’What has happened to us is the way of the world, and this trouble is merely happenstance’” — it is surely the way of cruelty, and it causes them to stick to their bad deeds. And the trouble will add other troubles.’ Perhaps we have not done enough. Perhaps we have dismissed racism as someone else’s issue, or worse still, we have hidden from the racism that exists within us all. We cannot possibly eradicate our nation’s institutional racism problem, when it continues to live within so many of us individually.
“As a community we mourn the losses of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, and we shutter at the idea that they are just a few tragic examples of the violent racism perpetrated unnecessarily on black people in America. We pray for calm and for peaceful protest, the bedrock of dissent within a free society. We pray for an end to all violence and looting that only mask real issues that are in desperate need of repair. We pray for an end of racism and bigotry of all kinds. We pray for a deeper understanding of ourselves and the power to fix from within so that we will have the ability to influence others. Finally, we pray that every American will be able to see the good and the Godliness in one another. As American Jews, we believe both in the religious and civic idea that all people are created equally. We cannot rest until we see the fruition of this important ideal.”
In a letter to congregants, Beth El’s leadership wrote, “During dark and unsettled times we turn to the wisdom of Judaism for insight and understanding, for light and hope. In recent days we have been deeply troubled and saddened by the loss of innocent life, by the flames of hatred and prejudice that we see spreading through our nation, and by the violence we see in our communities and cities. As a congregational family we can pause and reflect on what we have seen and felt, always mindful of God’s sheltering presence and the deep wisdom of our faith that nourishes our spirits and guides our lives. …
“And so we pray: For the courage to stand up for what we believe in. For the strength to be builders of a better tomorrow. For the wisdom to see what is right and just. For the humility to see our own limitations and flaws. For the vision to see a way forward during troubled times. And for peace, freedom, and dignity for all people in all places.”
This article was written by Philissa Cramer, editor-in-chief of the JTA global Jewish news source. Jmore staff contributed to this report.