Moral State of Emergency (Beyond 34)

“God has declared a state of moral emergency,” writes Rabbi David Kasher in his commentary on this week’s Torah portion.

Kasher points out that a command to care for the poor suddenly appears in the midst of a portion otherwise dedicated to ritual matters stressing holiday observances, and comments:

Mind you, everybody agrees that charity is good and just. Everybody recognizes that feeding the hungry is a wonderfully noble thing to do. But, they think, nobody can be forced to do it. And so, in time, nobody does it. People speak of poverty with eloquence and compassion, but nobody actually gives to the poor.

It is a situation reminiscent of words written by another great 20th-century rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel, in a telegram he sent to President Kennedy, in the midst of the civil rights movement of the 1960s:

I look forward to privilege of being present at meeting tomorrow at 4pm. Likelihood exists that Negro problem will be like the weather. Everybody talks about it but nobody does anything about it. Please demand of religious leaders personal involvement not just solemn declaration. We forfeit the right to worship God as long as we continue to humiliate Negroes. Church synagogues have failed. They must repent. Ask of religious leaders to call for national repentance and personal sacrifice. Let religious leaders donate one month’s salary toward fund for Negro housing and education. I propose that you Mr. President declare a state of moral emergency.

Everybody talks about it, but nobody does anything about it. Racism, like poverty, is one of those social ills we can condemn with our reason, but leave completely unattended by our laws. We build up a great society, so orderly and so civilized… but the most vulnerable are left to fend for themselves.

This is what the Meshech Chochmah was worried about when he warned of the savage beast that we could too easily become. That is why he believed that we needed God to help us turn charity from an option into an obligation. Heschel, too, saw religious faith as a force for compelling social action, and the worship of God as all bound up in the preservation of human dignity.
— R. David Kasher, “State of Grace”
Read the whole commentary at ParshaNUT

And we might also call to mind the way Algren closes the 1961 addendum to Chicago: City on the Make (discussed yesterday and “beyond 23”):

For the [1951] essay made the assumption that, in times when the levers of power are held by those who have lost the will to act honestly, it is those who have been excluded from privileges of our society, and left only its horrors, who forge new levers by which to return honesty to us. The present revolution of a new generation of Negro men and women, now forcing the return of the American promise of dignity for all, sustains the assumption.
— Nelson Algren, Chicago: City on the Make, p.105

Thanks to Rabbi Alana Suskin for sharing the link above.

We counted 34 on the evening of May 7. Tonight, we count….
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Empathy: Are We There Yet? (Beyond 29)

“A lot of my friends have been beaten, killed…by police,” 16-year-old Michael Singleton told Whoopi Goldberg on The View the other day. “I went down there to fight for what I stand for — my Black people.” Thunderous silence.

Six Seconds of Empathy

Singleton is the young man caught on tape being slugged in the face by his mother, who was “in a rage” (her words) upon seeing that he had joined a group throwing rocks at Baltimore police after the funeral of Freddie Gray. Toya Graham was then heralded “mom of the year” by a number of media outlets, and she and Singleton were interviewed a number of times by national media in the ensuing days.

SingletonCooperNicolle Wallace, co-host of The View, did ask Singleton if he was scared in his daily life in the neighborhood. But no one on The View offered condolences to a 16-year-old who had just expressed grievous loss. Not one second of outrage emerged as he related that agents of the state, meant to protect Singleton and his friends, hurt them instead.

Charlie Rose, who also interviewed the pair, did take about six seconds to acknowledge to Singleton, “so yours was an act of protest because of what happened to your friend.” That appears to be a record degree of empathy for Singleton in the many interviews he endured with his mother.

Sherill Ifill, of the NAACP, spoke on Rose’s program before Graham and Singleton, to the fearful circumstances “in which the mother found her son” and the need for systemic changes. She expressed far more compassion for beleaguered mothers of children in neighborhoods like the one Graham and Singleton inhabit.

What is Applauded? and What is Ignored?

It was Graham who was greeted on The View with thunderous applause as she described pummeling her son and then declared “throwing rocks at the police is not going to bring [Freddie Gray] back.” Graham also received a “thank you” from host Whoopi Goldberg, who added that “people need to know there are caring parents out there.”

But “Why is America celebrating the beating of a black child?” —

Praising Graham distracts from a hard truth: It doesn’t matter how black children behave – whether they throw rocks at the police, burn a CVS, join gangs, walk home from the store with candy in their pocket, listen to rap music in a car with friends, play with a toy gun in a park, or simply make eye contact with a police officer – they risk being killed and blamed for their own deaths because black youths are rarely viewed as innocent or worthy of protection….

This celebration of Graham reflects a belief that black youths are inherently problematic, criminal and out of control. The video also supports the idea that black fathers are absent, suggesting that all we need is an angry black mom to beat the “thug” out of an angry young man – and everything will be fine.
— Stacey Patton in a Washington Post opinion piece

Patton is author of the memoir That Mean Old Yesterday and a senior enterprise reporter at the Chronicle of Higher Education. See also, “In America, Black Children Don’t Get to Be Children.”

“What is so disturbing is that white supremacy is let off the hook,” Patton adds.

Moreover: A teenager reports that his friend was beaten by police, that police abuse is a regular part of his life, and earns barely a nod.

What does empathy, this week’s attribute on the omer journey, ask of us here?

Thanks to Amy Brookman for sharing one of the videos above and some concerns about it. Thanks to Kay Elfant for sharing the Charlie Rose link.

We counted 29 on the evening of May 2. Tonight, we count….

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