JVP Rabbinical Council Statement as Black Churches Burn


Could it be that no one is running this world?

JVP Rabbinical Council Statement as Black Churches Burn
July 2015

A classical Jewish teaching compares Abraham’s spiritual awakening to a wanderer who saw a palace on fire. He said, “Could it be that no one is running this palace?” Just then the master of the palace looked out, and said “I am the master of the palace.” So too, Abraham looked out into the world and said, “Could it be that no one is running this world?” And the Holy Blessed One appeared to him and said “I am the master of the world.”

(Midrash, Genesis Rabbah 39:1)

God’s houses are on fire. The palace is burning and we cannot, must not look away. We are compelled to ask: Who is in charge here? Will we continue to countenance such acts of hatred? Will we allow white supremacist terrorism to threaten the fabric of Black life in the U.S.?

No, we cannot stand idly by.

We, the members of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council, are heart-broken, devastated and outraged at the recent murder of nine African Americans in the Emmanuel A.M.E. church in Charleston and the burning of seven Black churches. We stand in solidarity with church members and with all whose spiritual homes and communities are under racist attack. We believe a threat to sanctity anywhere is a threat to sanctity everywhere.

This is the time for people of all faiths to recognize the toxic reality of white supremacy in our country. We call upon our national, state and local leaders to prioritize challenging and eliminating white supremacist terror in our country. This work must include not only holding individuals accountable for their heinous acts, but also a re-commitment to uproot racism from the social, political, and economic fabric of our communities.

We offer our prayers, condolences and support to the members of the destroyed churches. We join with all people of conscience to act however and wherever we can to end the burning of Black churches, communities, and lives.

We commit ourselves to actively wrestle with the ways we may reinforce, benefit from, or be harmed by white supremacy in our lives, our communities and the wider world. As religious leaders, we stand with all who challenge structural racism, particularly inequity in educational opportunity, segregation in housing, and the shocking gap in wealth and income.

Let us find the courage to walk in the ways of Abraham, to be awake to what is real and true, and to see for ourselves that the palace is burning and that it is our responsibility to put out the fires that have been allowed to burn unabated for far too long. May we help to bring justice, healing and hope to our world, speedly and in our lifetimes.

Some ways you can take action:

  1. Help rebuild the fallen churches. Christ Church Cathedral, an Episcopal church in St. Louis, has started the Rebuild the Churches Fund. All donations are tax-deductible and will be dispersed equally to the churches whom investigators conclude were destroyed by arson.
  2. Intentionally pursue and support the leadership of Jews of color within the Jewish community.
  3. Create opportunities in your community for the study of institutionalized racism, including an exploration of white privilege and Ashkenazi dominance.
  4. Build relationships with African American religious congregations in your community, show up for their events, create opportunities to listen to their experiences and discuss how we can be in solidarity with their struggle for racial justice.


Looking for Water: a drash for Parshat Toldot

by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat


Isaac dug his father’s wells anew.
This doesn’t mean he just treaded old ground.

Avraham had plumbed the earth’s deep wisdom.
Where his pick struck soil, compassion poured.

Isaac opened up his father’s pipes
so kindness, long-delayed, could flow again.

In all who drank, a memory arose:
water, shared in the desert, saves a life.


When Isaac’s servants, digging in the wadi
found a spring, the herdsmen quarreled: “This is ours.”

Frustrated, they named that place Contention.

He dug another, they fought again: Dispute.

This trend should sound familiar. Today, who drills
— and who drinks only the infrequent rains?

What new name might we choose if we could build
a world where everyone gets enough water?


Source of all, flow through us like the rains.
Turn the spigot of abundant blessing.

Teach us we won’t die, parched and alone,
but live renewed like hillsides kissed with dew.

When we can share the stuff of which we’re made,
what makes our earth the firmament’s swirled blue,

then we will find the ample space we need
to share this earth as kin with all who thirst.

(And let us say: Amen.)

“Isaac dug his father’s wells anew.” Genesis 26:17.

