June 5, 2020
My Dear Friends,
I was living in Los Angeles in 1991 when Rodney King — an unarmed black American who was pulled over by the police — was severely beaten by the LAPD. The excessive brutality perpetrated against King was caught on video camera by a man who witnessed the incident from his apartment window. The trial and subsequent exoneration of the arresting officers triggered riots throughout the Los Angeles that lasted for six days. 63 people were killed, 2383 more were injured, fires raged through the city and property damage was close to $1 billion.
In the midst of the chaos, King made a passionate plea on television, speaking words that I can still hear him say:
Can we all get along? Can we, can we get along?
All these years later, I remember the look of anguish on his face; and I can still hear the trembling in his voice.
It saddens me that as a nation, it does not seem that morally, we have progressed since those terrible days. In fact, in many ways it feels like we have regressed. As a nation that was founded by immigrants, too many people continue to disparage, denigrate and dismiss anyone who does not conform to their ideas of what an American should look like, how they should worship, who they should love and marry, how one should express their gender identity.
As a nation, we have to do better. For George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and all those people of color who have died unnecessary and unconscionable deaths, we have to do better.
It is up to each of us personally to determine what we can do to help create meaningful, positive and lasting change in our society.
As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said:
In a free society, only some may be guilty but all are responsible.
A common interpretation of Leviticus 19:16 is: “Do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed.” We have a personal and collective responsibility to carry out this directive. The lives of every American depends on it. The future of our society depends on it.
Rabbi-Cantor Cheri Weiss