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Black Lives Matter and the Myth of Monolithism – Sh’lach – 06/20/20

Rabbi Neil Schuman

Black Lives Matter and the Myth of Monolithism
We live in disturbing times. To add to our dismay, it’s hard to receive unadulterated information. If an event happens and we look at Fox News or One America News or CNN or the NY Times, we might think we’re learning about completely different events.
It seems though, that variant reporting is a problem inherent to humankind. We have such issues in our Parsha, as well.
Twelve Spies go into the Land of Canaan to learn what the Children of Israel will have to face in their upcoming battles.
The spies return and agree that the land is gorgeous, luscious and full of blessings. But there are disparate reports with regard to its ability to be conquered.
Ten of them say that there are giants there: “We look like ants in their eyes.
The walled cities are fortified to the Heavens and all the people are very powerful.” We will all be killed if we try to attack.
The other two spies, Caleb and Joshua, say, “With God behind us, we can do it!”
Unfortunately, the Children of Israel sided with the majority report and that’s why we spent forty years wandering in the desert.
What’s even more notable about this incident is that it’s recorded in the Torah twice, but with different perspectives.
In our Parsha, in the book of Numbers 13, it says,
1. The Lord spoke to Moses saying,
2. “Send out for yourself men who will scout the Land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel. You shall send one man each for his father’s tribe; each one a chieftain in their midst.”
According to this rendition, it is God’s idea and initiative to send spies into the land.
Yet when Moses recounts the story 38 years later in Deuteronomy 1, it sounds as if it was the Children of Israel’s idea to send spies.
20. And I (Moses) said to you, “You have come to the mountain of the Amorites, which the Lord, our God, is giving us.
21. Behold, the Lord, your God, has set the land before you; go up and possess it, as the Lord, God of your ancestors has spoken to you; you shall neither fear nor be dismayed.”
22. And all of you approached me and said, “Let us send men ahead of us so that they will search out the land for us and bring us back word by which route we shall go up, and to which cities we shall come.”
23. And the matter pleased me; so I took twelve men from you, one man for each tribe.
So whose idea was it to send spies, God’s or the Children of Israel’s? The truth may be either or both. Different perspectives are innate to the human species.
Along these lines, many of us have different feelings and opinions regarding the racism in our country and what we need to change.
Some of us feel uneasy about supporting the “Black Lives Matters” cause for even though we agree that Black people should be treated better, we have heard that many BLM supporters are anti-Semitic, like those who attacked Jews in Jersey City and Monsey, and others are anti-Israel.
On Tuesday, I was listening to a webinar produced by the Jewish Community Relations Council and the NAACP on the topic of how the Jewish community could support the Black community in these times.
The Jewish moderator finally asked, “I need to address the elephant in the room: what do we make of the anti-Israel, anti-Semitic element in BLM?”
Derrick Johnson, the very articulate and knowledgeable head of the NAACP replied, “Just like the Jewish people are not monolithic, the same is true of the Black American community. After the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, three women came up with the hashtag #Black Lives Matter. It’s not an organization, it’s a rallying cry. It’s a banner to organize around, but there’s no one institution called Black Lives Matter.”
Johnson admits there are some Black Americans that are anti-Semitic and anti-Israel, but they don’t represent the majority of Blacks. He’s appreciative of Jewish support now and in the ’60s and he thinks most Blacks feel that way as well.
We know Jews aren’t monolithic (even in Biblical times!), Americans aren’t, Christians aren’t, Moslems aren’t, so why should believe Black Americans are?
Black Lives Matter is a hashtag, not an organization, albeit there are many organizations that embrace that banner. We need to be careful of which organization we choose to support, but there are certainly many that are pro-Semitic, pro-Israel, and appreciate Jewish support.
I would have thought that as I grow older, life would become easier. I guess that was another false hope. We live in trying times, but the way to make things better is by rallying and encouraging our leaders to promulgate significant change. It seems as though we are in Civil Rights Era 2.0 and we need to work as hard as ever.
Have a great week. and a happy belated Father’s Day to all the devoted fathers in our congregation.

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