“But when Isaac’s servants, digging in the wadi, found there a well of spring water, the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herdsmen, saying, ‘The water is ours. He named that well Esek, because they contended with him.” Genesis 26:19-20 

“And when they dug another well, they disputed over that one also; so he named it Sitnah.” Genesis 26:21

“In today’s world, ask: / who may drill, who only gets the infrequent rains?” See The Gap in Water Consumption between Palestinians and Israelis, B’tselem 2013.

Open a Window

by Alana Alpert, rabbinical student

In Masechet Brachot, R. Hiyya bar Abba says: “A person should always pray in a place that has windows.” Why do we need to pray in a place that has windows? Obviously because we need to look outside. But more than that – we need to pray in a place that has windows because true prayer is not just introspection; it requires engagement with what is beyond the synagogue’s walls.

There are several reasons why Parshat Hayei Sarah encourages us to reflect on prayer. The first is because it is in this parsha that Isaac goes out to the field, “la’suach”, which is interpreted as meditative prayer.

Indeed, it is Isaac’s prayer that sets the precedent for the daily afternoon mincha service.

Parshat Hayei Sarah also makes me think of prayer because the burial place of the patriarchs and matriarchs in Hebron, which is purchased by Abraham in Parshat Hayei Sarah, has become a place of prayer.

Let’s open a few windows and explore what is going on outside of the walls of our ancestor’s tomb:

Through one window we see the Casbah, the Old City of Hebron. Most of the shutters of the shops are closed since long and unpredictable curfews make it nearly impossible for businesses to function. We see metal grates hanging over many Palestinian homes, placed there to catch the garbage and rocks thrown down by the settlers above.

Through another window we see Shuhada Street. Once a center of commerce full of life, it is now empty. Palestinian families who have the bad luck of a door of their house leading onto that street have had that door sealed shut by the army.

Through another window we will see graffiti: “death to arabs” is scattered among the Stars of David.

The third reason I think about prayer when I look at Parshat Hayei Sarah is because Midrash Tanhuma, when reflecting on the parsha, tells the most beautiful midrash.

Discussing the importance of kavanah,­ mindfulness or intention ­during prayer, the rabbis declare that Abraham is the highest exemplar.  They say, “…And nobody inclined their mind and heart like our Father Abraham.” The example the rabbis bring of Abraham’s mindful and heartfelt prayer amazes me: they point to Abraham challenging God.

When God tells Abraham that he is going to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of their wickedness, he fights for the innocent, claiming that there must be some number of righteous people within the city’s gates. He asks: “Will You sweep away the innocent along with the guilty?… Far be it from you to do a thing like that!… Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?”

What if we chose to emulate our ancestors in life instead of guarding them in death?

The hevre of Project Hayei Sarah works to honor the memory of Abraham as he was at his best: speaking up for the innocent, fighting for justice. This Shabbat, thousands of Jews will travel to Hebron to pray at Maarat hamachpelah, the Tomb of the Patriarchs. For Palestinian residents, this weekend in the Jewish calendar means increased restrictions on movement and heightened risk of violence. As protest & tikkun (repair), members of Project Hayei Sarah will be opening windows into the situation in Hebron in shuls, minyans, schools, shabbat tables, and blogs. To hear more of our Torah, visit our website for dozens of video divrei Torah. Please “like” us on Facebook to support our work to reclaim this parsha towards peace & justice in Hebron.

May we find what true prayer requires of us:

the strength to look at what is going on around us, and the chutzpah to demand that things be different.

May we open a window:

l’kaveyn daateynu,

educate ourselves & others about the situation in Hebron,

l’kaveyn leebenu,

open our hearts to the suffering in the holy city of Hebron.

May we find that opening this window will do more than challenge us to ask hard questions — may it bring in air & light & hope for a better future for all of us.

Ken yehi ratzon – May it be God’s will.


Alana with Nawal and Leila from Women in Hebron, an embroidery and weaving cooperative in the Old City