Let Us Not Be Silent Now

June 1, 2020

A message from President Andrew Rehfeld, Ph.D. to the HUC community:

Like so many of you, I share your overwhelming feelings of grief, anger, and sadness in the wake of the brutal killing of George Floyd.  I watch with some measure of hope as thousands take to the streets to raise their voices in protest against yet another example of systematic racism and injustice in America.  And I feel my outrage as a marginal few seek to alter the narrative of these peaceful civil protests and turn them into violent rages.

For those of you who are not white men in positions of authority and power, for those who may have friends and family, partners or kids at risk simply because of how they look to others, how much more vulnerable and powerless must you and they feel right now?

I see you. I hear you.  I count you. I feel your distress.And I am with you.
What gives me hope at this moment is the work that we are doing in preparing hundreds of students to use the Jewish tradition for the sake of bringing Goodness and Holiness, Righteousness and Justice to our world. I also look to the work of our alumni, leading in their communities, and as part of a movement, who are providing a path towards hope. I share our movement’s URJ/RAC and CCAR statements with you, and if you want to take action, please start by standing with our movement’s Religious Action Center and calling for police reform.

And let us not ourselves be silent in the face of what we need to do to be fully welcoming to all people of color within our own HUC community. This has been my priority in establishing a Task Force on Safe and Respectful Workplaces last fall, and it will be of utmost importance going forward as we continue to make our community welcome to all who inhabit it, people of all faiths and all races.

The most haunting picture for me from last week, in addition to the horror of seeing George Floyd killed, was seeing police officers, men in uniform who stand-in for each of us as part of our democracy, standing silently instead, allowing this deadly abuse to continue.

They should have learned from Elie Wiesel: “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Let us not be silent right now.  Let us join with our movement, let us work together, towards the creation of a world of which we can all be proud.

Having raised our voices, let us also remember the decency of so many who put their lives on the lines every day to create a safe and peaceful society.  Even as we must continue to work for institutional and structural reform that can only happen on the state and local level, let us recognize the decency of police like those in Oklahoma City and Flint, Michigan, who joined in solidarity with the protesters, expressing outrage as officers of the law, officers of our laws, committed abuse so manifestly in Minneapolis.

So at a time when our world desperately needs healing, let us confront and combat the racism that underlies our society and commit ourselves to being “pursuers of justice.” (Isaiah 51:1)

Andrew Rehfeld, Ph.D.