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Growing My Activist Voice

A message from Hazzan Shulamit

During the past week, I’ve had several opportunities to be more visible as an activist clergy person in the public realm, and I thought it might be meaningful to share a little of my experience with all of you. For over 12 years, I’ve been watching how Rabbi Burt, Rabbi David, and Rabbi Dev take leadership in different activist realms– always inspiring– and I’m continuing to find my own voice in new ways.

I went to my first Non-Violence/De-escalation training on August 19 and got involved with a group called the Interfaith Movement for Black Lives, which was part of a broader coalition organizing a response to the “Alt-Right” rally planned in Berkeley on Aug 27. I was invited to be one of the media spokespeople for the Interfaith group, and I did my first press conference with the coalition on Aug 24, including leaders from PEACE Out Loud, Community Readiness Core, the Anti-Police Terror Project, Showing Up for Racial Justice, Jobs for Justice, and others. Here is the message I delivered, as a Jewish clergy person, affiliated with Kehilla, and part of the Interfaith group:

“We are here to affirm that our real security lies in our relationships with one another.

Right now, we’re in the Jewish month of Elul, when we prepare for our High Holy Days by re-calibrating our moral and spiritual compass. We aim to re-align with our best selves and direct our efforts for personal healing, community building, and repairing the world by leaning into and tending our relationships.

We will not let the reality of white supremacy as the building block of our nation, racism, anti-Jewish oppression, Islamaphobia, anti-immigration efforts, or any other form of oppression divide us and deter us. We will continue reaching for connection with each other and doing the critical work of eliminating institutional violence.

We are ALL a sacred part of existence and will we continue to lift up the dignity and humanity of each and every person.”

I was trembling on the steps of Berkeley City Hall in front of many cameras and reporters, holding fast to the hands of the people nearest me, awaiting my turn. I surprised myself with the firmness and conviction of my tone, and was heartened to have tapped into a well of fierce love that is so nurtured by our community.

At First Congregational Church of Berkeley, on Sunday, Aug 27, I offered an opening prayer for the Interfaith group who gathered with the Choral Majority before many hundreds of us marched together or stayed to sing and meditate in support of love and unity. It was awesome to look out and see so many beloved Kehilla folks in the pews, and later in the streets! This is the prayer I offered:

“Reb Zalman Schachter Shalomi, of blessed memory, the teacher of my teachers, used to say:  “We have to get it together, together”.  And this is a mighty fine gathering of souls.

I would like to invoke the power of Love.

Love is the building block that illuminates our shared humanity and our shared holiness. May love inspire us to be accountable to ourselves and to each other, fueling our pursuit of justice and peace, and ever deepening our solidarity.

Kaveh el Hashem, chazak v’yameitz libecha, v’kavey el Hashem (Psalm 27)

Let us immerse ourselves in the great, unifying Oneness, and be strong and courageous of heart.”

Having marched through those streets of Berkeley on Aug 27 with Rabbi Dev and an amazing crew from Kehilla at the rally near the crescent, and then as part of the Interfaith group, I feel uplifted and inspired to dive into the spiritual work of Elul.  For me, this means reflecting deeply on my own growing edges, sitting in the discomfort that arises, and trying to make amends with myself and other people. It means thinking about how to leverage my privilege as a white, cis-gendered person, while honoring my queer Jewish self and experience. It means thinking about the diversity of experience within our own community and how we move forward with integrity. It means continuing to build relationships with people and clergy in different communities of faith. It’s going to take strength and courage of heart!

May we all lean into our beloved community for the support we need to do our High Holiday preparation with love, curiosity and accountability. My gratitude for being part of Kehilla is immeasurable.Thank you for sharing in my ongoing journey of finding my voice and showing up in new ways.

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