Tuesday, August 4, 2015

What does it mean to be a Rodeph Shalom in our fractured world?

Since I last wrote, we now all know that tragically Shira Banki, the 16 year old stabbed at the LGBTQ Parade, has died. Shira was a Rodeph/et Shalom, that is one who actively pursued peace and well-being for all! There has been mourning throughout the world for this young lady and the ideals she stood for. Shira was at the parade out of support for the notion that all Israelis, indeed all of humanity, should be able to live with dignity and safely. The sadness amongst my circles as families with members of the larger Jewish LGBTQ community in our lives, as a member of the larger Jewish community and as a human being is palpable and inescapable. I will defer to two others who have spoken eloquently about this horrible set of circumstances.

When Rabbi Benny Lau spoke this past week, he began with a reference to Devarim (21: 1 - 9) in which we learn that the Israelites were to perform a ritual when a dead traveler was found in a field within their region. The elders of the nearest town would proclaim: ’Our hands did not shed this blood.’ This was done specifically to take accountability for every life in every space possible; and by the power of words, to insure that in fact no one was complicit in this loss of life. No town and no individuals were exempt from concern for the other and from trying to insure the safety of the entire collective.

“It is not possible to sit and say ‘our hands did not spill this blood,'” Rabbi Lau stated. “Anyone who has ever been at a Sabbath table, or in a classroom, or in a synagogue, or at a soccer game, or in a club, or at a community center, and heard the racist jokes, the homophobic jokes, the obscene words, and didn’t stand up and stop it, he is a partner to this bloodshed.”

We know the role of those who see such dangers and do nothing. It is these bystanders throughout history who enable the deeds of evil to take their toll. Once again, here we are asking ourselves, are we teaching correctly? Are we properly using the texts and sources that provide the foundation for who and what we are as Jews to truly live in the way intended?

Tomes have been written this past week, asking these and other soul-searching questions. There are too many who want to reduce what has happened to “one crazy person” here or there; but this is not the point. In a culture and religious context in which we espouse the idea of “Kol Yisrael Eruvim Zeh LaZeh,” – All members of Israel/community are connected to and responsible for each other – we cannot abdicate our responsibility for the lessons we teach, the words we use and the ideas we convey.

Rabbi Adam Scheier of Montreal wrote as follows:

“As Jerusalem’s Rabbi Benny Lau pointed out, in what upside-down world are the Bankis considered secular and the murderer, Yishai Shlissel, considered religious? The Talmud teaches, “Always let the left hand thrust away and the right hand draw near” (Sotah 47). In other words, we should embrace with greater strength than we reject. Shira’s last moments were spent embracing others; Shlissel, tragically, chose rejection and violence….”

“Shira’s family wasn’t religious, but she lived a life of holiness; it’s a life that our religious communities should honor, remember, and aspire to emulate.”

As a local Orthodox Rabbi stated, let us pray for the souls and families that have been impacted and let the perpetrators be punished to the fullest extent of the law. As for the rest of us, let us be very careful what messages we share with each other and how we speak about those with whom we disagree. Let us do all of this within the context of the Jewish teachings that Shira Banki z”l and so many others represent. Let us be those who engage in Rodeph Shalom – the pursuing of peace! May the memory of Shira Banki be for a blessing for all!

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