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Sermon: Yom Kippur Morning, 9/29/20

10/06/2020 03:00:38 PM


Rabbi Charlie

I want to elevate the words of the Prophet Isaiah, which were read so beautifully by Cara Serber this morning. Isaiah explains with scathing sarcasm that if we fast and we pray, but continue with the status quo – if we are not moved to change, then all of us suffer.

The prophet specifically implores us to care for people who are hungry and bringing people without anywhere to go into our home. With the reality that Shonda Schaefer from GRACE shared with us on Rosh Hashanah – with their monthly housing assistance spiking from $8000 a month to almost $50,000 a month – not to mention the increased need for basic food and medical needs – this is one of those moments where the call of Isaiah is a call we need to hear and continue to hear.

If you gave for the food drive – please give again. If you didn’t give for the food drive, but you are able to do so – please give what you can. For those who are able, now is the time to “share your bread with the hungry.” Make regular contributions of whatever you can. More people need more help and the status quo is not sustainable. If we’re not moved to change, then all of us suffer.

Another situation that is not sustainable is what’s happening with the police. Three years ago, I gave a sermon on Rosh Hashanah evening calling the police, “imperfect heroes.” I still feel the same way – law enforcement professionals are imperfect heroes. And recent situations have shown us that the status quo has to change.

Most officers that I’ve met and read about care deeply for the communities they serve. In a profound way, they see the work they do as serving the community. They want people to be able to rely on them. They want to protect us – when we’re crossing the street, in a case of domestic abuse, if we’re coming to our congregation. They want us to feel safe. If we’ve been wronged – if our identity was stolen, if we’ve been taken advantage of – they want justice for us.

And yet when I ran into one of the officers who supports CBI on a regular basis – we saw each other at Costco over the summer - I asked him how things were going and he told me that he was so glad that he was close to retirement and that he was getting out now. All of the attacks on the police have made recruitment challenging and morale low in many areas. It’s made a stressful job even more challenging. That’s very concerning because we need our police.

We need them and, in many instances, we need to support them so they can do better. Greater transparency and accountability are important steps toward reducing abuses that exist in too many departments across the country. And while training can be reimagined, Officer Stephanie Robinson, who has been a patrol officer on Detroit’s West Side for less than a year, estimates that 90% of the runs she goes on every day have to do with people who have having mental health difficulties. That’s a problem that training alone won’t fix. Officers need more resources and creative thinking and partnerships so they can do the job of serving their community.

There is also a greater understanding that the relationship between the police and the community needs to improve, especially when it comes to issues of race. It’s why Doug Swartz, the police chief of Canal Fulton – a predominantly white suburb of Akron, Ohio wrote a column in his community newsletter explaining, "If we truly seek fulfillment in our lives, the White community also needs the Black community just as much, if not more. Our continuously intersecting lives will always be contentious if we don't stop and take time to actively listen to one another and understand."

By extending that hand, he’s trying to reassure people like Enzi Tanner, who is black, Jewish, and a social worker in Minneapolis that people are listening. Because Tanner wants the police, the Jewish community, and all of us to know that, “we don’t want to have to give a dissertation when we say we’re experiencing racism in our communities. We want to be believed… because we’ve been here for far too long and our cities are literally burning and we just need folks to believe us and to support us.”

The work of listening, learning, problem solving, experimenting, evaluating, making mistakes, improving – it takes a lot of time. Five years ago, the police department in Newark, NJ was so bad that federal oversight was required. While that sounds horrible – and it was - it led to major improvements. In the past five years they’ve made great strides on transparency, training, community engagement, de-escalation techniques, use-of-force policies and more – and the situation in the city has turned around. In spite of the progress, Newark mayor, Ras Baraka, feels that while they are ahead of the rest of the country, he laments that it’s “a sad statement [because they] still have a long way to go.”

This is not quick. This is not easy. I doubt that the light will burst through like the dawn any time soon. Our imperfect heroes are hurting right now and so are many of the communities they are trying to serve. But I am encouraged that after tragedy and difficulty, so many cities and so many police departments and so many communities are trying to do the hard work of healing and the hard work of change.

We need this kind of effort for our police and we need this kind of effort in many places of our society because the status quo is not sustainable and if we’re not moved to change, then all of us suffer. We don’t want to suffer. We all want to be safe. We all want to feel protected. We all want to feel supported. The police want it. Our communities want it. And God willing, we’ll get there.

G’mar Chatima Tova – May we be sealed for a good year of health and safety and peace.


Thu, January 21 2021 8 Sh'vat 5781