The Alameda 4th of July Parade
This morning was so glorious. It was the reason I rushed my family into Alameda: so we could join the Temple Israel of Alameda 4th of July float. Along the parade route, I heard “there’s a synagogue in Alameda?” and also “you should have used spell-checked; there’s a misspelling on your sign.” (From a man convinced my last name should have been written as the name for a different type of clergy.) These were the more out of place responses to our celebration of community and patriotism. At other times, I heard people read the sign or shout “Welcome, Rabbi.” And I shouted back, “that’s me!”
Honestly, it was a joyous occasion. We didn’t see all of the parade entries, but we did see people from a plethora of communities — Native Americans, Mexican cowboys, Chinese dragon dancers, East Bay Korean community, along with churches, Boy Scouts, marching bands, and queer pride. The entry in front of us featured a drag queen who walked half the route in incredibly high heels. Behind us was dance music on loud speakers and amazing dancers who kept the joy flowing throughout the parade.
Joyous Community and Political Reality
Along the route, we saw plenty of signs that brought joy to my heart. Alameda is a progressive community that strongly supports reproductive healthcare and diversity. The parade was canceled the last two years and the crowds weren’t as big as they were pre-COVID. Yet, we had the opportunity to gather as a community to celebrate the nation we are building together.
Nationalism doesn’t belong to any political party. As a Peace & Justice Studies major at Wellesley College, my understanding of communal identity was solidified by Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson. There’s no way I could ever give up on the idea of America, regardless of the atrocious decrees of the Supreme Court. The communities we are building, the nation we are weaving, will outlast the regressive decisions plaguing us this year.
Mass Death at Highland Park Parade
So, I came home excited to share my first public experience as a rabbi. Of course, I was stopped in my tracks by the mass shooting at a similar parade in Highland Park, Illinois, a community with a large Jewish population. Six people dead and at least twenty-four wounded. Person of interest identified, though not arrested at the scene despite heavy police presence.
Living Through Social Upheaval
When I was in my mid-20s, a documentary of Bob Dylan came out that used the phrase “social upheaval” to describe the 1960s. I had been searching for a name for my political blog and decided to use the phrase to describe the nonviolent paradigm shifts I saw as necessary to create a more just society. That blog isn’t really available anymore. I still use the handle on Twitter, in part because my last secular boss enjoyed having me post professionally from the handle.
As a young idealist, I never imagined this would be the social upheaval I would live through. Where people ignore the raging pandemic around them. Ignore the life-altering possibility of Long COVID, ignore the continuing death, and declare masks so obtrusive that no one is required to wear them. I never thought a president would lie about losing re-election and that so many of my fellow citizens would be taken in by that lie — including elected officials. I didn’t think Christian nationalists would take over the Supreme Court and make women less equal. I always thought the reproductive freedom movement was bilking people of money, fundraising for a right that was firmly settled. As a peace activist, it drove me crazy that no one seemed to care about international human rights or increasing women’s involvement in peace-building and nation-building efforts. I could not imagine that the Supreme Court would remove the rights of every person with a uterus to their own healthcare decisions, based on a Christian understanding of “souls” and “life.” Nevermind that the concept of the soul was created by pagan Greeks, making its way into Judaism in the Hellenistic Age (after our Bible was written). Or that Jewish religious freedom to prioritize living life over potential life is denied by the ruling. Never did I think a Supreme Court would rule based on a lie, making public schools open to forced Christian evangelism.
This is not the social upheaval I signed up for.
As we hold space for more dead, we must join together in action. The following organizations are not a complete list of every organization working on the issues of gun violence, COVID, reproductive healthcare, Ukraine support, and Jewish social action in the United States. They are some of the most prominent (from a progressive, Jewish perspective).
Lean into Mourning
Don’t overlook the need to mourn all that has been lost. Remember that we might need to see graphic photographs of mass killing victims to awaken the silent majority in this country. We need to realize that the humans who died lining a street to watch a parade were innocent victims, just as the children in Uvalde were, and the Black grocery shoppers in Buffalo. No matter how often these horrific events happen, we cannot ignore them. Each life lost was infinitely important.
The Three Weeks Are Coming
The Jewish calendar has an interesting summer cycle. We descend into mourning and then climb our way up to spiritual renewal on Rosh HaShanah. The mourning period begins on the 17 of Tammuz, a date on the Hebrew calendar that corresponds to July 17th this year. I know many of us are already mourning the loss of shared understanding of what it means to be American. The annual mourning period in the Jewish calendar reflects collective mourning for the destruction of the First and Second Temples. Spiritually, it also provides a rhythm to the annual journey around the sun and with the moon. We must dive into the depths of our souls and reckon with the darkness before we can reach for the light.