Today is a Jewish day of fasting. It commemorates the breach of the walls of Jerusalem in the year 70 CE by the Romans, before they destroyed the Second Temple three weeks later. That day is also a fast day, and the intervening weeks are a time of mourning.
But I will not fast. Not for health reasons, and not because I don’t observe Jewish holidays.
I will not fast because that is not sufficient to fight injustice. My going hungry today does nothing to stop the rampant anti-Jewish attacks happening across our country. It does nothing to silence or teach people like DeSean Jackson, who used his popular Twitter feed to spew anti-Jewish nonsense this week.
Jackson plays football for the Philadelphia Eagles. I am not a sports fan and know nothing about this person. But I understand the power that athletes wield. Their words off the field are followed as closely as their actions on the field.
Like so many before him, Jackson apologized almost immediately… that is, as soon as his racist and anti-Jewish words were publicized and publicly denounced by others. This is typical behavior; we saw it this week when a tech CEO verbally attacked an Asian family at a restaurant. Immediately following public outrage (the family had videotaped his diatribe) he came out with an abject apology.
I am not a cynical person, but I do not trust these apologies.
If the perpetrators had not been caught, not been called out by people who are offended by their xenophobia, I am convinced that they would continue to say these things. And I would not be surprised if they continue to think these things.
Sitting home and fasting is not the answer. The answer is to speak out, to speak up, to educate and advocate and never stop.
Silently protesting is not the answer. Don’t believe me? Ask Colin Kaepernick, another football player. He did nothing other than kneel in silent protest over the treatment of Black Americans. In return, he lost his job and his livelihood. Only now, with the Black Lives Matter movement leading loud and boisterous protests across the nation, are people coming to realize that they agreed with him all along. But few knelt beside him.
My friend and colleague Howard Tevlowitz wrote this in a community-wide email yesterday:
“As American Jews, we love to express our solidarity with groups and individuals that have suffered much like our fore bearers have during the millennia. It’s now our time to stand up for ourselves and loudly proclaim – WE’RE MAD AS HELL AND WE’RE NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE. This is NOT the new normal and it is not socially acceptable behavior under any circumstances.”
I have been called out for supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and not speaking out enough against anti-Jewish rhetoric and attacks on Jewish institutions. Please do not mistake my intent. It has not been to play down attacks on my own people. It has been in response to the many frightening and senseless deaths of Black people.
Colin Kaepernick no longer has the audience that he once did as a football player. He learned the hard way that his silent protests were not fruitful. Today he has redefined himself as a civil rights activist and he uses any platform he can to spread his message. Loudly. Clearly.
Jewish tradition teaches that we must speak up for ourselves. Our Torah study group just finished reading the book of Joshua. In it, there are several long lists of cities, towns, and villages in the Promised Land that were allotted to each of the tribes of the Children of Israel.
The lists are interrupted only twice, both times by women speaking up for their right to own land. The first was Caleb’s daughter, who upon learning that she and her husband were given land in the desert of the Negev, asked for additional land that had natural springs.
The second were the five daughters of Zelophehad, who had no brothers and therefore would be given nothing. They reminded Joshua that God had commanded Moses to give them land.
Both requests were granted. Without stepping forward and speaking out, none of the women would have been given their due.
I am a rabbi, a Jew, a woman. I am proud to follow in their lead. Like Howard, like Colin, like so many other men and women of conscience, I choose to speak out on behalf of my people, and stand in solidarity with those who do not sit quietly by.