After a beautiful communal Tisha B’Av celebration, I opened Facebook to see that Milwaukee was burning. An hour earlier we were lamenting the burning of Jerusalem over 2,000 years ago, not knowing that our own city was burning right then! And not just with physical fire. A rage burning deep inside from a desire to be heard and even more, a desire to be understood and for things to change.
Black. Lives. Matter. Do we hear it? Perhaps, but do we understand the meaning of the words and why we need to keep saying it? It began as a statement. And even then, people had a problem with it. This call for change began as local gatherings in multiple cities because the same stories were happening in every major city, including Milwaukee.
Unfortunately for us all, instead of listening and empathizing over the years, so many of us choose to blame and judge. Upon seeing the fires burning in Sherman Park some have questioned, “Why are they destroying their own community?” Others have spoken harshly against the community as a whole on account of a few (We’ll have to hold this for when we get to Ashamnu on Yom Kippur). Perhaps the answer is because we only bother to notice what’s going on in those communities when something extreme happens! And, I find some of the businesses burned noteworthy: a gas station (big oil), a bank (financial oppression), a beauty store (standards of beauty based on whiteness), a liquor store (alcohol as a pacifier). How these same institutions have held the black community captive, although I suppose we’re all held captive by oil!
I hope that the events of this year’s Tisha B’Av have shown us that no longer can we sit and shake our heads while many, many people are suffering just down the street. There is deep systematic oppression and institutionalized hatred in our country. So many pieces to this puzzle that we cannot single out one as a sole culprit. But we must start somewhere. There are deep injustices in our city and we need to confront them, each of us according to our abilities. A good starting place is reading the recently released platform from the Movement for Black Lives. It provides a clear explanation to problems and proposed solutions. I believe this text is an excellent starting place for learning and dialogue. The challenge for us as Jews is to not stop caring when we reach the movement’s stance on Israel. As with everything else in the platform, it is an opportunity for discussion and sharing, growing together instead of breaking apart.
Milwaukee deserves thoughtful solutions to long-standing problems and I hope to see the Jewish community taking a lead. At the very least, we all need to deeply understand that Black Lives Matter is not just a political movement, it is a statement of truth.
Rabbi Tiferet Berenbaum is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shir Hadash, located near University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee at Plymouth Church, 2717 E. Hampshire Ave., lower level Reception Hall.