This is my first contribution to the Huffington Post so let me introduce myself. I am the Executive Director of Jews for Racial & Economic Justice (JFREJ) in New York. At JFREJ we have spent 25 years fighting for racial justice alongside our partners from communities of color throughout New York City. Currently we are working to bring Jews of Color into the center of the discussion within the Jewish community. So this year of Michael Brown and Eric Garner; of Sandra Bland and Tanisha Anderson and Tamir Rice -- the year of Black Lives Matter -- this year has filled us with powerful, sometimes conflicting emotions. Thrilled and inspired watching this movement swell with people and energy, profound sadness at the deaths and racism that have made it necessary.
On the eve of Tisha B'Av I want to share with you the work and thoughts of two of JFREJ's members, Yehudah Webster and Zahara Zahav, as they reflect on this struggle for Black lives in the context of our own Jewish search for liberation.
The Hope of How, A prayer for Tisha B'Av
By Yehudah Webster and Zahara Zahav, leaders at Jews for Racial & Economic Justice (JFREJ) and graduates of the JFREJ Grace Paley Organizing Fellowship
"How?" ("Eicha?") wonders the narrator of Lamentations, which is read by Jews on Tisha B'Av, a day commemorating the horrifying destruction of the First and Second Temples. This prayer weaves images and themes from the last year's spate of racist violence with those of Tisha B'Av, hoping to draw strength from the knowledge that we have faced senseless hatred before, and new choices are now available to us for how to respond. This is the definition of teshuva, repentance (literally "return"), that Tisha B'Av calls to us to do as we prepare for the High Holy Days.
The Hope of How
"My insides are churning"
A most sacred home in flames deemed worthless, disposable
A pastor and worshipers slain, heads bowed, in the sanctuary
A mother sits in the street where her son's soul was poured out
A world turns its back again, again, again - there is none to comfort her
A people shown their Black bodies, tears, families do not matter
How have we fallen to such disgrace?
How long will we slink away from justice?
How do we allow?
How do we hope?
How do we dance when so heavy with grief?
How do we turn to face each other?
A woman climbs where no one dared, tears down a flag of hatred
A mother refuses to back down, power yields to her demands
A wave of clergy rise up to meet resounding call for a different world
A movement plants seeds everywhere, sprouts flowers over burial ground
A black man's cry, "I can't breathe" amplified in the streets for all to hear
With this hope we pray that we do not reach the point of total destruction
We pray that we desist from senseless hatred and brutality
That sacred places remain holy, unstained from the blood of racism
That we do not repeat the mistakes of our ancestors, taking instead honest account of our obligations
We pray that community, allyship and love forge new bridges of understanding and trust
That we continue to hope and believe in each other
Demanding as one that black lives truly do matter
All these things we pray in solidarity together
And let us say,
Jews For Racial & Economic Justice pursues racial and economic justice in New York City by advancing systemic changes that result in concrete improvements in people's everyday lives. We are inspired by Jewish tradition to fight for a sustainable world with an equitable distribution of economic and cultural resources and political power.