Author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch•Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi - Wisdom for Untethered Times." Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism and 2019 Religion News Association Award for Excellence in Commentary. Musings of a rabbi, journalist, father, husband, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and self-proclaimed mensch, taken from essays, columns, sermons and thin air. Writes regularly in the New York Jewish Week and Times of Israel.
So Auschwitz, the history's most potent symbol of death, is now setting an example in how to protect and preserve life.
Greetings from the - whatever!
Yes, it is time to leave the bunker. I was considering a change in title even before this week's events, but when the White House decided to open its basement bunker for the season, it was time for me to say sayonara to mine. "The Bunker" had its time and place, but now, when people think of bunkers in this racially charged moment, the first thing that comes to mind is Archie. Plus, this is the week when people around here are taking their first baby steps back into the world of Outside, even as the pandemic has not gone anywhere.
So I am looking to you for a new title. "The Front Porch" sounds too relaxing at such an imperiled time, and not engaged enough. "The Home Page" displays our continued reliance on our homes as well as the virtual world. Or maybe I should eschew location altogether and, recognizing the unprecedented crises we are facing, I should simply call it, "In This Moment."
People have compared This Moment to the most cataclysmic years of the 20th century, all in one. The pandemic of 1919, the financial crash of 1929, the social turmoil of 1968. Of those three, I was around only in 1968, and these protests have very few similarities to those riots, and that election was very different as well. I'll leave it to others to dispel the 1968 comparisons.
For me, the most apt comparison is to none of those years, but to 1944. A while back, while I was making one of my road trips to Massachusetts to see my brother (Happy Birthday, Mark!), I transported myself back in time by listening to long segments of the radio broadcasts of D-Day. You can find 24 consecutive hours of that real-time coverage on YouTube. Below is the first four-hour segment of it.
D Day - Broadcast Part 1 - 0250 AM
To listen to this coverage is to place yourself in a world that existed before anyone knew if this enormously risky venture would succeed. The landing had been expected, so when the first announcements came in - from German sources - the world was at the edge of its collective seat. As news began to filter out into the American street, you can hear reports from large cities and small towns, as people went about their daily activities with one ear glued to the radio.
The next several months of 2020 are our June 1944. D-Day (which we commemorate this week), will, for America and for the world, last for the next 152 days (at least). Back then, had thousands of brave soldiers not scaled the forbidding cliffs of Normandy, our bold experiment in democracy would have failed. The same could well be true now. Those who do not feel this way are free to disagree with me, I welcome that - it's your First Amendment right - and I won't retreat to my bunker or call out the same forces that scaled Omaha Beach to fire tear gas at you for protesting.
"How have the mighty fallen - their weapons of war perished!"
Monday night sullied the name of the 82nd Airborne and our distinguished military. Read about these heroes, who fell by the thousands in St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne in World War One, then in Sicily, Normandy and the Bulge, and later in the Gulf War. And they helped when the call came after Hurricane Andrew.
And now, Lafayette, we are here. From the defenders of the flag to defenders of the photo op. From the invasion of Nazi-held territory, to the uninvited incursion into the sacred precincts of a church. From fighting a lethal enemy to facing off against unarmed fellow citizens. From Hitler's Wehrmacht to your cousin Louie, his wife and their 17-month old, out for a stroll and wanting to lend their voices in support of those grieving about a grave injustice. Is this where G.I. Joe wants to be?
So what can we do during this imperiled moment? What is clear is after the George Floyd tipping point, there will be no going back to the world that existed before a week ago Monday. This was not "just another incident," or the act of a single "bad apple," but the culmination of centuries of discrimination and neglect. For those who are looking for my perspective on the pandemic of American racism, you can re-visit my 2016 Rosh Hashana sermon or see chapter 11 of "Embracing Auschwitz."
One thing we can do is engage in dialogue. I am happy to announce that during services this Friday evening at 6, we will hear from Reverend Dr. Michael G. Christie, Assistant to the Pastor and Minister of Prison Ministry at Union Baptist Church. The topic: "We Can't Breathe: A Conversation About Race."
Rev. Christie participated in the Interfaith Service held on Monday evening. At that vigil, two very moving passages were recited, which I share for you here: