My dear friend Kathryn Milofsky arranged for me to speak with Trayvon Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, and her attorney Benjamin Crump, today just before Passover. We had invited Trayvon's parents to our Passover seder, but as that could not be worked out I was grateful to speak to Ms. Fulton and offer her whatever words of comfort and healing I could muster.
The opposite turned out to be the case. It was I who found the conversation healing and inspirational and decided therefore, after asking her permission, to share it in a column this holiday weekend, holy to both Christians and Jews, even as I battle against the receding sun which will bring in the Sabbath and Passover and make it forbidden for me to write.
The conversation was not taped and I am writing from memory and I ask everyone's forgiveness, especially Ms. Fulton, if I have committed any errors. The quotations I have for Ms. Fulton are likewise done from memory.
Ms. Fulton thanked me for the column I wrote about her son in The Huffington Post. After expressing my heartfelt condolences on the tragic loss of her child, I asked her if she felt disappointed that some segments of our society may not understand the depth of her anguish.
She said that the key to understanding how she and her family felt was human empathy. Anyone who is a parent could appreciate what it might mean to lose a child, especially when they died under such appalling circumstances. To compound the pain, the feeling that there is no justice magnified the pain infinitely. She said that this was not an issue for the black or white communities or the political right or left. It was a human issue, an issue for all parents, an issue that concerns anyone who appreciates life and opposes senseless tragedy.
"I look at my older son, who is 21 years-old. And I see Travyon in him. And I keep on expecting Trayvon to come home. But he doesn't come home. And now, I have one son on earth, and one son in heaven. And I miss him."
I asked her if she felt any anger to George Zimmerman:
I have no time for anger. I don't want to grant it a place in my heart. I simply want justice. I don't hate him and I'm not angry at him. But my son died and we deserve to know what happened. It's not for the police to determine justice. It's for the courts. And we'll stand by what the court says. But that's what I'm focused on. We want an arrest. But it's not out of anger or hatred. I have too much to do to be sidetracked with any of that. But when your son dies and there isn't even an arrest, it makes it so much harder.
She uttered these words in a pained tone. She did not raise her voice. There was no malice or rancor. She spoke passionately and with deep conviction.
I asked her if she felt anger at God over her son's tragic death? She immediately quoted Proverbs 3:5, citing both chapter and verse: "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding."
She said she was finding comfort in the verse. She does not question God. She was asking for understanding. "At first, I kept on asking why me, why Trayvon. But now I know that God has called Trayvon. He was chosen. His name is now known throughout the country and throughout the world. He is a symbol of the fight against injustice. People understand that there has to be fairness and righteousness. And they're learning it from Trayvon."
I told her that I was amazed that she quoted that verse. The first Hebrew word in the verse is Betach -- trust. It's my name, Boteach. And because my family name translates literally as Trust, I had chosen that verse as my main verse for my junior high school yearbook, and had adopted it as a mantra by which I had attempted to lead my life.
I asked her if she believed in America as a place of fairness and justice. She said she did. "But that's why this case is so important. If Trayvon can die and no one pays a price, it can be someone else's child next time. This isn't only about our family, it's about all families. It's about all children. Trayvon is everyone's child."
As she spoke I was reminded of Martin Luther King's famous words, "A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
I asked her how her family was coping. She said the tragedy had drawn the entire family closer. They were sharing many family meals, they were comforting each other, finding solace in one another.
Forgive me for sounding clichéd, and I am writing quickly so what is in my heart is being translated directly on to the page. I must tell you, I found her words, her voice, her demeanor, her compassion, and conviction and uplifting. Here was a mother who had buried her son under the most tragic circumstances. Yet she spoke without rage, hatred, or spite. She spoke of feeling God's presence in her heart and in her life. She said that other parents had to understand her campaign. That if anything like this had happened to their children, they too would shake heaven and earth to demand justice.
Before ending the conversation, I told her that since I was a boy, when my mother was going through a painful divorce and she was befriended and loved by an African-American co-worker at her bank, I had always felt a kinship with the black community. I told her that the black and Jewish communities are united not by a shared history of pain or suffering, but a shared history of spiritual promise and social redemption. That through all our trials and tribulations our two communities had always turned to God as the rock of our salvation, finding solace in His loving embrace. She echoed the sentiment and spoke of the all-encompassing presence of God in her life.
We agreed that we would G-d willing meet up when she was in New York. As I ended the conversation I felt as though I had been speaking with a giant, a woman of extraordinary heart, though it be shattered into a million pieces.
Written in memory of Machla Debakarov, the mother of a dear friend of Rabbi Shmuley, who passed away last year.
Shmuley Boteach, America's Rabbi, is the international best-selling author of 27 books and has just Kosher Jesus. He is currently running for Congress from new Jersey's Ninth District. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley. His website is www.shmuleyforcongress.com.