A Jewish Liturgy Against Racism

Liturgy for Yom Kippur following the murder of Trayvon Martin

by Rabbi Bob Gluck,  Albany New York (commentary written 2016)

"I've been posting thoughts, this week, relating to the upcoming Jewish High Holy Days. What follows is a slight revision of a liturgical piece I wrote following the murder of Trayvon Martin. I think, sadly, that its relevance has subsequently grown rather than diminished. The Jewish New Year period is a time of self and communal reflection; my words were crafted for Jews, but are directed well beyond any single community. It is cast in a format that draws upon the liturgy of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement - (this year, 2018 - from sundown Sept. 18 to sundown Sept. 19). Each Hebrew phrase is followed by English translation. 

Jews know from historical experience the pain of exclusion and stigma. Some of us are the descendants of European Jewish immigrants who arrived in this country in the 20th century. Their identities became part of the complex, often beautiful tapestry of North America. Within a generation, many of these ancestors gradually became part not only of a Jewish minority but of a white majority, gradually inheriting the privileges and also the responsibilities of both identities. It is very difficult for many to make sense of what it means to simultaneously have privileges while bearing a painful legacy whose historical patterns suggest periodic return.

Those of us who are white are partners within a collective American obligation to search our souls and actions to uncover our role in racial injustice. While racism is systemic in its ability to negatively affect lives, its power also resides within the daily actions of ordinary people. We thus ask ourselves "where does our personal responsibility lie?”


A Liturgy for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement

Al het shekhatanu l’fanekha, for the sin that we sinned against You: 
- We have locked our car doors when driving in African American neighborhoods
- We have clutched our purses when black men enter an elevator
- We have treated black men with suspicion when they enter stores in which we work

Al het shekhatanu l’fanekha, for the sin that we sinned against You: 
- We have turned our eyes when we meet young black men on the street
- We have crossed the street when we see black men approaching
- We have emulated black male entertainers, sports heroes, and musicians, but suspect their children

Al het shekhatanu l’fanekha, for the sin that we sinned against You: 
- We have blamed the criminalization of black men on their patterns of speech and dress
- We have acquiesced in the social exclusion of young black men: 
-- by failing to stop their disproportionate felony convictions, and subsequently depriving them of the right to vote
-- by failing to end capital punishment, making death row a default destination
-- by allowing fears for safety to translate into suspicion that can result in stigmatizing people of color, sometimes costing them their lives

We know the experience of being treated as undeserving outsiders, yet we have failed our younger brothers, some of them our children and the children of family, friends, and neighbors. V’al kulam Elohai selihot, s'lach lanu, m'chal lanu, ka-per lanu: For all these sins, forgiving God: forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement. May this acknowledgement not stop at mere recitation, but lead to growing awareness, a deeper caring, an ability to see ourselves in others, a commitment to challenge ourselves further to act decisively against racism throughout our lives and our world.


  Trayvon Martin; image New York Times from video accompanying the Editorial listed below by  Charles M. Blow

Trayvon Martin; image New York Times from video accompanying the Editorial listed below by Charles M. Blow

For insight read Charles M Blow's editorial for the New York Times (2013): The Whole System Failed Trayvon Martin 

Yom Kippur —the Day of Atonement—this year (2018) will begin in the evening of Tuesday, 18 September and ends in the evening of Wednesday, 19 September.

Bob Gluck is a Rabbi in the Reconstructionist school of Judaism. He is also a Jazz musician and author. He is a Professor at the University of Albany. Bio:  http://www.albany.edu/~gluckr/gluckshortbio.pdf

Yom Kippur image, thanks to "Kol Nidrei Prayer at Yom Kippur" - Ahavat Iarael YouTube channel / Protest sign quoting from Martin Luther King; The Guardian

  Bob Gluck, photo from his  website  

Bob Gluck, photo from his website