May 30, 2020; New York, NY – Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and senior vice president of the Union for Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:
On Shavuot, as we received the Torah anew, with its unbending demand for justice, we also witnessed protests in Minneapolis, Louisville, and around the United States following the all-too-familiar lethargy in bringing George Floyd’s killers to justice.
The national rage expressed about the murder of Mr. Floyd reflects the depth of pain over the injustice that People of Color – and particularly Black men – have been subjected to throughout the generations. In recent months we have seen, yet again, too many devastating examples of persistent systemic racism, leading to the deaths not only of Mr. Floyd but of other precious souls, including Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.
We remember others before them: Eric Garner. Tamir Rice. Trayvon Martin. Sandra Bland. Oscar Grant. Philando Castile. Walter Scott. Terrence Crutcher. Samuel Dubose. Michael Brown. The list feels endless, and so too is our despair. But as we recite the Mourner’s Kaddish for them all, we say now, again: We will not sit idly by.
Our country simply cannot achieve the values of “justice for all” to which it aspires until we address ongoing racism in all sectors and at all levels of society. We remain in solidarity and action with the NAACP’s urgent #WeAreDoneDying campaign, whose policy demands cover areas of criminal justice, economic justice, health care, and voting, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disproportionately impact Black Americans. As the NAACP says, “Senseless hate crimes and incidence of COVID-19 cases and deaths spreading throughout the Black community display the continuance of systematic racism and privilege granted to white people in America.”
We pray for the families of Mr. Floyd, Ms. Taylor, Mr. Arbery, and all those whose lives have been so cruelly and violently taken, and we renew our commitment to working to achieve a nation that exemplifies compassion and justice for all.
Visit urj.org/justiceforall for congregational racial justice resources. See also Reform Jewish liturgist Alden Solovy's "Strangled by Police: Psalm of Protest 17," a prayer against brutality, abuse of power and racism, as well as recent social media statements from Rabbi Jonah Pesner and URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs.
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The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) builds community at every level—from the way we collaborate with congregations, organizations, and individuals to how we make connections across North America to advance contemporary and inclusive Jewish life. Providing vision and voice to transform the way people connect to Judaism, we help congregations stay relevant and innovative, motivate more young Jews to embrace Jewish living, agitate for a more progressive society, and foster meaningful connections to Israel.
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