Today is the 2nd day of Rosh Hashanah, which celebrates the Jewish New Year of 5778. Rosh Hashanah, celebrated by Jews throughout the world in every country for centuries, is also the start of the holy High Holidays in Judaism.
It is also a time of reflection, traditionally spent at synagogue services and with family & friends during holiday meals which include apples dipped in honey to signify wishes for a sweet new year. Rosh Hashanah is when Jews ask for peace, prosperity and blessings on the New Year (the Jewish calendar is based on lunar cycles).
As a Jewish elected official, I take this time to renew my commitment to continue working for peace and justice, especially now in St. Louis. Like you, I am constantly searching for answers as well as guidance.
Many of you ask me over and over – “what can I do?” I have struggled alongside you with that very same question.
WHAT I KNOW
I keep coming back to what I know.
What I know is the distinct difference between Right and Wrong.
Regardless of race, faith, gender identity, age, party preference —we each need to distinguish between Right and Wrong and recognize justice or the lack of justice when we see it.
I’ve faced the question of Right and Wrong numerous times in committee or on the House floor when we vote on bills and amendments. Through many discussions on ethics (especially with fabulous 4th graders at Saul Mirowitz Community Jewish School who love to challenge me on ethics) I’ve developed a personal litmus test of Right and Wrong by evaluating the consequences of legislation on real people.
I keep it simple. If a bill has horrific consequences such as the 2017 law enforcement bill (HB57) that puts my own colleagues in further danger with measures that allow racial targeting —it is Wrong. Even with Democratic votes, it was still Wrong.
Proposals like SB43 (now signed into law) which make it easier for businesses to discriminate and harder for whistleblowers to speak up – is Wrong. Bills which interfere with private legal medical decisions and medical professionals like SB5, (also now law) which are filed in masse every year targeting women are Wrong.
I had to rely on what I know when St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson issued his verdict in the Stockley murder trial last week – HERE. This statement from the judge is enough to clearly indicate justice was compromised (the black victim had never been charged with a heroin crime):
I had been on edge as were most of St. Louis community and faith leaders for several weeks in anticipating a potential not guilty verdict but was not prepared for this in the order. I know this is Wrong.
My husband and I were out of town visiting our daughter in Kansas City last weekend but monitored reactions to the verdict in St. Louis as best I could. I was heartened to see so many civil rights and faith leaders of all types involved in peaceful protests, marches and rallies throughout the city = Right.
It was sobering to see my own congregation, Central Reform Congregation make national news and proud of my Rabbis Susan Talve and Randy Fleisher who negotiated to keep citizens safe as they exercised their right of free speech and assembly = Right. But alarmed that Twitter had to take action to the anti-semitic backlash – see Newsweek HERE = Wrong.
I was dismayed by the few who broke windows of businesses on Delmar in my district after a peaceful rally = Wrong but proud of those who quickly helped clean up and support the Loop Business district the following day. And disappointed that downtown businesses also had damage later Sunday night and very upset by a mass arrest effort that including reporters and city residents walking their dogs = Wrong.
Once back in town, I joined a diverse peaceful group of about a thousand civil rights activists & colleagues Monday evening downtown in the rain outside City Hall – all ages, races, faiths. It truly was a display of democracy and community = Right.
I was thankful for interfaith leaders who gathered this past Tuesday downtown for a prayer service and peaceful march to City Hall – including Archbishop Robert Carlson, black church pastors, Jewish and Muslim leaders, even Shaare Emeth Congregation Rabbi Jim Bennett who officiated at my wedding many years ago = Right.
But this backlash towards one of our most respected St. Louis community business leaders, Chris Sommers of Pi Pizzeria greatly disturbs me = Wrong. He was unfairly tear gassed Friday evening as he was trying to protect patrons at his restaurant in the Central West End, with no protestors or unrest in sight. As I write this, his employees are still being harassed and receiving threats which is completely unacceptable = Wrong.
I totally agree with their statement, “To create long-term change, we must address the problems of policing and racial disparities collaboratively. Law enforcement officers, community members, experts, advocates and elected officials must come together to create sustainable solutions. We must foster understanding and trust.” = Right.
WHAT I STILL KNOW
We have real problems in St. Louis (and throughout the state) with racial injustice and inequalities. None of us have all of the answers but those of us who care about civil rights know serious action is required.
As a policy maker, I think first of what needs to be done at the state and local level. Our former Speaker of the House, John Diehl, announced on his first day as speaker in 2015, that there would be no “Ferguson agenda” advanced. He made it clear. With the passage of numerous punitive anti-people bills since then (do you have a few hours for me to list them all?), I am greatly frustrated. And angry.
We must insist that extensive proposals recommended by the Ferguson Commission be implemented – and work to demand action until they are. I’m learning that justice takes constant work and dedication.
I believe that most of us know what is “Right” and what is “Wrong”.
I urge you to stay informed, be involved and commit to working for justice for all. I keep hearing in my head the voice of my friend, Washington University Professor Jason Purnell, with “For The Sake of All”, who reminds us that “our time is now”.
I’m inspired by Congressman John Lewis and Senator Kamala Harris who say: “If you’ve ever wondered what you would have done during the Civil Rights Movement, this is your opportunity to find out. #goodtrouble.”
Happy Jewish New Year (or Shana Tovah in Hebrew) – may it be a sweet, peaceful and just new year for all.