By Lee Chottiner
After a week of protests in cities around the world – sometimes violent – in the wake the death of George Floyd, area rabbis are planning to address what led up this horrific act and the thousands of people who have taken to the streets in response.
Floyd, 46, was killed on Monday, May 25, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, while in police custody as four officers pinned him to street pavement, one of them pressing his knee on his neck for over eight minutes. All the officers have since been charged, the one with second-degree murder.
Floyd had been arrested on suspicion of passing a counterfeit bill – a nonviolent offense.
For Shabbat, area rabbis are taking up the issue and what has happened in its aftermath.
Adath Jeshurun is planning a solidarity Shabbat at 10 a.m., Saturday, with Rev. Vincent James, Sr., chief of community building at the office of Mayor Greg Fischer. James will discuss the current justice climate in Louisville and will offer solutions, according to a flier for the Zoom service.
“I will focus on everyone being created in the image of God, loving our neighbors as ourselves and police behavior is not acceptable,” said Rabbi Robert Slosberg. “There needs to be greater oversight. We also need a plan to invest huge sums of money in building up the West End.”
Rabbi Michael Wolk of Keneseth Israel, will call for three things in his sermon:
- An end to violence: “Vandalism and looting is wrong no matter who is doing it and they only hurt a righteous cause.”
- An end to protests: Even though it’s a constitutional right, because of the pandemic, it is dangerous. “We have shut down our society because we know that large groups spread the virus. This will hurt all of us, but especially black communities that have already been disproportionately affected.”
- An end to demonization of police: “An organization with so much power needs oversight and accountability, but we continue to be grateful for the people who risk their lives to keep us safe.”
“Even if these things were to happen immediately, there would still not be Shalom because African Americans cannot feel whole in a society that does not see them as fully equal humans created in the image of God,” Wolk added. “It is a stain on our society that we have never dealt with. Police brutality is only one expression of this problem.”
Rabbi Avrohom Litvin of Chabad of Kentucky plans to compare the aftermath of the 1991 Crown Heights Riots and the need for unity.
He noted a moment following the riots when then-New York City Mayor David Dinkins, meeting with the Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, asked for advice for bringing peace to both sides.
Schneerson, according to Litvin, replied that there is only one side.
“Now, more than ever before, each and every one of us needs to be part of the solution helping our one community, our one city, and our one country, heal, unite and move forward with respect and inclusiveness for all,” Litvin said.