One of the rarities in today’s society is honest conversation. If we had honest conversations about our political, religious, and racial differences, we would be in far better shape. The turmoil in which the country currently finds itself is because we will not talk to each other honestly.
We are led to believe that the protests and riots over the killing of George Floyd are something new…that they are manifestations of the Trump era…as though the Ferguson (Michael Brown) and Baltimore (Freddie Gray) riots did not happen under President Obama. Remember the false arrest of African American Harvard College Professor Henry Louis Gates and the Trayvon Martin shooting? They, too, occurred during Obama’s tenure.
These kinds of violent reactions have been going on for decades. The Watts riots in the 1960s. The Tawana Brawley fracas in the 1980s. The Rodney King and the Crown Heights riots in the 1990s.
If you are under any illusion that the current reaction to the murder of George Floyd, as broad and intense as it is, will make any difference in the long run, I’m afraid you are gravely mistaken. The country will still be torn over race relations for decades to come, I’m afraid.
Until there is an honest and forthright discussion on the way Whites and Blacks view each other, we will continue to spin our wheels into further chaos. All the politically charged statements and fear-based Band-Aids applied to the situation only serve to exacerbate the situation. We are merely putting a paper cover over a brewing volcano. Unfortunately, however, political realities prevent real progress from being made. Open conversations on the topic are taboo. Just ask our wonderful senator from New York, Charles Schumer. Never one to miss an opportunity to speak up on anything at all, have you heard him utter a word about what took place in his state?
When it comes to local politics, the same is true. I made my issue with our good friend Congresswoman Grace Meng well known. However, some felt that since her opponent is a virulent hater of Israel and the Jews, we should withhold all criticism. I felt otherwise. If we can simply allow disturbing positions to be taken by our friends, then what is our clout worth? What is our friendship worth?
The Congresswoman did indeed address a number of issues on a Zoom-like platform hosted by Met Council to an audience of politically active men and women on Thursday, June 4. Most of the discussion was centered on COVID-19 matters, but she did respond to other matters that concerned us.
What she said about our particular issue of concern was not what convinced me that she will always be loyal to us. Yet, I was convinced – and by nothing that she or anyone else said during that session.
As the Congresswoman was speaking, I noticed on her home windowsill what appeared to be three small ArtScroll-like books in a casing – something like Pirkei Avos (Ethics of the Fathers). When I observed this, I texted our political chat, asking if anyone knows what those books are. In response, I was told that it was actually ArtScroll T’hilim (Psalms) given to her by Rabbi Oelbaum as she joined in prayer for the three captured (and ultimately killed) Israeli boys by Palestinian terrorists a few years ago.
I then realized: Grace is a true friend. A loyal friend. Those books were not on her home shelf for show. She truly is a friend. And that is rare today. Her opponent in the primary is an unabashed critic of Israel and Jews. We must stay loyal to our loyal friends, despite our occasional differences – especially in a time like this.
Allow me one moment to say something about Elizabeth Crowley, candidate for Queens Borough President. “Liz” has also shown herself to be a real friend of our community. She knows so many of us by name. She knows the highways and byways of the entire borough. It’s in her blood. Importantly, she is not a rabid supporter of the pernicious bail reform movement and is not seeking to rearrange the police department, as one of her chief opponents is. We need sanity in this insane time. We need someone who will stand with our police as they stand with us. I wish her all the luck!
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, Vice President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.