Tonight, I'm thinking about three teenage girls.
Tonight, I'm thinking about three teenage girls.
The first is Noam O'Connor, who celebrated her bat mitzvah with Kavana this past Shabbat (see the Mazel Tov blurb below!). It was a mincha/afternoon service, so the Torah portion Noam read last Saturday was actually the one for this coming week: Parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim. From this long and far-reaching double parasha, Noam chose to build her D'var Torah around a single verse: Leviticus 19:14, which reads: "lo t'kalel cheiresh, v'lifnei iver lo titein michshol, v'yareita me'elohecha, ani adonai," "Do not curse the deaf or place a stumbling-block before the blind; rather you should fear your God; I am the Lord." As Noam explained, there is a long rabbinic tradition of reading this verse as extending far beyond the words' literal sense. She interpreted "lo t'kalel cheiresh, v'lifnei iver lo titein michshol" as instructing each of us to do what is right and kind in every situation, even when no one else is watching, and explained that being Jewish is important to her in part because it holds us all to this high ethical standard.
The second teenager I'm thinking about today is Darnella Frazier. The initial incident report filed by the Minneapolis Police Dept on May 25, 2020, had a headline that read, "Man dies after medical incident during police interaction," and of course left out many key details that that we have come to know well, including how Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into George Floyd's neck for over nine minutes, as Floyd repeatedly said, "I can't breathe." But, throughout the whole incident, this brave teenager calmly captured on film all that transpired, ultimately enabling the whole world to see. To the extent that yesterday's verdict marked a turning point in our American society -- and truly, I hope that in time, we will be able to look back and say that it did-- this 17-year-old girl and her cellphone camera will deserve much of the credit. Being able to say so also necessitates acknowledging how often this sort of racially-motivated crime, leading to injury and even to murder, has clearly happened without consequence in our country, simply because there are no witnesses. I certainly hope that Darnella Frazier's courageous act will inspire and help hold our society up to higher standards of accountability. Even more, I pray for the day when teens with cell-phones won't be the only reason that justice is sometimes served; I pray that Noam O'Connor's Torah -- about doing the right thing even when no one else is looking -- will be internalized and enacted consistently.
Third and finally, I am thinking today about Ma'Khia Bryant, the 16-year-old girl who -- mere hours after the Chauvin verdict was read in Minneapolis -- was shot and killed by a police officer in Columbus, Ohio. Like many of you, I would guess, I breathed a huge sigh of relief (and also felt some degree of surprise) when yesterday's verdict was read. But, if we didn't know it well enough already, the death of Ma'Khia Bryant stands as a stark rebuke to any who would rest too comfortably or celebrate too giddily in the wake of this just verdict; joyful celebration, while beautiful, is insufficient. As I said last week, there is still a house -- actually, many systems -- that must be destroyed and rebuilt first; there is still too much work to do as we dismantle systemic racism in America.
This week, as we pause inside the double parasha of Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, we find ourselves, quite literally, sitting in the wake of death (that's the meaning of "acharei mot") and striving towards holiness (that is "kedoshim"). May we all be inspired by Noam's Torah, and by Darnella's brave witnessing and call to accountability. May Ma'Khia's memory be a blessing, and also for a revolution.
Finally, may each of us do the right thing, over and over again, even when no one else is watching, and call on each other to do the same... so that ultimately, together, we can build a society worthy of these beautiful teenagers.
Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum
As I sit down to draft this week's message, I pray that you and yours are okay, and weathering this current wave of the pandemic with as much ease and comfort as possible. We know that so many of you have been isolating with Covid or quarantining because of exposure, and others dealing with school closures, work disruptions, and mental health challenges. Please know that the Kavana community is here and intact (even if our activities are online for the next few weeks!); we're all moving through this turbulent time together. If you need support, please don't hesitate to reach out through the Kavana office or to me directly.
Like many of you, I'm feeling the stress of this particular moment. Only a few short weeks ago, the mood felt very different: my household was finally fully vaccinated(!), Kavana was busy planning for a January return to many more in-person events, and there was a generally positive energy in the air... an optimistic zeitgeist. And then (as I'm sure I don't have to explain), this latest Omicron wave hit, like a dark cloud, complicating everything.
As we reflect back on 2021, there is no doubt that this year has been filled with ups and downs, challenges and triumphs. That said, our community has made the most of it, coming together through a wide array of in-person and online events. During 2021, Kavana deepened focus on meeting people’s core needs for communal, emotional, and spiritual support. And when we did find ways to gather -- whether in virtual space, in backyards and parks, through our powerful High Holiday experiences, etc. -- it was magical! See below for snapshots of some incredibly beautiful experiences that we shared during 2021.