Yeshivat Frisch held a program on June 3, titled “Building Bridges in Times of Crisis,” which addressed the murder of George Floyd, the topic of racism and the current unrest expressed in cities across the United States. Frisch Principal Rabbi Eli Ciner, Talmud and guidance faculty member Rabbi Shalom Richter and English Department Chair Dr. Meryl Feldblum spoke about the imperative of standing in solidarity and as allies with the Black community. Then, the Frisch community had the privilege of hearing from Bergen County Sheriff and local NAACP leader Anthony Cureton. Sheriff Cureton spoke about his own experience as an African American man, and how we can come together as Americans at this painful time, with empathy and understanding, to address the problems in our society.
“We come together in support of the African American community,” said Ciner. “After 400 years, unfortunately there is still racism. We need to be thoughtful and empathetic, and we need to think about how we as a community can best be allies to the Black community.”
Richter recited the names of two other Black Americans who were recently murdered, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, stressing that Jews must not be complacent. “We as Jews are no strangers to racism and bigotry,” added Richter. “We have been on the receiving end of public disdain and intolerance.”
Sheriff Cureton delivered a message that was at once serious and hopeful, informed by his background as a social justice activist and as someone who has advocated for the African American as well as Jewish communities. Cureton addressed the murder of George Floyd. “It was horrendous,” he said. “It was a life taken for no cause. The reason he was stopped was completely unacceptable, beyond law enforcement and the training we receive.”
“The only way we [as a society] will get through this is knowing our history, and the African American encounter with law enforcement and racism overall,” stated Cureton, who said he sometimes worries he himself could be next if someone were unaware he is the sheriff. “The challenge is how we deal with this. I’m glad that Mr. Floyd’s death won’t be in vain and we can come together.” Cureton, who said he does not agree with violent protest, noted that he believes 99% of officers are out there for the right reasons, and that it is the 1% that need to be dealt with. He opened up a conversation on examining personal bias, and making sure that this bias does not influence the way people treat one another in everyday life.
The program concluded with a Q&A with Sheriff Cureton, and closing remarks by Feldblum, who created and organized the program. “I have no words of comfort or solace,” said Feldblum. “We must demand justice and equality for every human, every day. This is our obligation as Americans and our obligation as Jews.”