June 2, 2020
Dear Slifka Community,
We are writing to give voice, on behalf of Yale’s Jewish community, to our heartbreak and outrage at the murder of Mr. George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis Police officer. We stand in solidarity with Black Jews and the wider Black community and in particular with our close friends and colleagues at the Afro-American Cultural Center at Yale and the Black Church at Yale. And we realize that at this moment we must recommit ourselves to meaningful anti-racism work. We are all implicated when an innocent man is killed by law enforcement officers on a city street, in broad daylight, in full view of other officers and the public.
On Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, we remember the harugei malkhut – innocent Jews executed by governments that oppressed our people over millennia. Our tradition teaches that we cannot take stock of our moral condition without reciting the names of those killed by the very people charged with protecting them. And we know that the list of Americans killed by those sworn to protect them is centered on racial minorities – and continues to grow.
Every death is a tragedy. But a murder is something different, and one that is part of a larger system of violence and oppression doubly so: the killing of George Floyd was all of these at once. As were the recent murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and Sean Reed – and last year’s shooting of Stephanie Washington in New Haven. Yvonne Passmore, an African-American resident of Minneapolis, shared this powerful framing with a reporter: “This isn’t just about George Floyd. This is about years and years of being treated as less than people — and not just by police. It’s everything. We don’t get proper medical. We don’t get proper housing. There’s so much discrimination, and it’s not just the justice system. It’s a whole lot of things.” We are witnessing – and participating in – a moment of protest that is fueled by a profound and destabilizing reckoning, a coming to terms with a bankrupted moral account, an acknowledgment that a large stain of guilt haunts not only America past but present-day America as well – as it will the future, absent fundamental and far-reaching societal transformation.
And – while expressions of sympathy and solidarity are necessary, they are nowhere near sufficient. We remember moments of acute attention and outrage that have fizzled into apathy. For this statement to mean anything, it must lead to action and structural change beyond what any email could provide. We are making just this commitment, with full knowledge that we are in the early stages of knowing how to make good on it.
“To say, ‘things just happen this way’ is to indulge in cruelty. We must realize that what happens is the product of our actions.” These words of Maimonides confront us today. We must grapple with the uncomfortable truth that our Jewish community, our institution, and our values are in need of long term internal reflection and meaningful structural change.
For now, we are attaching a list of educational resources and organizations in need of support edited by Rabbi Isaama Goldstein-Stoll, Slifka Center’s Senior Jewish Educator, based on a document created by Marlee Goldshine, Slifka Center’s former Social Justice fellow. Hillel Student Board (HSB) will be introducing opportunities to work towards racial justice through interfaith events, Jewish learning, and support of local organizations. In this project, we are strongest as allies and community members when we listen to and follow the lead of Black community members. Among them, this Sunday at 9pm Rabbi Jason will lead an evening of study and conversation in memory of George Floyd entitled “Imagining America’s Repentance” (https://yale.zoom.us/j/97231834106).
Things do not just happen this way; they do not need to happen this way – racial injustice is neither inevitable nor invincible. If we are silent, or if we give up on the struggle for justice, we would become, God forbid, accomplices to cruelty. Let us commit to being the opposite – allies of redemption and of everyone courageously working towards it.
Yours in mourning and resolve,
Uri Cohen, Executive Director of Slifka Center
Rabbi Jason Rubenstein, Howard M. Holtzmann Jewish Chaplain at Yale
Numi Katz, Yale Hillel co-president
Avi Cooper, Yale Hillel co-president
Hillel Student Board
Isabel Kirsch, Social Justice Chair
Annie Giman, Jewish Culture Chair
Max Heimowitz, Communications Chair
Zevi Siegal, Social Chair
Maayan Schoen, Outreach Chair
Sam Pekats, Education Chair
Madison Hahamy, Community Building Chair
Ruth Davis, Shabbat Chair