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How Can We All Experience the Promised Land of Freedom?

How Can We All Experience the Promised Land of Freedom?

Man in shadow atop a mountain, arms outstretched, with sunshine behind him

The Hebrew month of Adar, which ends this week, is one of both celebration and sorrow. The Israelites mourned the death of Moses in Adar, yet in this same month they also celebrated his birth.

Moses, an imperfect man, was called by God to “come up” to the mountain. There, God told Moses:

Tell the people to bring Me gifts, from every person, whose heart so moves him, and let them make Me a Sanctuary, that I may dwell among them (Exodus 25:8).

This is a precious promise from God to God’s people; God will not only dwell with God’s people, but also in God’s people. In response, the Israelites undertake their first “national project,” learning to work together to prepare a Holy Sanctuary within themselves. God is in our midst and through the covenant, our sanctuary is within us.

Occasionally, someone asks me, “You’re Black. Why would you want to be Jewish?” My answer has to do with Moses’ determination to free the Israelites from captivity and deliver them to a land promised, yet unseen. The desire to be free and the hope of that Promised Land mirrors the suffering, the struggles, and the hoped-for freedom of my own not-so-distant ancestors.

Being both Black and Jewish is inextricably linked to my own passion for Torah, and for Jewish tradition, culture, and ritual.

God’s precious promise, through God’s covenant, is where God’s sanctuary dwells within me. All these things are braided together like the plaits of a loaf of challah on a Shabbat table.

When we talk about race in America, we often celebrate the legacy of the Revered Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., another imperfect man, considered by many to be the Moses of his day. Dr. King’s heart was moved to answer God’s call to usher his people to a Promised Land of freedom.

During the civil rights struggle, the Jewish people once again embarked upon a national project, this one focused on justice and freedom, in support of Negros from the South. They heard the call from God to respond to a people not yet free. Jews made up at least 30 percent of white volunteers who rode freedom buses to the South where they registered Blacks to vote and picketed segregated establishments. Among them were several dozen Reform rabbis, who also marched among the demonstrators in Selma and Birmingham, AL. Some Jews died during these efforts.

Have we done enough, or are we now resting on our “Jewish laurels”? Have we moved so far from one another that we are satisfied there is nothing left for us to do?

Can we cast aside our differences and go beyond the Black/Brown-Jewish dichotomy to embrace the rich complexities and differences of our combined communities to be strengthened and enriched together?

Our struggle is far from over, and this is our new national project. – but of course, I do not own this struggle alone.

We all must own it because we were all created b’tzelem Elohim, equally in God’s image. God called the Israelites to build a sanctuary and to initiate the first of many national projects. And God is still calling us.

We are not finished yet. We still are building, and much work remains to be done. Like the Israelites of old, we all have unique personal gifts we can lend to this project. As Jewish people – of every race, denomination, and ethnicity – we must continue to build together so that amidst God, we can all experience a Promised Land of freedom.

Yaffa Ru’ahh was born in Alabama and came to Los Angeles, CA, by way of Boston MA. She has been active in the Jewish community since moving to Los Angeles, where she is a member of Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood, CA.

Yaffa Ru’ahh
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