You have likely heard the troubling news of yesterday’s fatal shooting outside the Urban Dove Charter School. Details of this tragic incident are still emerging. My heart breaks for Devonte Lewis’ family. Another young life lost to gun violence. This has become an all-too-familiar phenomenon in the United States, and we have largely become inured to it, but when it strikes so close to home – on our own block, our own property! – we feel the tragedy in our bones; it shakes us.
Neighbors, too, have been rattled. People are afraid – this incident has disrupted their lives and upended their tranquility, at least temporarily.
My original intent for my message this week was to begin talking about NightShul classes and other programming which will start to deal with the subject of race, identity, and racial and social justice in the US. I was going to tell you about a terrific-looking program this Sunday night, sponsored by the Jewish Theological Seminary, called An Evening of Learning: Racial Justice and Jewish Values. Yesterday’s events upended that plan.
But the more I thought about it, the more it occurred to me that, at least philosophically, the two things are intimately connected. This past Rosh Hashana, I spoke on the subject of the interconnectivity of people and things. I used the image of mycelia – the expansive system of fungi that connect all life in the forest. Of course, there is an interconnectivity of social issues too. The death of Devonte Lewis is arguably tied to the injustice experienced by people of color in this country. The mycelia branch out from the sidewalk on East 21st Street to a host of festering problems. In this case, it was the prevalence of guns, the rise in gun violence in our city, and the incomprehensible attitude that some problem that existed could be solved by shooting someone. Now that the conversation on race has erupted into the national consciousness, we can begin to contextualize events like this and dig deeper into their roots, even if this isn’t the exact moment to do it.
The tension between the fears of neighbors and the social impulse to do right on the whole social spectrum is vexing. I don’t know how to allay the fears of our neighbors and our community. A discussion of the pervasiveness of racial injustice and inequality, privilege blindness, and our social-moral responsibility as Jews and as citizens, is little salve for people who are afraid for their children and themselves.
But I maintain that in giving Urban Dove a home, we stood up. We tell ourselves that children, particularly children who have struggled, have a right to a good education, deserve every chance to succeed, deserve a safe neighborhood to go to school in, and deserve to be supported. Anyone can tell that story. Most people would tell that story. We acted on it. We had an opportunity, and we seized it. Instead of sweeping the conversation under the rug, instead of passing on the responsibility to someone else, saying, “we agree in principle, but on a practical level, let it be someone else’s work,” we looked at the values we articulated and doubled down on them. And for that, I am immensely proud of our community. That kind of courage is a rare thing; it is something to be celebrated.
A child lost his life yesterday in our home. Devonte Lewis, at 17 years old, held the same promise that every child does. His life was precious. We feel profound anguish at his loss and weep alongside his family, asking God to comfort them. Right now, this is about the Lewis family and their suffering. The time will come for the larger conversation.
An EMJC member, Ryan Goldberg, shared her own anguish with a few of us last night. I’d like to conclude by sharing some of her beautiful sentiments:
Children are our future and through them we hope to make the world better and safer. Jews hold a custom of blessing our children every Shabbat, asking God to guide them in peace. This peace is for all children. Peace can’t exist in a ghetto, or within walls. Peace flows endlessly when every child can walk home from school without concern for harm. An act of violence against one of our children is an act of violence against all of our children.
As a community, EMJC stands in solidarity with Urban Dove, we stand in solidarity with all children and we stand in solidarity with families who want to make our streets safe for all.
This Shabbat, when you recite the blessing of the child, let the words spread to every child to be blessed, protected, and favored with grace, kindness, and peace.
I wish you all a Shabbat shalom um’vorach – a peaceful and blessed Shabbat,
Rabbi Sam Levine