Do people ever ask you what it means that Bet Tzedek is a Jewish organization?
I get asked from time to time. I got asked all the time when I first started here. I used to respond that Bet Tzedek was as Jewish as the questioner: not very Jewish at all if you weren’t very Jewish at all, and very Jewish indeed if you were also.
But I’m not sure we enjoy quite that much freedom to disassociate, even if we wished to. The eleven victims of the attack at Tree of Life Synagogue went to shul Saturday morning as an expression of their Jewish identity. An assumption, born of prejudice, that they were affiliated with HIAS, a partner in our immigration and refugee work, brought a killer to their congregation. The shooter made them martyrs for a cause they never chose.
And though Saturday was the most violent day in the history of American Jewry, this past week also saw the execution of two black grocery-store shoppers. These were individuals shot solely because of the color of their skin, in an act of violence that represents only the latest in thousands and thousands of race-based murders of people of color, especially Americans of African descent.
If all of their memories are to be a blessing, then there is so much we must do to repair the brokenness that surrounds us.
The mourner’s kaddish, the prayer Jews speak as we remember the dead, cannot be spoken alone, but only in a minyan of ten or more. In other words, our tradition teaches us to face the worst together. To find strength in one another. And the kaddish prayer ends with hope. Hope for peace.
Today, our doors are open, our call center is busy, and our advocates and attorneys are here, providing free legal services to those who need them most. Last Wednesday we helped secure a nationwide preliminary injunction safeguarding immigration relief for refugee children. On Friday we restored health coverage for transgender workers at the US Post Office. Today we are grappling with a wave of new foreclosure threats against senior homeowners.
This team gives me hope. We face the worst together, finding strength in one another. May you find hope and strength here too, and may their memories be a blessing:
Vicki Jones (Kroger’s shooting victim)
Maurice Stallard (Kroger’s shooting victim)
Jessie Kornberg, President & CEO