Black Lives Matter, All Live Matter: A Week Since the “Die-In”

by Rabbi Jill Maderer

It’s a week since I participated in a “Die-In” rally that, in the wake of the Ferguson and Staten Island grand jury decisions, was organized to stop post-game Eagles traffic for 4 1/2 minutes and give participants the chance to peacefully stand together against racism.  The event was organized by POWER our multi-faith community organizing coalition of which RS is a part.

I am grateful to POWER for organizing such a peaceful, vision-filled event that promoted social change, justice, equality and collaboration.  I am grateful for Rabbi Freedman’s leadership in our connection to POWER.  And I am grateful to the Police for being a part of that collaboration.  POWER had communicated with the police ahead of time, so the police were ready to protect and support us.  The minute I came out of the subway station, an officer saw that I looked disoriented, and gave me directions to the corner where the 200 people were gathering for the rally.  Only in America, I thought, could I show up to make that police officer’s life harder, and still receive his support!  Throughout the rally, I was proud to join with Christian clergy and rabbis from congregations throughout Philadelphia.  They spoke with words of prayer, including the Mourner’s Kaddish, and created a sacred space.  They spoke about specific policies that could help to level the playing field and they shared a fire of passion that could awake anyone’s complacency. When the actual “die-in” portion began, the group silently lay in the street.  I watched as a congregant next to me helped an elderly woman get down to the pavement.  Then she offered to share with me her blanket.  All the while, police created a protective bubble.  When we departed, we thanked the police again and again.  That night the police tweeted that they worked hard and kept everyone–fans and protesters–safe that night.  I wrote them a thank-you note and received a lovely response.

For me, recent protests including the Die-In speak to much more than a specific death or a particular grand jury decision.  This season of protests has ignited a wake-up call–one that I shouldn’t have needed, but apparently did.  The call reminds me that as far as the Civil Rights Movement took this country, there is still work to be done for racial justice.  In many ways and many experiences–race and beyond– we are still on a journey to live up to the Torah’s vision that we are created B’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God.

I so value being a part of an RS congregational family that includes diversity of race, ethnicity, background, religion and experience.  I am always interested to learn more about your own experience.

Next month, we will honor the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  In our Friday evening (family friendly!) service, we will welcome friends from Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church and musicians from the Afro-Semitic experience and we will hear from Rev. Mark Tyler.  In the weeks leading up, we will have (adult-friendly) opportunities to engage in race dialogue training to prepare for meaningful discussions at the Shabbat dinner after the MLK Shabbat service.  We will also have a chance to to study poetry with our own Iain Pollack.

As I write this, our city is paying attention to issues of race in America.  I pray that when next month arrives, we are still paying attention.