Of course I was saddened and shocked by the murder of George Floyd by a despicable racist Police officer.
However, I am angry about what happened next and how the protests were hijacked by anarchists and anti-capitalists into riots, destroying property, ruining livelihoods and killing eleven people. Additionally, we were shocked when the ‘anti-racist’ protestors attacked and vandalised shuls and kosher shops with anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist slogans.
I wish life was simple but it is not, it is very complex and we need to restrain from making statements before we know the full facts, certainly in regard to what is happening across America at the moment.
What we do know for sure is that there still is racism globally and we as humans and as Jews must always speak up. Sometimes we don’t even think about what discrimination looks like and I was grateful to Michael Mullings, a teacher at Hasmonean for his powerful piece about being a black man growing up in the UK. It is shocking to read but comforting to see how at home he feels in the Jewish community.
However, returning to America, there was an article this week in the Wall Street Journal, quoted and explained by Melanie Philips which I think sheds some understanding about this tragic situation and how maybe we need to move forward.
‘Few would deny there are instances of police racism or brutality. But as the researcher Heather MacDonald pointed out in The Wall Street Journal this week, the evidence shows it is untrue to claim that the police unfairly target black people.
Roughly a quarter of fatal police shootings are of African-Americans. This isn’t surprising, even though they constitute 13 percent of the population, given the disproportionate number of armed black suspects encountered by the police. In 2018, they made up 53 percent of known homicide offenders in the United States and committed about 60 percent of robberies.
Last year, the police fatally shot more than twice as many unarmed white people as those who were black. A 2015 Justice Department analysis of the Philadelphia Police Department found that white police officers were less likely than black or Hispanic officers to shoot unarmed black suspects. And a police officer is more than 18 times more likely to be killed by a black male than an unarmed black male is to be killed by a police officer.
Nevertheless, the image of a black man dying while pinned to the ground by a white police officer graphically embodies the belief that black people are victims of white racism. And victim culture, the dominant orthodoxy of the age in which assorted groups claim to be victims of the rest of the world, turns morality upside down.’
Let me tell you a story about a woman.
When she was newly married – the racists came and took away her husband – who they later shot. Her entire family was murdered soon after.She fled from where she was living with her unborn child and settled in an area where she didn’t speak the language and had little or no friends, living in abject poverty.
When her child was eventually born, she had to work two jobs just to have enough money to keep her and the child fed. There were times when she would leave the young child sleeping to go out to work at night – such was the dire situation.
Years later that child married and also sacrificed much so that her two sons could have the education and the opportunities that she felt were so important. They didn’t have all that much but they lacked nothing.
Those boys have never forgotten where they came from and the sacrifices and struggles that their mother and grandmother gave so that they could have the ability to choose whatever career they wanted in a world that was willing to accept them as proud Jews and proud Brits
They know that their mother and grandmother took responsibility for their family and refused to behave like victims of an unjust world.
When I think of how my mother began her life, the lack of money, no father, a feeling of an outsider – yet my Grandma z’l never saw herself as a victim, never made my mother feel anything but special and gifted. My mother then took what she had in front of her and made of it what she could – and she made something with my Dad so wonderful for us, which my brother and I will be eternally grateful for.
So thank you mum and Grandma Rosa z’l – you taught me long ago what the job of every person regardless of colour is. To strive to be the best you can be, to instil into your children the values of hard work, respect for all, to love good and reject evil, to see all humanity as created in the image of Hashem.
We see that midah of equality in this week’s parsha.
Parshat Naso is the longest parsha in the Torah, containing 176 verses. Yet as a Baal Koreh, it is not a Parsha to be feared! The reason is that for a large portion, it is basically repetition!
The end of the Parsha contains the recitation of the various sacrifices offered by the Nesiim (Princes) of each of the Tribes on consecutive days in honour of the dedication of the Mishkan.
