Hope amid the horrors


What a month it’s been.

In Rhode Island and Massachusetts, we continued to stay home to help flatten the curve during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a community, we tried to stay connected online via Zoom and other platforms. Virtual programming has attracted many to learning and worship – more than anyone would have imagined. We have learned how to have Zoom meetings, and Teams meetings, along with all types of virtual book groups, classes and  “get-togethers.”

We marveled at how the environment has rebounded thanks to a lack of pollution, bringing cleaner air and water around the world.

We were excited by the launch of astronauts from the U.S. for the first time in nine years.

It looked like we were at last climbing out of a dark time, with the promise of warmer weather, the joyous holiday of Shavuot to look forward to, and the slow but steady reopening of the nation and the world.

Until May 25, the date when the senseless and tragic death of George Floyd brought so many simmering racial issues to a head and rioting spread across the country almost overnight.

I don’t think any of us can come away from seeing the video and pictures of Floyd’s death without feeling deeply disturbed. As Jews, we are called to stand up for the oppressed, to come to the aid of the needy, to help the less fortunate and shelter the stranger no matter who they are.

It is very difficult to watch what’s happening and not feel the need to act – to express solidarity in a peaceful way with all the victims of injustice and all the oppressed people in our country and around the world. To do otherwise would fly in the face of Jewish tradition and teachings, to say nothing of how a lack of action on our part dishonors the memory of Floyd and others who have died at the hands of those in authority. That’s why the needless destruction taking place alongside the peaceful protests is so horrifying.

Random destruction is never the path to improvement. Violence often leads to more of the same. And we shouldn’t conflate people legitimately protesting for civil rights with those who take advantage of the situation to destroy and hurt others.

A lot of big things are going wrong at the moment. Riots, coronavirus, economic decline and political polarization. It can be seen as a very dark time. But when things seem overwhelming, keep in mind that we each can make a difference. 

So, take action by learning what you do not know. Take action by listening. Take action by speaking out peacefully and with compassion and forgiveness. Take action by volunteering to promote causes you believe in and helping in places where you are needed. Take action by voting. Take action with small acts of kindness for those around you.

It’s the little things that go right that give us hope. These are the moments – and the people – that can inspire us. Like the student in St. Louis who pleaded with protesters to go home and be safe and not violate curfews; the woman in Phoenix who urged looters to stop; the father who brought his son to the scene of violence to show him that peace is a better path; the volunteers in Providence and elsewhere who appeared after the riots to help clean up and restore their neighborhoods; the police who marched and knelt with protesters; the protesters who hugged and shook hands with police officers.

And let’s not forget the doctors and nurses still struggling to save coronavirus patients; first responders and essential employees doing everything they can to keep us safe and fed; teachers who are still finding new and creative ways to educate our children at home; the businesspeople who are keeping their staffs paid and working, even at their own expense; and the astronauts who risked their lives to return America to space travel. All that is still going on.

The good things aren’t going to stop. They will keep happening. And they are everywhere. Good things are happening on every street in America – and any of us can be part of that.

It gives me hope that there is a chance we can emerge from all of this turmoil as better people, as a better community, as a better country. All we have to do is take the small steps that lead us all in the right direction.

Editors Column