OPINION: What have we done?

OPINION: What have we done?

Benjamin Ellis (low res)
Benjamin Ellis

By Benjamin Ellis, a Keshet UK director

מֶה עָשִׂיתָ;קוֹל דְּמֵי אָחִיךָ, צֹעֲקִים אֵלַי מִן-הָאֲדָמָה

What have you done?
Hark, your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.

The blood smeared on the pavements of Jerusalem cries out to us. A child is dead and our hearts are broken. Sixteen years old, a life barely begun. Darkness in the city of light. And so we ask ourselves: What have we done?

As Jews, we find ourselves wracked with questions. Did we, knowingly or not, create an atmosphere where hatred was tolerated, but diversity was not? Were we careless in our speech, using language to hurt instead of heal? Did we quietly accept the idea that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people were not fully part of our community, when we could have reached out the hand of love, and life? Were we silent and complicit when people dismissed these Jewish souls as an outsiders, instead of raising our voices and holding on tight to our precious children? What have we done?

None of this is to point a finger, for we all could have done more. But an outrage wakes us up, jolts us from the comfort of our lives. Instead of apportioning blame, the Talmud suggests we respond to an ordeal by turning inwards and examining our deeds: could we have been better people? And the spilled blood of a child begs us to do the same.

We must learn from Shira’s example. Her parents spoke about her decision to march in Pride. She went to express her support for her friends’ rights to live as they choose. We Jews know what it is to beg for freedom. Throughout our history, we have become familiar with the Pharaoh’s mean-spirited demand: Who precisely among you will walk? Shira responded, like Moshe before her – we will all walk: our old and our young, our sons and our daughters. It is not enough for the few to be free, for the leaders to be at liberty. For Jews, liberty is indivisible, a communal activity which must embrace all of us – we are only free if everyone is free. Shira Banki woke up one morning and went to march for equality, justice and celebrate her city’s diversity. For this she was killed, and we are left heartbroken.

We did not do enough and we must all do more.

Who, then, will walk in Shira’s steps, will walk with us? Who will support us against fear, hatred and violence? Who are those who will step out, go on a journey and make a difference? How shall we walk together?

Above all, we must banish silence.

We must not waste a single opportunity to talk. Whether we are a rabbi, a communal leader, the family of a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person, or simply someone who cares – we must not let silence fall on this moment. Silence breeds fear and mistrust, and we must shatter it with kind words of respect and love. In our schools, and our shuls and around our Shabbat tables we must open our hearts to those who so often have felt rejected by our community.

We must grant a voice to those who have not been given one before, who have been overlooked or even turned away from speaking among us at our events and in our institutions. Instead of talking about people, we should instead talk with them. We must be courageous and be prepared to hear about different lives and different loves, and to hear criticism of our own community’s treatment of our children. We must open our ears to the stories of others, and try to understand the pain and rejection that they have felt. For such is the power of silence.

And we must speak up. No hateful word should go unchallenged, no injustice uncorrected. We must speak up in our schools and in our workplaces, in our synagogues and in our streets. Our voices must be heard so that our leaders are clear that no hatred or homophobia shall be perpetrated in our names.

Above all, we must continue to question ourselves and our leaders: Did we do enough? What have we done?

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