Confederate Statues

Upon going to Rome during my year in Israel, my dad said “You have to go see arco tito.” Little did i know that arco tito, the Arch of Titus, was located just outside one of the 7 wonders of the world, the Roman Colosseum. Engraved on the arch, one sees Roman soldiers carrying off booty from the Temple, including the Menorah, and Jews being driven into exile. Upon visiting, I thought ‘Why is one of the most humiliating moments of our people’s history located in such a prominent place in Rome? Why instead can’t we celebrate the continuation of the Jewish people and remember the downfall of the Roman Empire?’

On Thursday we began 3 weeks of mourning, starting with the Roman breach of Jerusalem and ending with Tisha B’Av, when the Second Temple was destroyed. During the summer, when many people are celebrating at the beach or on vacation, we are supposed to enter a period of mourning, not cutting one’s hair or shaving, going to concerts, weddings, and as we enter the final 9 days not eating meat or drinking wine. Some do not even take a warm shower or do laundry. While some are inevitably easier to do this year during the plague that is coronavirus, as a people we communally warm the destruction of our holiest site and our exile from Judea. It is a very difficult time for our people, which makes it all the more insensitive that an arch to celebrate our defeat is prominently on display in Rome.

I use this as a jumping off point for the Confederate statues that many want to take down. These statutes, made to celebrate those who seceded from our Union and to honor those who fought for slavery, have no place on the streets of our country. I wouldn’t melt them down-they can have a place in our museums-but they don’t belong in town squares any more than the Arch of Titus belongs in the center of Rome. Progress is being made to be more sensitive to those things that cause offense-such as the Washington Redskins changing their name-but we still have a long way to go. Moving the Confederate statues is a small but important step in serving the goal of being more understanding of our country’s troubling history and taking steps to make amends for it.

While I believe those statues must go, I feel differently about Mount Rushmore and some other “hotspots of debate.” Past presidents had ideas and policies that we find abhorrent today. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned hundreds of slaves with Jefferson having and affair with one, Andrew Jackson led tens of thousands of Native Americans on the Trail of Tears, and Theodore Roosevelt dishonorably discharged an entire regiment of African American soldiers. While we can take issue with their beliefs and the actions they led to (not to mention Woodrow Wilson) that does not negate that they served as President of our country. Similarly current leaders, as politically correct as some might be, might have policies that future generations will find abhorrent based on new knowledge and developments. That does not negate the good that current leaders can do and the place in history that they will occupy.

There’s no question that it is difficult to draw a line. The line I draw is what was someone’s intention: was it to divide and break away from our great country or was it to lead us as best as they could, recognizing that their views and actions, like all of ours, are imperfect. I believe there is a way to withdraw those things which are most offensive without fully engaging in a cancel culture, pretending that our Founding Fathers’ owning slaves “never existed” or eradicating them because they made indefensible choices. Let us be honest with our past and keep it alive for future generations while concurrently eliminating those elements which are most offensive.


Is zealotry good or bad? Is it good to be so passionate and so ardent that you put your career, your reputation, your life on the line for a cause? Pinhas did that-his jumping in to kill Zimri and Cozbi when they were doing cultic worship at G-d’s altar put an end to the plague afflicting Israel. Sir Rabbi Jonathan Saks said, as I learned at Parshat HaShavua, that because Pinhas acted in the moment and during the sexual act he was validated; had he responded too soon or too late he would have been vilified. 

         We know that hesitation is a hideous demon and that we cannot always hold back or analyze all the possible outcomes ad nauseum. At times we need to be zealous, to fight for what we believe in. Yet if we are zealous about everything we do not have a grounded perspective and like one who is overly hesitant, we lose credibility. We become known as one who is “my way or the highway.” The goal is to be in the middle, to carefully and strategically pick and choose our battles. 

         As we look at the world “through freedom’s eyes”, with the freedom to choose whatever we want, let us remember this lesson of zealotry. May we remember the zealotry of Pinhas, that at sometimes we need to act in the moment rather than “wait for it” even if it means putting ourselves on the line. At other times we need to carefully analyze and choose wisely, or we end up like the Sicarii zealots who began the Great Revolt against Rome, leading to the destruction of the Second Temple and ultimately our exile from Judea. As we are in the 3 weeks between the Roman breach of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple, let us remember the example of the Sicarii zealots as a time when we jumped in over our head while concurrently recognizing that at times we need to be like Pinhas, acting in the moment rather than waiting for a consensus. May we choose wisely. 


What a historic week capped off by Juneteenth, the emancipation of slavery in Texas in 1865. We also have a holiday celebrating freedom from slavery-Passover. In college at UW-Madison I took a course on Black-Jewish Relations that centered on the community of Brownsville, Brooklyn. It was fascinating to learn about how Black-Jewish relations have changed over time. I also learned firsthand from Jews of Color, being mentored by Rabbi Capers Funnye in Chicago (first time I ever gave a D’var Torah and people shouted “Amen Brother!”) and in working with Jews for Racial and Economic Justice.

June is also Pride Month, and we saw the Supreme Court’s legislation protecting people from discrimination regardless of sexual orientation. We also saw the Supreme Court protect Dreamers, those who came to the United States as children and many of whom have now grown up in our country. As a mentioned in our portion, “There shall be one law for you and for the resident stranger; it shall be a law for all time throughout the ages. You and the stranger shall be alike before the LORD.”[1]

We need to remember that each of us is made in the image of G-d and to love everyone for who they are, rather than who we want them to be. I thank Kim Foster for creating Bet Shira Facebook ads for Equality and for Pride which hopefully will be posted next week.

Let us also remember the quote from Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”[2] Now is the time to fight against injustice, for “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”[3] Let us now lift every voice and sing (from the comfort of our homes so as not to spread COVID-19) for who we are and for what we hope to achieve as a congregation.

[1] Numbers 15:15

[2] Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “I have a Dream,” August 28, 1963.

[3] Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from the Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963.