This week, Jews begin to move beyond the lowest point of the calendar, a period known as “The Three Weeks,” toward the new year. The Three Weeks focus on prophetic admonishment for our ethical failings, while the seven weeks that follow call for a renewed focus on a “path of justice.”
Nelson Mandela’s birthday, July 18, comes this year just at this point of turning. “Mandela Day,” too, encourages us to move beyond grief into healing action.
A Neighbor’s Blood
During this particular year’s Three Weeks, the George Zimmerman trial here in the U.S. and so many areas of bloodshed around the world — along with the countless ugly words that surround these issues — kept my attention, on Leviticus 19:16:
Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people; neither shalt thou stand idly by the blood of thy neighbour: I am the LORD. לֹא-תֵלֵךְ רָכִיל בְּעַמֶּיךָ, לֹא תַעֲמֹד עַל-דַּם רֵעֶךָ: אֲנִי, יְהוָה.
— Jewish Publication Society (1917) translation at Mechon-Mamre
Also, during the Three Weeks, I found myself — for the first time in my life — quite literally standing by the blood of a neighbor. I was not exactly idle, but certainly did not feel very effective as I tried to stop the bleeding from a violent attack.
I wrote at the time:
This is not an experience I want to repeat. Nor do I want to read one more notice from MPD informing us that someone was stabbed or shot or otherwise harmed on our streets. I do not want to read of more shootings in Chicago (my hometown) or violence elsewhere.
In conversations around town, I get the impression that many in DC believe the violence on our streets and the conditions that lead to it are part of a different universe. Many of us know otherwise.
This morning’s experience brought the violence in DC home to me in a very visceral way: The blood being shed, however far down the street, is our neighbors’. It is precious. Most importantly, it’s our collective responsibility to work together to make sure no more is spilled.
— Hill Rag
From Grief to Building
This experience occurred as I was on my way to religious services honoring the beginning of the new month (July 8 was the 1st of Av, the 10th Hebrew month). In Jewish tradition, the new month is an occasion for celebration and looking forward. But Rosh Hodesh Av also launches the final Nine Days, the deepest days of mourning in The Three Weeks. Watching my neighbor bleed, and being unable to do much to help, further intensified my growing grief over the many lives damaged or lost while our society fails to address the causes.
Later in those Nine Days, the Zimmerman verdict came down, adding grief over the flaws in our “justice” system and the particular vulnerabilities of black and brown men in our country. Jews United for Justice shared this lament:
Traditionally [on Tisha B’av], Jews fast and read the book of Eicha (Lamentations), which laments the destruction of Jerusalem. Eicha begins,
“Eicha/How lonely sits the city, once great with people!…”
Eicha resonates with so many of us who are grieving and angry right now…..
How can we believe in justice, when our legal system allows an adult to kill an unarmed child, to be found “not guilty” in a court of law – and have his gun returned to him?…
— Shahar Colt, rabbinical student
On the day after Tisha B’av — when we start to build following acknowledgement and grief for so much destruction — I was heartened to discover “A Spiritual Call To Action” on the “Higher Ground” radio show of Rev. Carolyn Boyd. The mission of “Hannah Mothers Campaign” is
To create, implement and sustain a powerful spiritual movement to under grid a renewed 21st century civil rights movement and larger societal engagement that seeks to promote, protect and empower black and brown men and boys.
Hannah Mothers Campaign
The campaign is named after the story of Hannah in the Book of Samuel (Sam 1:1-28). “Hannah shows the power of a prayerful life as she touched the heart of God to grant her the one thing she wanted more than anything… a child… Samuel, one of the greatest prophets and leaders in ancient Israel,” writes Boyd, adding: “All faiths, religious traditions and practices are welcome to participate and support our Hannah Mothers Campaign.”
There is a different focus for each of four prayer groups. Eastern Hannah Mothers will be praying for the following:
- End racial, ethnic, religious and linguistic profiling.
- End unconscious bias, fear and hate of Black, Brown men and boys.
- Ensure Black, Brown men are employed with living wages, health care, housing.
- Transformation our education system: from elementary to University institutions.
Prayer is not meant as a substitute for action. But it can ground spiritually-oriented social action and provide a means of building beyond grief. Moreover, this campaign offers Jews a beautiful approach to the path between Tisha B’av and the new year, when the story of Hannah is read as part of Rosh Hashanah celebrations.
July 18 is Nelson Mandela‘s 95th birthday, most likely his last with us. We Act Radio is honoring Madiba’s birthday with special programming all day. This means that The Education Town Hall, a weekly show I help produce, is pre-empted, affording me some moments of free time on what is also the anniversary of my father’s birth.
We Act Radio’s motto is “Do Something!” and the Town Hall seeks to inform and inspire action around education, locally (DC area) and nationally. It seems fitting today, therefore, to note a few memories:
- I recall, for example, attending meeting after meeting in opposition to the neighborhood destruction then known as “Urban Renewal.”
- I remember accompanying my dad to volunteer at the campaign office of his friend who was running against a Daley-Machine-backed candidate for State Senate; and I remember my dad driving downtown on a Saturday to introduce me to the campaign staff and leave me to volunteer for Eugene McCarthy (my choice, not Dad’s).
- One of my earliest clear memories is of visiting Cabrini Green (notorious Chicago housing project, now history) where my father was helping to establish a Montessori school.
One way or another, in my too-short time with my father, the lesson was: “Do Something!” BACK