Eight years ago, Pastor Chris Harris and I began a meaningful friendship that has evolved into an important effort to create deeper partnerships between the Jewish community and predominantly black faith communities. Our congregation, along with Bright Star Church, has been at the forefront of what has proven to be a remarkable journey of honest communication, deepening understanding and meaningful action. It is truly breathtaking to see what has been accomplished in such a short amount of time and how our original vision has expanded to include major philanthropies, vital institutions, city, state and federal officials, along with the interfaith community. All of this will be on full display tomorrow in a “Faith Community Led Peaceful Demonstration” to protest the pervasive racism in our country and to begin to take the steps toward improving police and community relations, racial reconciliation and healing. This march has the support of our Mayor and has been planned with the full cooperation of the Chicago Police Department. Like the interfaith march that Pastor Harris led in Bronzeville two weeks ago, I believe that this demonstration represents the best of Chicago and the essence of our First Amendment right to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. I am so very proud that our community has been such an integral part of this effort from the very start.
Under normal circumstances, I would strongly encourage attendance by our Anshe Emet community. As we remain in the midst of a global pandemic, these are hardly normal times. While the march is taking place outdoors and there is a “no mask no march” policy and a focus on social distancing, the dangers of COVID-19 are still very much present. Being in a high-risk category myself, I have made the difficult decision not to march tomorrow. However, Pastor Harris has asked me to represent the Jewish community in a prayer from the bandshell at Grant Park. Because I will have limited contact with others in that setting and because of the significance of the moment, I have accepted the honor. Most importantly, while this march is an important step in the struggle to combat racism and create a more equitable society, it is part of a much longer process of societal change. There will be many opportunities in the future for our community to participate in this historic struggle.
Please know that your family’s health and safety is our priority and we understand each of us must make our own choices in this regard. If you are high risk, living with someone high risk, or planning on visiting someone who is high risk, please consider virtual participation because it is not only your health that you may be jeopardizing but also the health of others close to you. I urge you to make the decision that is safest for you and your family whether to participate in the march in person or to watch, share and/or re-post the Facebook Live feed from the Bright Star Church.
If you choose to march these are the recommendations from public health experts for maintaining personal safety:
This is a significant moment for a nation that has struggled from its very inception with the plague of racism and the violence and inequity that it has spawned. I believe that real, sustained change is possible, and that it is our collective obligation as Jews to do everything we can to fight for a brighter and more just tomorrow. The march that began in Gettysburg which led to Selma continues through Chicago and into the future.
Rabbi Michael S. Siegel