A foundational principle of Jewish life is “do not oppress the stranger, for you know the very life of the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Shemot 23:9). Our very identity as a Jewish nation is grounded in the reality that we were once enslaved. We are commanded to express compassion for the plight of those who are disadvantaged and our redemption from bondage is meant to inform this lesson.
The killing of George Floyd by a police officer charged with his murder has once again highlighted our country’s struggles with racism and equal rights. The principles that our country aspires to and that are enshrined in its Constitution are ones that we, as a Jewish community, have benefited from in historic measure. We must recognize that some of those principles have yet to be fulfilled for many African Americans and other minority groups.
Our work begins in our own neighborhoods and in our own communities. We must continue to develop our relationships with our African American neighbors along with all other residents of our communities. Critical to developing that relationship is making a concerted effort to understand the challenges they face, that many of us cannot relate to without walking in their shoes.
May God instill within us and our fellow citizens the wisdom to promote justice and harmony so that we may fulfill the vision of our prophets of a time when our differences and challenges will be addressed with words and not violence, in the spirit of peace and fellowship that must govern our shared civic space.
Rabbi Chaim Poupko is the senior rabbi at Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood, NJ.