Letters to the editor: Week of Aug. 20, 2014

Bridging the divide

I am a participant in Student to Student, a Jewish Community Relations Council program in which Jewish teens from St. Louis give presentations to students in schools that lack a Jewish presence, describing our lives as Jewish teens to break down stereotypes and combat anti-Semitism. Last spring as a program participant, I visited Normandy High School.

I’m writing this in the wake of the shooting in Ferguson of Michael Brown, who graduated from Normandy in May. Since then, there have been cries of accusations of racism and worry about the future of fragmented St. Louis County. And during this time, I’ve been reflecting on the Student to Student program. When you’re a minority, the majority may not understand the way you live, your customs, and your differences.

An important step towards ending prejudice is to talk, and this is especially imperative at a time like this. I, as a Jew in Olivette, don’t understand what it’s like to be an African-American in Ferguson. What we need is to communicate with each other, not just scream through media, but through programs, like Student to Student, where the community can benefit from having a new network of teens who understand each other.

Abby Miller, Participant in JCRC Student to Student Program and Co-Editor in Chief of the Light’s Ohr Chadash Teen Page

Jewish community response to Ferguson

I am saddened by the lack of response from the Jewish Federation and the Jewish Community Relations Council to the death of Michael Brown. The great Civil Rights leader, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marched arm-in-arm with Dr. Martin Luther King. Rabbi Heschel would have been disappointed in us had he witnessed our silence this past week. This is not just a Ferguson problem, nor an African-American problem. This is a Jewish problem too. As Jews, we know the sting of hate and oppression firsthand. Tikkun olam teaches us that we must “repair the world.” The African-American community needs us. It is essential that they know that St. Louis area Jews are by their side to help protest against racism, oppression, and injustice. I urge the Jewish community not to be silent observers to history, but to be a strong, united voice against injustice.

Jessica Farber Igielnik, Olivette

I am writing to express my deep sadness that more of the St. Louis Jewish community has not expressed unconditional outrage over the killing of Michael Brown and the subsequent mishandling of the situation by so many levels of county government. With a few notable exceptions, the overall Jewish response has not been nearly sufficient, and much in the official statements has rung hollow next to patterns of behavior. Please, let us look past distractions to see the moral crisis in front of us: the crisis of a deep and persistent racial divide in our own community and the crisis that many of our fellow human beings (Jews and non-Jews alike) fear for their lives when they routinely encounter the police. 

History has cruelly prepared us for this moment. We as Jews are all too familiar with what it means to fear a powerful police force who seems to see us as the enemy. We are all too familiar with being portrayed by our society as villains to be scapegoated and misunderstood. We know what it means to not be able to protect our own children from danger and even death. We know what it means to yearn for a state that will protect us and even celebrate us. And, at this time in history, I believe that we who are lucky enough to live in the era of Modern Israel and can count on the right of refuge from persecution, have a moral imperative to understand the same yearning–and its cousin despair–when it is in our own American backyard. 

This summer is the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, a fateful turning point in the Civil Rights Movement, a summer during which many Jews risked their safety to stand on the side of justice. When the history is written about this summer in Ferguson, what will the Jewish legacy be? I fear it will barely make the notes, though maybe it is not too late to change this particular story. We could at least prepare to do better the next time this happens, but I pray that we will remember the call of “Never Again” and invest as a community in making sure that there is no “next time.”

Sarah Barasch-Hagans, Rabbinical Student, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Class of 2018; Solomon Schechter Day School of St. Louis, Class of 2002

Time to step up

It is time now for the Jewish community to come forward and be counted. Ferguson is not a distant village on the far side of the world, but a community where members of our own congregations may live and work. We must move forward. One way is to join the Metro St. Louis Coalition for Inclusion and Equity (MSLICE), which is working to remove the barriers that 40 years of neglect and ignorance has created. Since its inception, MSLICE’s work has focused on the north side of St. Louis to address disparities of environmental justice, civic engagement, and equitable community and economic development practices. 

It is our community that is at stake. Rabbi Susan Talve, in a teaching in front of the governor, stated that at the Red Sea one person waded first into the deep water; his faith led the way, and afterward all the community followed. This could be a metaphor for Holy Ground Collarbrative and MSLICE coalition. Join us. Visit http://bit.ly/MSLICE or call 314-769-9771 for more information.

Rick Isserman, Member Holy Ground Collaborative, Creve Coeur