Sunday, August 16, 2015

Mommy, what is a racist?

Last week, The Temple hosted marchers for the NAACP's Journey for Justice, a march from Selma to Washington to draw attention to injustice and inequality. Over 140 Reform Rabbis are participating in the march, carrying the Torah as a symbol of our commitment to the pursuit of justice for everyone.

Outside of our social hall, we displayed large photographs of the bombing of The Temple and of our late Rabbi emeritus Jacob Rothschild with Dr. Martin Luther King. Walking past these photographs, my daughter asked me, "Who broke The Temple?" I took her to the other photograph and reminded her of Martin Luther King and his dream of equality. Then, I said, "Bad men didn't like that The Temple believed this too, and they broke The Temple." She asked, "Who were the bad men?" And I said, "They were racist." "But Mommy, what's a racist?"

It is tempting to say to my four year old that I'll tell her when she's older. After all, why draw attention to race at a time when she barely notices these things? Yet, there are many children out there who do not sit in a place of privilege, whose reality already includes difficult truths about how our society works for some, and not others, on the basis of race.

Yesterday, I marched with the Journey for Justice and my children joined me for a part of it. The leaders of the march encouraged all of the children (we had eight "Rabbis' kids" there) to be up near the front. At first I said we didn't need to do that, they weren't there to draw attention to themselves. But then someone explained to me that we were walking through rural Georgia, we were expecting some nasty comments, and it was safest for our children to be near the front. Later that day, we had two African-American children, ages 4 and 6, and they too were walking up front because that was the place they could be most protected.

This is the difficult truth--that for as simple as it seems to us to treat people with dignity and respect and to see and respond to the injustices that exist, there are still plenty of people in this world who don't or won't see them. I walked next to a young man from Texas who was marching because he was denied the right to vote in a recent election. We talked about children and he asked how I explained racism to my daughter. I said, "There are people in this world who don't like people simply because they look different from them." We then talked about raising our children to be a generation who know from the earliest ages how to treat others and bring about goodness in this world. If we teach them from the beginning love and pursuit of justice, they won't know any differently.

I have added the photo of my children "strolling" through the march to their photostreams. One day, they will look at this picture, alongside Pride Parades and Hunger Walks, and know that even before they really understood, they were being taught to pursue justice. And I will tell them that alongside us were people who wanted the same thing for their children that I do for mine: a peaceful, safe home, access to food and healthcare and quality education, a strong community, and the ability to pursue their dreams and potential to the fullest. Kein yehi ratzon--may it be God's will, and may it be ours.

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