Identity, Justice, Politics, Religion

"Ad Matay?"

Editor’s Note: This post is the third in Jewschool’s series of reflections on Judaism, Jewish identity, race and the events in Ferguson.

MaNishtana is an Orthodox Jewish blogger, author of “Thoughts From A Unicorn: 100% Black. 100% Jewish. 0% Safe” and “Fine, thanks. How are YOU, Jewish?”. He blogs at

Before I get into the topics of Michael Brown or Eric Garner which have been dominating the news cycle these past couple of weeks, I’d like to discuss something entirely different first.

As the recent massacre in Yerushalayim two weeks ago have shown us, the world is experiencing an unprecedented spike in anti-Semitism, and I’d like to direct you to just some of the alarming amounts of incidents involving the mishandling of justice when it comes to Jews.

In April 2006 in Brooklyn, 75-year old Arthur Schick was pulled over by officers in Borough Park for talking on his cellphone while driving. Schick allegedly became uncooperative and was arrested, being manhandled by police who threw the elderly man into the back of the van after he fell on the first step. The community protested outside of a police station house later that night, the protest eventually escalating into a riot, ending with several bonfires burning and a police car set aflame.

Also in 2006, in Ukraine, chatan Nachman Marczewski was killed while leaving from his aufruf which had stretched late into the night, after being fired upon by three police officers who did not identify themselves. The cops were found not guilty.

In 2009, while on the ground after being arrested at a German subway stop, unarmed Mikhail Korczak was shot in the back by the arresting officer. Mikhail died seven hours later.

In 2012, French Jewish teen Hayyim Aronszajn was arrested and placed in the back of a police vehicle, handcuffed. Mysteriously, he died in that backseat of a gunshot to the head. The arresting officers claimed Hayyim shot himself. In the right side of the head. In the back of a police car. While handcuffed. And being left-handed. The coroner’s office signed off on it. No charges were ever brought.

And then there is the troubled town of Lubusza, Poland. In 2006 two private security guards—one the son of a local police officer, the other a volunteer for the department—killed a Jewish teen with a gunshot in his back. Even though they admitted to never identifying themselves, the guards were released without charges. Then, in 2010, the son of a Lubusza police lieutenant, sucker-punched a elderly Jew outside a bar, and officers on the scene released him without charges. He eventually surrendered after video of the incident materialized online. The police chief at the time was ultimately forced into retirement. As it would turn out, the same patrol sergeant in charge on the night of the assault on the Jew outside of the bar, would also be the first supervisor on the scene of the shooting death of Jacob Steinhaus in 2012, a teen who was gunned down by a paranoid neighborhood watchman believing Steinhaus to be trouble. The gunman got off.

This year, Stanislaw Tarski, another Jewish teen, would be gunned down at a gas station for playing his music too loud.

Now, right now, that anger you’re feeling? That outrage? That indignation of such atrocities happening in places where the looming shadow of anti-Semitism has never really left?

I want you to hold on to that.

I want you to hold on to that feeling of wanting to lash out, of wanting to cry out for Mashiach to end this galut, of wanting to scream “Ad Matay?” to the heavens.

Because of all of the incidents I just mentioned, only of them is true. Well for Jews, anyway.

There was a groom who was killed leaving his engagement party. But his name was Sean Bell, and it was in New York. He was African-American.

Mikhail Korczak didn’t exist, but Oscar Grant did. He was shot in the back while lying handcuffed on the floor at a subway station in California in 2009. He was African-American.

There was never a blatant cover-up of the death of Hayyim Aronszajn in 2012, but in Arkansas of that year the police and coroner’s office both signed off on the impossibility of a handcuffed man shooting themselves in the head in the back of a police car. His name was Chavis Carter. He was African-American.

And the town of Lubusza, Poland may not have the same history of police corruption and racial tension, but the town of Sanford, Florida definitely does. There was no Jacob Steinhaus. But there was a Trayvon Martin. He, too, was African-American.

The important question for you, dear reader, is whether or not the outrage you originally felt disappeared when you discovered that the events I described above mostly happened to “only” African-Americans.

If you could show any hint of support for communities which experienced events which you thought were directed at Jews, then how can you not feel some sense of empathy for the pain of the Ferguson community? Outrage at the verdict that declared that an act witnessed on camera of choking a man to death—a death declared a homicide by a coroner—was somehow unworthy of being indicted?

Is it because Michael Brown was allegedly involved in a convenience store robbery?

The police officer who shot him was unaware of that fact and was harassing him solely for not walking on the sidewalk. And even if the police officer did know, is it reasonable to expect a death sentence for stealing five cigarettes?

Is it because Eric Garner was illegally selling cigarettes? (He wasn’t by the way. He was breaking up a fight. The allegations of him selling cigarettes were tacked onto the story later, but the truth is the cops were on scene to address the fight which Eric garner had broken up). But even if he was selling cigarettes illegally, have you ever been choked to death for illegally reselling tickets to a concert you couldn’t make it to?

Consider the case of Arthur Schick, then, the one true incident I listed.

Schick was being arrested for being in violation of being on a cellphone in his car. If the arresting officer had decided to, chas v’shalom, empty his gun into him, would it have been justified because Schick had broken the law?

Even though the manhandling Schick received was met with protest and riot, the fact remains, however, that the officer was in the right and Schick had violated the law. Should the community of Ferguson be less outraged that Officer Darren Wilson’s altercation with Michael Brown ended not in unnecessary roughness, but death? With the victim’s body left to lay in the sun, uncovered, for four hours, while his blood flowed down the street? Should New York be less outraged that a man actually being the productive member of society that everyone chides African-Americans to be, engaging in civic altruism, was rewarded by having his cries of “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe” ignored by the police officer using a banned technique on him?

As often as people tout the non-violent methods of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., they seem to forget that even he did not condone nor condemn rioting, and acknowledged it, even in its undesirability, as being “the language of the unheard.”

In this past week’s parsha, Vayetze, Rachel, embittered that she is not bearing any children, complains to Yaakov. Yaakov angrily replies, “Am I in Hashem’s stead?” We learn that Yaakov is punished for this harsh statement.

But why? Isn’t he correct? Isn’t childbirth and conception in Hashem’s hands? Why is Yaakov Avinu being taken to task for showing Hashem honor?

Because he is not being empathetic to Rachel’s pain. When another is in pain, it is not time for one to give lessons or offer pontifications. Just empathy.

In this week’s parsha, Vayishlach, Yaakov sends messenger after messenger to his brother Esav with gifts, empathetic to the fact that Esav might still be a little sore from the pain of losing out on the blessing of the birthright.

As Jews, having been persecuted across the world for millennia, how is it that some of us cannot afford empathy for the group most similarly oppressed in a time of great pain? Have we forgotten the “legal” oppression we endured of the Inquisition and the Third Reich?

And let us not forget that—unlike African-Americans who had to build lives amidst the ashes of the country which enslaved them, side by side with their former, now bitter, slave-owners—Jews left their countries of bondage, whether freely or by force.

How successful would Jews have been if, instead of a fresh new start in America or Israel, Jews had to rebuild their community in Germany, side by side with neighbors who did little to help them, knowing that many of them were in full support of the Nazi regime?

And if you still feel that the justice system here in the United States works equally across race or ethnicity, then consider this one fact: Arthur Schick went home. Michael Brown didn’t. Neither did Eric Garner.

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