Nearly 100 Jews, Christians, Muslims, and others gathered outside St. Vincent de Paul Church in downtown Baltimore on June 3 with their masks, social justice pins, and signs to pray for peace in light of George Floyd’s death and the nation’s internal conflict.
Concern over the coronavirus (as well as the humidity that day) led participants at the interfaith service to avoid standing too close together. Bordering the park full of people were some holding up signs and banners that read, “Protesting racism is our prayer and responsibility,” or “Racism is a sin.”
As it was near the Jewish Museum of Maryland and the harbor, the heart of the city’s evening lullabies — police sirens — serenaded in the distance.
After introductions, speakers gave nine prayers for the nearly nine minutes George Floyd was pinned down. Each prayer had an intention, such as for mothers of victims, for protesters, for officers, for parents, for elected officials, and for Baltimore’s citizens. Rabbi Andy Gordon of Bolton Street Synagogue offered the prayer for the faith community.
Other guests included Police Commissioner Michael S. Harrison, Howard Libit of the Baltimore Jewish Council, Rep. John Sarbanes (D-District 3), and Roberta’s House.
As the prayers concluded, a group of protesters walked by, chanting, “No justice, no peace.” Many at the park started to clap with them. Then, the gathering concluded with nine minutes of silence, interrupted only by a delicate bell to mark the long period of time.
“The world is on fire right now,” said Gordon. “It’s nice to be in a group like this to feel like we’re doing something.” He came to represent his synagogue and be with interfaith allies.
“The most important thing is we continue to build relationships with each other. These are just words and prayers, but I hope they lead to action.”
The Jewish community participated in more action the following week.
Repair the World Baltimore hosted an online discussion titled “Race and Responsibility: A Conversation for White People About Showing Up” the evening of June 10. It was a moment to examine how Jewish values interact with protests and served as an opportunity for white people to learn about racial justice.
Organizers Rabbi Jessy Dressin and Diana Goldsmith emphasized that it was not a time to “share all the ways [people] are already responding in a performative manner,” or “unload potentially damaging emotions.” For example, they reviewed some do’s and don’ts of successful allyship.
The next day (June 11), Repair hosted a virtual lunch and learn called “The Color of Covid” to explore how COVID-19 disproportionately impacts communities of color. According to the organizers, black Americans are infected at higher rates, Latino Americans are at a higher risk due to their essential work in food production, Asian Americans are the targets of increased xenophobia, and the list continues.
Repair initially had not planned to lead discussions on the topic. They wanted instead to highlight gatherings being organized by black community members. “But after we heard from some of our community members and saw how they were responding, we felt it was our responsibility as an organization that cares about racial justice, but is led by two white people, to lead in our community by bringing other white people together for reflection and learning,” said Goldsmith, program manager.
So, they created the two events last week.
“Repair’s mission is about mobilizing Jews to pursue a more just world,” she said. “That unequivocally includes racial equity.” Goldsmith wants the world to confront the inequities that black, indigenous, and peoples of color face. Goldsmith said that this is particularly relevant to the Jewish community. “As Jews, we know that our liberation is tied up with the liberation of all people, so now is the moment that we must call our communities in, to hold space for people to be inspired by Jewish values to take action for their fellow humans,” she said.