“Pursuing Racial Justice: The Jewish Underpinnings of Anti-Racism Work,” held recently at Adas Israel (DC) and featuring Yavilah McCoy of Visions-Inc and Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block of Bend the Arc, offered many insights and challenges. I plan to share some of what I gained in readable portions over the course of the next few days. I begin — as Pirkei Avot (5:9) tells us sages should do — with “first things first [al rishon rishon].”
Asked how to avoid burnout in social justice work, especially in these trying times, McCoy said “first, you need a practice.” She stressed the importance of a daily practice for centering the self and for awareness. Failing to take time each day to check in with ourselves and understand where we are usually results in whatever we haven’t paused to address spilling out into the work. In addition, both McCoy and Kimelman-Block said, a daily pause/practice offers an opportunity to notice signs of burnout and arrange rest and healing measures.
Some of us rely on the Jewish liturgy for daily practice. Earlier this month, I shared a “heart map” focusing on some of the Jewish prayers most central to me and to my understanding of how prayer helps Judaism to work in the world. (See “Covenant and Liturgy.”)
My map was created in adaptation of one of the projects in Personal Geographies: Explorations in Mixed-Media Mapmaking by Jill K. Berry. Some readers may be interested in creating their own prayer maps, in some kind of graphic form, in outline, or in prose.
I found the exploration behind my map helpful in understanding which prayers I find essential and why. I recommend the process.
A bit more on cordiform maps here.
More on the texts I chose for my own map coming soon.
Houses of worship across the United States are separated by many things: culture, religious denomination, style of prayer, theology and language. We’re also separated by demographics and location, even in the same town.
I believe it was DC’s former police chief Isaac Fulwood who noted that 10 a.m. on Sunday is the most segregated hour of life in the city. Of course, many things have changed since Fulwood’s tenure in the late 80s — and Jews, as well as some other religious communities, don’t hold their biggest weekly worship on Sunday. But his basic point remains.
The relative segregation of our lives and our worship communities means that, in cities like the District of Columbia, some communities mourn violent deaths with terrible regularity while others, in the same city, remain largely unaffected.
It has been one of my deepest prayers that we can find ways, in our various worship communities, to ensure that our worship reflects the welfare of our own city, specifically, while never losing cite of our wider place as citizens of the world. One place we must start, I continue to believe, is for every house of worship in the city to acknowledge the violent losses of its citizens, even if those lost and their primary mourners are not members of the congregation.
In this past week, the District of Columbia has been bereaved of the following individuals through homicide:
- June 26 1200 block of Raum Street, Northeast
23-year-old Kevin Cortez Johnson, of Southeast, Washington.
- June 28 1600 block of E Street, Northeast
33 year-old Darrell Michael Grays of Northeast, Washington, DC.
- June 29 Unit block of Galveston Place, Southwest
25 year-old Rodney Delonte Davis, of Manassas, Virginia.
We are still in the 30-day period of mourning for these individuals, lost to homicide:
- June 8 5100 block of Southern Avenue
21-year-old Qur’an Reginald Vines of Southeast, Washington, DC.
- June 10 (after June 3 injuries) Gallaudet and Kendall Streets, Northeast
57 year-old Anthony Ray Melvin of Clinton, Maryland.
- June 13 3200 block of 23rd Street Southeast
54 year-old Kenneth Fogle of Southeast, Washington, DC.
- June 13 2300 block of 15th Street, Northeast
44 year-old Donald Franklin Bush of Upper Marlboro, Maryland.
- June 14, 5200 block of Central Avenue, Southeast
26-year old James Brown of Northeast, Washington, DC.
- June 17 1300 block of Orren Street, Northeast
25 year-old Larry Michael Lockhart of Northeast, DC.
- June 17 3300 block of D Street, Southeast
28 year-old Antonio Lee Bryant of Southeast, DC.
- June 18 800 block of 51st Street, Southeast
42 year-old Brian Sickles of Southeast, Washington, DC.
- June 18 1300 block of 5th Street, Northwest
26 year-old Patrick Shaw of no fixed address.
- June 19 3600 block of Calvert, Northwest
53 year-old Joel Johnson of no fixed address.
- June 20 (after June 16 injury)
16 year-old Malik Mercer of Clinton, MD (former 10th grader at Ballou SHS in SE).
- June 23 (after June 21 injury) 2200 block of H Street, Northeast
26-year-old Arvel Lee Stewart of Northeast, Washington, DC.
- June 23 1200 block of Holbrook Terrace, Northeast
19 year-old Heineken McNeil of Southeast, Washington, DC.
- June 24 at the Tidal Basin
20 year-old Deante Tinnen of Southeast, DC.
- June 25 16th & Galen Streets, Southeast
21 year-old Stephon Marquis Perkins of Maryland.
March 7, 2011, is the beginning of a new month in the Jewish calendar. The new moon, with its slim light, is traditionally understood as a time of some anxiety and of hope. Prayers recited just prior to the new moon ask that the new month bring increase in a variety of areas. “At the New Moon” is adapted from these prayers and asks specifically for increased understanding and unity across communities.
In honor of the festival of Shavuot, which begins this evening, I was re-reading “Law and Narrative in the Book of Ruth,” in Aviva Gottlieb Zornberg‘s The Murmuring Deep: Reflections on the Biblical Unconscious. There’s not much point in trying to synthesize Zornberg’s work, because it’s too rich to survive such condensing. But ideas that I took from this essay are that narrative is complex and messy — despite apparent “happy endings” — and that law, on its own, can’t capture the unknown qualities of individuals and their relationships….
I recently picked up The Best of Simple, a collection of short stories by Langston Hughes, and was struck by an amazing prayer that the main character says he would offer, were he “a praying man.”