Sitting Shiva for George Floyd

I have struggled with how to write to all of you. Many of us are in multiracial families; those who are not, still have black and brown friends. As a white person I am horrified and yet aware that it is a luxury to be horrified when this is routine for black people. So how am I to speak about the murder of Mr. Floyd and thousands of other black human beings?

I get texts from some of the young black people in my life. Here’s one:

Luckily I drove home a couple of days before George Floyd was murdered. I’m don’t mean to be short or distant, I’m just tired. I wish my direct ancestors jumped off the slave ship into the Atlantic and died so I wouldn’t be here. I don’t want this world, I don’t care anymore.

I cry every time I read this. I need for the world to be better for her.

I was fortunate to hear a teaching by Rabbi Gershon Albert about the tragic killing of Mr. Floyd this week. Rabbi Albert acknowledged that we white folks don’t know what life as a black person is like. He said this is a time of a national shiva for black people. He went on to discuss how we are to behave at a shiva. We are the people visiting the mourners. We too are sad, but we are not THE MOURNER. We are not at the center of the circle. We do not come in and upon hearing their grief mention that they should eat better, or we’ve lost people too, or suggest they tidy up the place. We are silent. We speak only to say we hear their grief; we want to understand their pain.

It helped me to focus my mind on the steps: Listen (in silence), Learn (try to understand the other person’s feelings whether of grief, rage or both), Act (step up, speak up)

If you are a person of color who wants to be heard, tell me; I’m listening.

If you are a white person join me in taking the three steps.

Listen. Be silent don’t get lost in a comparison of Black and Jewish suffering.
Learn. Read, discuss, learn what the Black experience in America really is.
Act. Don’t ask our black loved ones to lead us. Find what we want to do and do it. I know there’s a pandemic so maybe marching is not something you can risk – don’t endanger more lives. But every single synagogue and organization, every radio station, theater, knitting group is sending out ideas. I’ll list a few. Feel free to tell me your favorites. And I would especially like to know what you are doing that is meaningful to you.

Things we can do

Educate our white selves, read books about racism

Donate to bail funds across the country

Support Black-Owned Restaurants in the Bay Area

Listen to the words of Black Jews

Listen to the words of Black Christians

A bunch of things to do now

Encourage and support voting

Support local Jews of color

Finally, DO THIS: contact black people you know. Express your concern for them. Make sure they know that you give a damn. If you say the “wrong”thing, just apologize. We’re on a learning curve. We’ll have to try in order to succeed.