Ari Ballaban — In Conversation
Our Faith Roots Us in Justice and Commands Us to Stand Up for All People
As we approach the new year, we have high hopes that the coming one will bring new, good things—top among them—healthier and more just communities. To that end, I wanted to share with you a community-wide racial justice initiative we are launching and to invite you to be part of it. We worked with an artist in our community, Cindy Loon, who designed a yard sign (as well as other types of displays) that shares our Jewish commitment to justice during this critical time. It features the text from Leviticus, in both Hebrew and English, “Do not stand idly by” (“Lo ta’amod al dam re’echa”) and includes powerful imagery evoking an emotional response and inspiring reflection. It is meant to spark conversation within our community—and among our neighbors—about how we as Jews are called to action in this moment as we witness injustice toward people of color, recognizing this includes Jews of color and our neighbors in the Black and Brown communities, among others. Rabbi Miriam Terlinchamp wrote the following piece explaining the significance of the project and calling our community to action. –Jackie
Perhaps there is no law in the Torah that gets us in more trouble than, “You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.” (Leviticus 19:16) Certainly, standing AWAY from trouble, bloodshed, hate, persecution, and racism makes good sense if you want to preserve your own safety. However, if we do play it safe, stand by silently, idly watching hate happen; then we pay a price of our humanity. We lose our connection to what it means to be an interconnected human community and thereby deny our holy belief that we are all Betzelem Elohim, made in the Divine image, and therefore deserving of equal treatment.
Jewish people have a rare understanding of what it means to be persecuted and at the same time, what it feels like to be accepted. Therefore, we know all too well the pain of being on the outside. We know what it means to be hated, targeted and at risk. Most likely, every Jew has a story in their life or the lives of a family member who endured hardship because of their Jewish identity.
Also true, is that throughout history there have been righteous gentiles who have risked their lives to bring us bread, to fight alongside us, to triumph our civil rights, for the sole reason, that they could not bear to stand idly by. No doubt, some of these stories of righteous gentiles have a place in your family history.
The Jewish people have served righteously for other nations as well. We marched on Selma together, we fought for integrated housing and we helped build foundations and institutions that bettered the lives of all people, not just Jews. Perhaps this is your story or belongs to your family. Or maybe, the moment you have been waiting for, to stand up visibly for someone else, is happening now in this moment in time.
When we refuse to “not stand idly by” we choose to acknowledge our mutual liberation. We have a place in all matters that require us not to turn a blind eye. It is in the way we fight against injustice that we build towards the dream of a peaceful world. We have a sacred gift in this moment to be visibly courageous in our pursuit for tikkun, for justice.
In this spirit, the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation, in partnership with Ish (a Jewish arts initiative) and The Nancy & David Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center, have launched a special project for this moment in time. They have created a Jewish art piece with the words “Do not stand idly by” printed on yard signs, stickers, window decals, and car bumpers.
Imagine Cincinnati, where every road you are on, every neighborhood you drive through, every Jewish window, you see the bright blue and white words of justice. We will be like chanukiyot shining out throughout our city, reminding people of all faiths, that where there is hate, the Jewish people refuse to be silent.
What’s that you say? You want more! You got it. In addition to the art pieces that you can purchase here: jewishcincinnati.org/standup and all the proceeds will be donated to Elementz, an urban art center for young people in our inner city.
Keep going you say! Ok! When you donate any amount to get a sign or sticker, you will be invited to sign up for a series of community conversations around Jewish faith and race.
But wait, you might be saying, I’ve never put something visibly Jewish in my yard before. I’m scared of being that visibly Jewish. Us too. It’s scary to be visible and to not have a choice about our vulnerability. Yet, just as the non-white or non-cys-gendered or non-heteronormative Jewish folks can tell us, visibility as choice is a privilege. Solidarity looks like mutuality – in both power and vulnerability.
In this holy season of the month of Elul leading up to the High Holy Days, our sacred tradition teaches that we each should pursue “teshuvah,” acts of atonement that direct our souls back to a righteous path. This path rejects hate, racism, homophobia and it celebrates love, reconciliation and justice. In this spirit, we hope that Jews and those in solidarity with this effort, will choose to put up a visible sign of Jewish justice in their homes and/or cars as a personal and communal reminder that our faith roots us in justice and commands us to stand up for all people.
Thanks for caring about our community and what we do.
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