The Torah tells us the exact offering of every single Nasi. However, as it turns out, every Nasi brought exactly the same offering. For the twelve Nessiim, one after the other, the Torah tells us exactly the same thing. Seventy-Two verses – you just have to learn six and the twelve names of the Nesiim.
There is a fascinating Midrash on this portion of the Nesiim. The Midrash relates that the Nasi from Yehudah, which was the first tribe to make an offering, had it easy. He could offer whatever he desired. The second Nasi — Netanel ben Tzuar of the Tribe of Yissachar — was faced with a dilemma: what was he going to bring?
The Midrash says that this is what went through the mind of Netanel Ben Tzuar: If I try to do different than the Tribe of Yehudah, if I try to improve to the korban of Nachshon ben Aminadav, then the Nasi after me and the Nasi after him will face a spiral of escalating sacrifices, escalating costs, until day 12. Imagine what the Nasi will have to bring by then!
Netanel Ben Tzuar reasoned as follows: We know our own nature. Everyone will argue that his offering was better. This will lead to Lashon Hara and hatred and jealousy. We know our nature.
So, Netanel Ben Tzuar did a tremendous thing. He brought exactly the same offering. He set the tone — everyone is the same.
This is the message that the world needs to learn is that we are all created in G-d’s image and regardless where we start in life – we must strive for greatness. As Marianne Wiliamson said:
‘Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.’
That is what all children regardless of colour or religion need to be taught.
That is how you turn anger into love.
That is how you build a society that works.
Shabbat Shalom and thanks Mum!
Jodie Herszaft, Mizrachi UK Fellow in Israel
We read in this week’s Parsha, ‘The leaders of Israel, the heads of their fathers’ household, brought offerings…’ (Numbers 7:2). We hear at great length the offerings that were brought by the Nesi’im who were the leaders of the Tribes, on the day that the Mishkan was inaugurated. What is interesting to note, that each Nasi offered the exact same offering, but yet the Torah describes each Nasi’s offering separately.
Thus, on the surface this sounds extremely repetitive and perhaps even unnecessary! Why could the Torah not have simply mentioned the offerings of the first Nasi, and then gone onto say ‘and thus did the Nasi’im of Issachar, Zebulun, etc’? The question is strengthened even further when we consider the principle that the Torah doesn’t waste words, and every letter has a purpose to teach us. Therefore, it seems that the Torah could have explained these offerings in less words than it does.
In actual fact, the Torah is teaching us a fundamental principle and one that can hopefully enhance our Avodat Hashem (service of G-d). It’s telling us that even though each Nasi bought a sacrifice that was identical to the previous one, in G-d’s eyes, it was entirely unique and special to Him, and therefore deserves its own description in the Torah.
We have a constant challenge in Judaism to ensure that our observance remains new and exciting, and doesn’t become something just done by rote without the engagement of our heart. Sometimes we may feel that we are constantly doing the same thing over and over again. Perhaps it’s the tefilla (prayers) we say every day, or the mitzvot (commandments) that we perform.
Unfortunately, like a lot of things, these can all start off exciting, and overtime we may lose that initial enthusiasm. This Parsha acts as a wake-up call to us: that we must realise that every single time we do part of our duty as a Jew, G-d takes pleasure in it, as if we had never done it before. Hopefully using this knowledge, it can motivate us that when our Judaism feels repetitive, we must remind ourselves that each day provides hundreds of new opportunities to connect with Hashem and become the best individuals we can be.
Jodie was brought up in Bushey and went to the Royal Masonic School for Girls. She then spent her gap year learning in Israel in Midreshet Tehillah, followed by her degree in Psychology at City University. During her time in London, Jodie worked as the Informal Educator in Immanuel College, as well as at Tribe and Aish.
An Ancient Nation with Modern Problems: Halachic dilemmas in the State of Israel
Click here to watch an enlightening shiur by our shaliach, Rav Joel Kenigsberg, Rav of Magen Avot Synagogue, London.