Kvell and Tell – June 4 2020 – Ellie Schwartz’s Speech from Sh’ma Koleinu

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Or Ami Young Adult Ellie Schwartz delivered this speech during our event this week, Sh’ma Koleinu: Hearing the Voices of Pain During this Time of Brokenness – A Minyan for Seekers of Meaning

As I have watched the news and scrolled through social media the past few days, the death of George Floyd and the ongoing protests have consumed all my screens. I have seen posts stating that “white silence is white violence,” but I do not feel as if neglecting to post my thoughts to my Instagram story should reflect my outlook, or lack thereof, on the prevalence of racism in our world. The truth is–I do not know what to say. I do not know what to feel. 

I do know this. Back in Elementary School, My teacher would pull out a prehistoric, dusty television set and show my class a video of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and this dream is not over. This dream has changed overtime, shying away from its nightmarish truth. But it has not changed enough, and it is still a nightmare for black and brown Americans who live in constant fear. 

As a Jewish teen and the Social Action Vice President of Or Ami’s LoMPTY youth group, I feel it is important to look at these current injustices through the eyes of our Jewish values. Tikkun Olam refers to the Jewish notion of “repairing the world.” A lot of times, people aim to repair their own world, their immediate surroundings and the challenges they face based on where they live and come from. But instead of repairing our world, Tikkun Olam teaches us that we must repair the world, for we are one singular human family. 

Our Torah has taught me to welcome the stranger, to value freedom and equality, to honor democracy and disagreement, always remembering that we were all created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God. I believe that a fundamental part of repairing the world is first understanding it. As we witness the protests in Los Angeles and cities throughout this country, the divisiveness of our world has revealed a new concept for us to grasp: The commitment to Tikkun Olam is fading. It is up to us to revive its importance and help those around us, particularly our black and brown family. 

Now it is time for us to come together and engrave an end to racism in the fabric of our history. It is time for us to mold our world into everyone’s world. 

To be completely transparent, I am scared. It is terrifying to see people treat each other with such anger and violence. 2 months ago I was in school getting upset about bad hair days. It is hard to believe how much has changed since then. If someone had told me all of this was coming, I would not have believed it. 

We all are fearful of the widespread destruction of Covid-19. And honestly, Behind a closed door on a comfy couch, I have felt bad for myself many times recently. But then I watch TV, and I learn about the horror of George Floyd’s murder. I am not going to lie. I still do feel bad for myself. I feel bad that I cannot hug my friends hello and goodbye. But George Floyd’s friends did not get to give a goodbye, even from six feet away. He was taken from them unexpectedly in the cruelest way possible.

In Judaism, we value G’milut Hasadim, acts of loving kindness. It breaks my heart to know that people willingly act without kindness or sympathy. Throughout this pandemic, I have coped well because of my loving Or Ami community, and so have many others. But compassion seems to be taking a backseat in our world and is being replaced with hate. The only way for us to get through these hard times is to act with love and behave with kindness. 

Majority of police in our world act with kindness too. I have friends whose fathers are on the police force. We see in the news the bad stuff, the ugly stuff. But everyday, police officers save our lives, yet it is not tweeted or broadcasted. Rather than stereotyping groups of good people with a few bad people, we must act with respect and admiration. Through G’milut Hasadim, acts of loving kindness, I believe we can change the world to one filled with people who act kindly and justly.

Over the past week, many of us have stopped complaining that our masks do not let us breathe. Why? Because we watched an innocent black man die because another person would not let him breathe. Stuck in my home for a while, I have taken my freedom for granted, and I never will again. George Floyd was never free from fear or racism. He was never really free to live his life. So, now we must live our lives to protect those who never could. Let’s begin today.