On August 14th, 2020, Rabbi Deborah Brin asked me to write this section of the Martyrology for Nahalat Shalom Yom Kippur services. She asked me to write about Black Lives Matter.  And she asked me to include names. On August 14, 2020, the names rising up from mouths of grieving and angry protesters around the nation were:  George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Breonna Taylor, Atantiana Jefferson, Stephon Clark, Botham Jean, Philando Castille, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Ahmaud Arbery and on and on and on …

These are names of those killed by state sanctioned violence driven by our nation’s brutal unbroken legacy of antiBlack racism.

Today, as I write on August 31st, the names are different.  More people have become martyred.  Now we’re sobbing and whispering and wailing and screaming the names: Trayford Pellerin, Latrell Allen, Julian Lewis, and Jacob Blake, who as of August 28th laid handcuffed to a hospital bed and paralyzed.

The Movement for Black Lives demands an End to the War Against Black People: demands an end to the criminalization, incarceration, and killing of Black people; calling not only for individual accountability of officers after a murder, but accountability of entire police departments.  There is no question that criminalization, incarceration and directly state-sanctioned violence is a massive threat to Black people in the U.S. today.  The Pueblo Action Alliance and All African People’s Revolutionary Party of New Mexico remind us “The institution of policing in the United States was created to control, criminalize, and brutalize African and Indigenous peoples on stolen land. The targeting of African, Indigenous, Chicano, and colonized people by police is rooted in the white supremacist, settler-colonial capitalist American project.”

?מִי יִחְיֶה וּמִי יָמוּת
Who will live and who will die?   

There is no question that looms larger over Yom Kippur than this one. 

Rabbi Ari Lev of Philadelphia’s Kol Tzedek says “Today we refuse water and food, work and sex, bathing and the comforts of our normal life. Today we allow ourselves the opportunity to consider our mortality, to confront it, perhaps, to accept it.  Today we ask, who will live and who will die.”

As I sit here and write on August 31st, I wonder, how do I write martyrology for people who are still living?

The horrific truth is that we don’t yet know the names of the vibrant people who will become the next martyrs of racialized state-sanctioned violence when this is read on Yom Kippur, September 28th, 2020.  Those people are living and breathing today. 

The horrific truth is that this feeling of being next, who will live and who will die, shrouds the daily lives of Black people in the U.S. right now.

I have to make room in the writing for their names.  We must make room in our hearts for those yet to be massacred.

We remember the souls killed since August 31st

Dijon Kizzee (Los Angeles)

Deon Kay (Washington DC)

Rabbi Lev reminds us, the Movement for Black Lives started with a love letter to Black people written by Alicia Garza. The letter concluded:  “Black people. I love you. I love us. Our lives matter, Black Lives Matter.”  This movement has always had love at the center of its message.

Rabbi Lev reminds us: Black Lives Matter is a rehumanizing project.
And so too, is Yom Kippur.

When Black folks claim the love that has been taken by white supremacy/anti-Black racism we are all shown a powerful model of what rehumanization can look like: to be deeply in love with our own people.

Yom Kippur calls us to this task, a rehumanization that requires us to keep making room in our broken hearts.

Laya Saad teaches “Anti-Blackness is ugly.  It hurts.  And it is necessary to name it for what it is, for without naming it and confronting it face-to-face, all this work remains an exercise in intellectualizing and theorizing.  Antiracism work that does not break the heart open cannot move people toward meaningful change.”

Black Lives Matter is ultimately a rehumanizing project.
And so too, is Yom Kippur. This Jewish rehumanization requires us to keep making room in our broken hearts.

I close this section of martyrology for people who are still living with a call to action, and inspiration and invitation, from organizer, educator and curator Mariame Kaba. Her work focuses on ending violence, dismantling the prison industrial complex, transformative justice and supporting youth leadership development.

“Let this radicalize you

rather than lead you to despair.”

Mariame KabaI

I am grateful for the generosity, insight, brilliance, and collaboration of my friend and colleague Graie Hagans to whom I owe much of the grounding that is at the foundation of this piece.

For more writing on High Holidays, click here to watch/read: Shofarot