Cherie Brown on Fighting Racism

FIRST DAY of ROSH HASHANAH
TALK BY CHERIE R BROWN
SEPTEMBER 21, 2017
It is an honor for me to be speaking today.  When David called me shortly after the events in Charlottesville and asked me to try and say something that could reach people’s hearts, connecting the Torah reading for today to the issue of racism, I was first humbled, and then I totally panicked.  The Torah reading is about Sarah telling Abraham to kick out Ishmael and Hagar and God telling Avram to listen to Sarah.  It’s about Hagar and Ishmael wandering in the desert, about to die from lack of water and their crying out to God.  The Torah reading is about racism; it’s about exile; it’s about nation building; it’s about starvation; and it’s about conflicting narratives.  It becomes quickly overwhelming.  And the growing list of issues we face today are just like that: they are overwhelming.   White supremacists shouting racist and anti Semitic chants.  Devastating floods in Texas, India, and Bangladesh.  Hurricanes in the Caribbean and Florida and Puerto Rico.  Not to mention all the contributing factors from  climate change.  A proliferation of nuclear weapons.  And that doesn’t even begin to address all of the horrific policies of our 45th President.  Where do we even begin? Several years ago, I was about to give a keynote speech at the University of Texas in Denton.  Right before my talk, the international director of Amnesty International addressed the group.  He gave a hard hitting speech about all the horrific human rights violations taking place worldwide.  I happened to be in the women’s room right after his talk, and I overheard two young women commiserating with each other, “There are so many awful things going on in the world.  After that talk, we are totally depressed.  Nothing we do could possibly make a difference.  Let’s just go home.” And yet, Rosh Hashanah is calling us, shouting to us to break through our numbness, to hear the sound of the Shofar–to dare to let our hearts break about what is happening all around us.  To not just go home. So this morning, I want to try and break through the feelings of helplessness I know we all battle and to offer four specific actions or attitudes on the work on racism that we can each do now.

Unhealed Terror

It is my understanding that this was the first time the story of a Holocaust survivor had ever been aired on national television in the United States, and the program treated Ms. Kohner’s story as just another made-for-television soap opera. If this was how the non-Jewish world treated the survivors of the Holocaust in the 1950s, what hope was there for the Jewish world to find a place to grieve?