You healed our head with justice;
You made overflow our cup of joy.
Yes! We seek to let loving-kindness, good action, move us
All the days of our life.
For we seek to live where the Breath of Life is at home
And so to lengthen the days of us all.
That is, of course my gently midrashic translation of part of the 23d Psalm. Let me turn from my rabbinic yarmulke to my Tevye cap as activist and the fedora of a US historian.
As I write, it seems clear that both a Black minister, Rev. Raphael Warnock ,and a Jewish documentary film-maker, Jon Ossoff, have been elected to the US Senate from Georgia: the first in both cases. Their election makes it possible for the first woman, first Black, and first Asian-American Vice-President to organize the 50-50 Senate in favor of the Democratic Party. (The media have not yet, as I write, “called” one of those senatorial victories, and the victor’s opponent is sure to make every effort under the sun and under the sea to challenge him.)
There is a specially sweetly pungent flavor of Healing to the table these elections prepare for us. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC), from 1877 to 1950 there were 588 lynchings of Black people in Georgia (second only to Mississippi). There was one lynching of a Jew, the only one in American history – Leo Frank, in 1915. He had been, despite little concrete evidence, convicted of the murder of a working woman in the factory in which he was among the managers. He was sentenced to death, had his sentence commuted because the Governor of Georgia doubted his guilt, and then was lynched by a mob made up of white Christians. During the whole case, though Black and white opponents of lynching rallied to condemn the lynching of Frank, there also arose some tension between the Black and Jewish communities, because the only other suspect was a Black man, and some of Frank’s defenders used racist rhetoric to absolve him.
So it is a deep healing that a flood of Black votes in Georgia elected a Black and a Jew to the US Senate. It is an even deeper healing that the two stood shoulder to shoulder calling for an end to racism and a healing of Earth and Humankind from the climate crisis. (It was not surprising but it was disgusting that some small but wealthy parts of the Jewish community tried to elect Republicans by condemning Rev. Warnock for his assertion of Palestinian rights – as if an assertion of those rights were antisemitic. Hundreds of rabbis and other serious Jews spoke out for Rev. Warnock.)
If all goes well today inside and outside the US Capitol –- even though some Senators and House members are deliberately lying about the presidential election and some ultra-right-wing militant white supremacists are roaming the streets, all trying to muddy the clarity of President-Elect Biden’s legitimacy –- then there will be at least the possibility of joint action by President and Congress to take steps to healour simultaneous macro-crises.
As I have said several times recently, I think it is both ethically crucial and politico-practically essential to address the pain, death, and despair of far too many rural and small-town neighborhoods and the pain, death, and despair of far too many big-city neighborhoods, with a nation-wide campaign of Green Co-ops focused on solar and wind energy. Whoever the people in those neighborhoods voted for, any honorable progressivism, any compassionate and just religion, must act to give their neighborhoods new life – and Earth new health.
The Georgia elections and their roots in transforming the past make possible a much more hopeful future – if we act. Especially if the faith communities act.
We must heal our hearts with justice;
We must fill our cups with joy.
Yes! We must let loving-kindness, good action, move us
All the days of our life.
Only then can we live where the Breath of Life is at home
Only then can we lengthen the days of us all.
Shalom, salaam, paz, peace, namaste! -- Arthur