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I am on an Anxiety Roller Coaster

Posted by Rabbi Ron Symons on June 2, 2020

June 2, 2020

Once again, far too quickly, frequently and painfully, the curtains covering systemic racism have been pulled back and we see that which is too painful to look at and acknowledge.  The inequitable impact of COVID19 on low income communities and communities of Color is painful enough.  And yet there is more.  The series of injustices perpetrated against members of the Black community in recent days, highlighted by the death of George Floyd and the subsequent responses from law enforcement, elected officials, people expressing their First Amendment rights and those exploiting the situation adds pain, fear, sorrow, grief to so many of us in uniquely personal and communal ways.

My anxiety increased.

When 5 Black Pastors for the Hill District put out a call for clergy from around the region to join them on Monday, June 1 at Freedom Corner, I thought it was a great idea.  After all, the corner of Center and Crawford is the place where Hill District residents drew the line on the urban renewal of the 1960s that buried much of their community; that launched most of the city’s marches seeking social justice; and, the place infused by the spirit of those who gave the struggle for social and civil rights their voices, their muscle and their lives.  Rev. Liddy Barlow of Christian Associates of Southwest PA (CASP) and I sent the invitation to our 550+ list of spiritual leaders involved in our ‘We Have To Talk’ network.  This is the side of history we want to be on.  This is why the Center for Loving Kindness is an integral part of the JCC.

My anxiety decreased.

And then the roller coaster began to climb the summit again.  I thought about my own participation.  I thought about all the images of peaceful protests turning to riots.  I was scared for my physical safety.  I realized that if I went, I would be in a crowd of people, more people I have been with in over 11 weeks.  I was scared for my health.

My anxiety increased.

Family and colleagues I consulted with about my concerns motivated me to go to Freedom Corner.  Upon arriving, seeing that physical distancing, the 100% use of masks, the friends and colleagues in the crowd, the calm demeanor of those assembled and the respectful police presence, I felt good about my decision to attend.

My anxiety decreased.

And then I listened to the Pastors’ words:

  • “99 years ago today, as the dust settled in Tulsa, Oklahoma, America experienced the worst case of racial violence: the destruction of a community called Greenwood, aka Black Wall Street.”
  • “We must move from the tension of our life today to our intentions of our life tomorrow.”
  • “Today we need taxation with representation…. We can solve our problems if you take your foot off our necks.”
  • “The physician need not just understand the source of our pain but the also the level of our pain… I know it is not low and I know that 10 does not express the level of our pain.”

As I marched behind them to the City County Building, their words sank in deeper and deeper and deeper.  I realize how much more we have to do together.  I realize how much more I have to do to fight against racism.  I was reminded of the passage from the Talmud Sanhedrin 38a when the Rabbis asked why there was only one first person created in the Genesis narrative:

For the sake of the different families, that they might not argue with one another about whose heritage is better.  Look at today: though originally only one person was created and people argue anyway, how much more would people argue if they came from separate ancestors?

According to Jewish wisdom, all of us come from the same primordial human.  Many faith traditions share a similar foundational concept.  There is no separate White Adam, Black Adam, Brown Adam, Yellow Adam, Jewish Adam, Christian Adam, Moslem Adam, Hindu Adam, Sikh Adam….  There is only ONE Adam: The Adam of all humanity, the model of our connectedness to one another.  Our shared origin story is a story of our shared humanity.  Neighbor is a moral concept… and we have so much more work to do to make that concept a reality.

My anxiety increased and I intend to use that anxiety as motivation to do better.

All of this reminds me of the core values of our town square, our JCC in which ‘Community’ is our middle name.

The JCC is open and accessible to everyone, regardless of age, race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or special need by welcoming individuals of all backgrounds, embracing their uniqueness and diversity under our communal tent.

All of this reminds me of why we created the Center for Loving Kindness in August of 2017.

We strengthen the fabric of community by amplifying the long held values of ‘Love Your Neighbor as yourself’ and ‘Do not stand idle while your neighbor bleeds’ as we redefine ‘neighbor’ from a geographic term to a moral concept.

Will you come on that roller coaster with us, help us, guide us and keep us on mission?  There will be summits and valleys, our stomachs will turn, the wind will blow in our faces and knuckles will be gripped white with fear.  And, we will go through it all together.

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