Addressing Equality for All
Rabbi’s Message – February 9, 2021
There’s a well-known rabbinic parable where a community is saving babies that are found floating in the river and how they go through more and more steps to save these babies, utilizing precious resources and time, until someone in the town gets the brilliant idea to go upstream and figure out why babies are getting put in the river in the first place.
As we consider Black History Month, the progress we’ve made and where we might go in combating racial disparities and civil injustices in our communities, it’s important to recognize that we need both the ones saving the babies and the ones going upstream to address a problem. This story is told often by the Religious Action Center to give energy and purpose before speaking with elected officials and becoming the “brilliant” ones going upstream to solve the problem. But here’s the thing – while they were going upstream, there were still babies that needed to be saved. Changing the policies for tomorrow doesn’t do much for those affected by them today.
Here’s one graph, of many that I have seen, which shows in numbers the disparate effects of COVID-19 on minority groups, particularly People of Color. While the virus doesn’t care what color our skin is, or what religion we practice, or who we love – the systematic differences we have created and allowed to exist lead to graphs like this one, where we see drastically different rates of hospitalization of black patients in Atlanta. Why is this?
The conditions in the United States have lead to disparities in several areas, including physical environment, health and healthcare, occupation and job conditions, income and wealth, and education. It doesn’t take much to see how these are intertwined and contribute to make living under pandemic conditions more challenging and more dangerous for those who do not have equal access and opportunity.
We have seen this play out over the last year with data showing that people of color, particularly blacks, are more likely to contract the virus, to get severely ill or die from it, and now, are less likely to have access to a trusted source of the vaccine.
What can we do? We can be the Heschel’s and Dr. King’s of our generation, walking hand-in-hand, going upstream to do something about systemic racism. AND we also need to be the ones kicking off our shoes and diving into the river to save the babies. It is not enough to do one or the other. Each arm that gets a vaccine is potentially a life, or many lives saved. I am proud that your bimah team – Rabbi Bodney-Halasz, Courtney Cummings, and myself – are I am part of various groups actively trying to ensure doses of the vaccine are getting to accessible locations, through mobile units, to those in West Dayton, among other efforts locally.
So what can we do? We’ve talked before about “getting out the vote” to encourage the democratic process and make sure all voices are heard. How do we “get out the vaccine”? If you know someone who doesn’t have equal access to make or get to a vaccine appointment, help them (safely) make an appointment, make sure they know when they are eligible, share information on social media about vaccine clinics, and the like. Person by person and appointment by appointment, we can ensure a safe and healthy future for everyone today and even for tomorrow’s babies.