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Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdof

Ethan Stone is the President of NFTY Missouri Valley.

Eric Garner.  Michael Brown.  Tamir Rice.  Tzedek, tzedek tirdof.

My name is Ethan Stone, I am the President of NFTY Missouri Valley, and while I write to represent NFTY Missouri Valley, the views expressed here are my own.  I just now got off the “Unpacking Race Relations in the United States” webinar run by NFTY.   I had the pleasure of hearing the familiar voices of NFTY Staff and special guests Rabbi Randy Fleisher, a rabbi from Central Reform Congregation in Greater St. Louis; and Zoey Fleisher, Rabbi Fleisher’s daughter, co-President of Central Reform Congregation’s youth group CRFTY, and a good friend of mine.  Topics that were discussed included the events in Ferguson and Staten Island and the worldwide repercussions of those events, the meaning of privilege and the applications of that knowledge in our daily lives, and different forms of racism.

Concerning the events in Ferguson, I find my emotions and opinions continually fluid.  Constant feelings that have seeped deeply into my brain are anger, confusion, fear, and dread.  I think “this is happening in my region.”  I have had to text close friends “stay safe tonight” from the safety of my home here in Kansas City.  People are discussing Ferguson over dinner, in classrooms, and through social media all over the world, with many of those conversations becoming heated on both sides.  We must all remember that while we may have our opinions, there is only one person who knows what happened August 9th on Canfield Drive in Ferguson, Missouri—Darren Wilson.  To the rest of us, Ferguson has been one big dizzying blur of constant misinformation, opinions, and emotion.  The grand jury may have been wrong in their ruling; they may have been right.  The unfortunate truth is that, no matter what we claim, we will never know.  What we do know, however, is that Ferguson and many other communities across America and Canada are up to their waists in quicksand-like inequality.  Ferguson is at least 67% black.  The mayor is white.  Five out of the six city council members are white.  Six out of the seven local school board members are white.  50 out of the 53 Ferguson police officers are white.  Why is this?  It is a sign of the tragic injustice of the vast inequality between black and white people in America and Canada.  The events surrounding the murders of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and countless others involve the same themes time after time.

Eric Garner.  Michael Brown.  Tamir Rice.  Tzedek, tzedek tirdof.

During the webinar, one idea brought forth was the idea of the “invisible knapsack of privilege.”  This is a symbol for the privileges, innate and acquired, that we carry with us throughout our lives as we interact with individual people and society as a whole.  The knapsack holds things such as your gender, age, physical ability, sexual orientation, and race.  All of these things, among many more, can affect one’s place in society, perceived or real.  I am white and male, meaning that I am the “default” and can see people who look like me and hold power or leading roles all around me and in nearly every media source.  I am Jewish, meaning that I have opportunities like NFTY and higher expectations for education.  I live in Overland Park, Kansas, consistently one of the more safe and affluent places in America.  I go to a top-rated public high school.  I have food, water, clothing, a roof over my head, a shower every day, a warm bed, access to electricity, and many other things that I rarely have to think about because where I live.  I am the default and I will never know what it is to truly be discriminated against, except for my religion, which, aside from the tragic JCC shooting earlier this year (just a mile from where I was at the time), is rare in my community.  The things that I carry in my knapsack of privilege affect me every day of my life and allow me to rise or fall or receive treatment different than that of those who do not carry the same privilege as me.

Eric Garner.  Michael Brown.  Tamir Rice.  Tzedek, tzedek tirdof.

So what can we do to move forward from the events of the past few months?  We can be involved.  Not just with hashtags and retweets, but with banners and signs.  We can look introspectively to find our preconceived notions and entrenched racism and work to change them.  We can look outwards and find the institutionalized racism that plagues the systems we created to serve us.  We, NFTYites, Reform Jews, people, can involve African Americans in the conversation.  We need to have those conversations, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable.  We can learn from those who don’t have the privileges that we have, learn to understand their struggles and their worries and their issues, let their issues become our issues.  We can learn to be better allies to minority communities and help move us all forward towards the ideals of equality and freedom that we so desperately wish to make real for all people.

Eric Garner.  Michael Brown.  Tamir Rice.  Tzedek, tzedek tirdof.