Today is June 14, 2024 -

Congregation Sha'arey Israel

A Conservative Jewish Congregation serving the spiritual needs of the Middle Georgia Jewish community since 1904

611 First Street, Macon, GA 31201
Phone: (478) 745-4571

Is Everything OK?

Shalom, everyone — as in greetings as well as, I hope all is ok with you.
It’s June, the weather is warming up (grateful for whatever breezes float by!), and each of us is figuring out or wrestling with (or both) the new routines. Work is different, play is different, sleeping and eating — they’re different for many of us.

As I worded my opening greeting, I paused at the awkwardness of ‘I hope all is ok with you.’ The words feel normal enough unless you slow it all down and pay close attention. Just what does it mean to assess whatever is going on around us as ‘ok?’ OK from the front edge of your house and lawn to the boundary of your backyard? How about if we lift our gaze to take in our neighborhood, our city, our state, our nation, our world? Now the greeting I shared merits a more complicated answer, but I aim to tread carefully while reaching for something deeper than a smiley face or an upraised thumb.

Everything is not really ok, and we all know it. Taking in the big picture includes thinking about a pandemic that is not melting away into a carefree now-let’s-get-back-to-the-summer-party. There’s the hopeful notes of at least one hundred team efforts diligently focused on a vaccine and on other approaches to mitigating the lethality of the virus, a virus that takes down people of all ages. There’s a huge range of uplifting initiatives local and global — people finding ways to connect even within the limitations imposed by a plague. (Note: plague is a somber word, befitting a phenomenon that upends societies all over the world. It reminds us that we’re not at home or online because of the flu.)

Moving from the good news to the stuff that is painful — unrest grips our country, and I am morally obliged to speak about the plague of racism and bigotry — a scourge that will not be defeated by a pharmaceutical miracle, by contact tracing, by face masks, by ventilators.

We have to momentarily shift from the horrific breathing challenges posed by Covid-19 to the suffocation brought to bear by a knee upon the neck. We have to ponder the nauseating reality of officers who did not stop their colleague from cutting off the life of the man dying on the ground, his life trickling out from his body as the minutes dragged on. The inability to breathe, the feeling of being choked — we read about in the opening chapters of Exodus.
“V’lo sham’u el Moshe mikotzer ruach…” The Israelite slaves didn’t heed Moses and his message because of The shortness of their breath.

Demonstrators — not just those we see now, but so many, going back for many years — have been choking and bleeding for quite a while. White people and black people have lived vastly different lives (that phrase might be an inexcusable substitution for vastly unequal lives) for a long time. And this latest spasm of violence is the latest flare up for a societal plague that has consumed and disfigured lives for centuries. Everything is not ok.
I wanted to stand in the park during a recent (peaceful) demonstration downtown. And my Covid-driven anxieties kept me hunkered down.

Big-picture: I am uplifted by calls for interracial unity and by words of healing and encouragement — words that are desperately needed by a nation in deep pain, wracked by violence.
God asked Cain where his brother was and he arrogantly clapped back with: I don’t know, Am I my brother’s keeper? That question is still on the table for the rest of us. Are we responsible, accountable, charged to toil for change? Throughout the Torah, the lesson is repeated over and over. Our ancestors knew the whip and the boot heel. We cannot look away, pretending that racism and inequality are not our problem. All those reminders to remember slavery, to love the stranger — God will hold us accountable for our actions. And for our inaction.