Trayvon Martin case should inspire us to take action for better community

www.bethyam.orgAugust 5, 2013 

It is now three weeks since the jury handed down its not guilty verdict to the court and made George Zimmerman a free man. Cable news extracted its market share, transforming the trial into a worldwide phenomenon. Americans marched and listened to speeches in communities, mostly from the leadership of the African-American community. We have heard many folks, including legal experts, speak about the "should have" decisions and the strategy of the legal teams, as well as speculation about the actions of the defendant and the victim Trayvon Martin. There comes a time, however, when we as a nation must move beyond "should have" and begin learning lessons.

Let me share a time-honored story from the Jewish tradition about the biblical Abraham's son Isaac who supposedly asked God; "When you made the world, including the expanse of heaven and earth and every herb you made and every beast, you said that they were good; but when you made us in your image, you did not say of us in Scripture that humanity was good. Why, eternal one?" And God answered him; "Because I have not yet perfected you, because through the Torah you are to perfect yourselves, and to perfect the world. All other things are complete; but you have yet to grow. When that happens I will call humanity good."

So it is clear from the annals of Jewish wisdom. Is it not evident from our own experience that our work to finish creation is not done? Is God waiting for us to do the heavy lifting for ourselves and complete the creation process by perfecting humanity? Clearly Trayvon Martin's death and the verdict struck a nerve in many Americans and shined a light upon an old narrative of racial profiling insisting that it still exists. At the same time there are many who reject the contention that the case was about race. Could that be the reason we have heard so little from religious leaders and organizations outside the African-American community?

Ultimately, the point is that wherever we stand on the verdict of this case, the loss of life and the legal wrangling that captivated us for more than 18 months we should be reflecting on many issues that challenge our moral and spiritual compass.

President Obama has challenged Americans to "search our souls." I also heard him appealing to the nation to understand that for him and many African-Americans, the narrative of Trayvon is symbolic of a much larger history of profiling, hunting and killing blacks. It is a narrative, he continued "that does not go away" despite the obvious progress that has been happened in race relations.

Americans come from different racial, religious and ethnic backgrounds and carry with them painful stories that are ingrained in their spiritual DNA from as far back as 2,000 ago. Certainly we have read enough reports of Latinos profiled by the police and deported even if their children are full citizens. Jews are no strangers to profiling in their history, knowing full well that hatred leads to the same end regardless of time and place. Many religious denominations, ethnic groups and races who yearned to come to our shores have the same kinds of violent and demeaning experiences from their previous countries stamped upon their collective memories too. Needless to say that the Americans of Japanese descent understood this idea when profiling was legal and they were herded into concentration camps during World War II.

So when I say that our work is not done, I mean there is a great opportunity for the faith community to build bridges and to hear the stories and respect the pain of Americans from their past, whether or not we agree on the results of the case itself. Whatever we can do to alleviate and rid ourselves of violence and of racial, religious and ethnic profiling on any level by citizens, the police or government that leads to safer communities and tolerant ones will be a tribute to the memory of Trayvon Martin.

The sages of my tradition say from the pages of the Talmud, "Say always, 'The world was created for my sake,' and never say, 'Of what concern is all this to me?' Live as if all life depended upon you. Do your share to add some improvement, to supply some one thing that is missing, and to leave the world a little better for your stay in it.'"

The mission to complete the work of God's creation is our responsibility. Each of us can make a difference, and it is tragic that an altercation between these two individuals led to the needless death of a young man and that a youth like Trayvon will no longer contribute his part to shaping a better world. But that should not stop us from working to make our country inclusive, safe, spiritually generous and compassionate.

Columnist Rabbi Brad L. Bloom is the rabbi at Congregation Beth Yam on Hilton Head Island. He can be reached at 843-689-2178. Read his blog at and follow him on Twitter, @rabbibloom.

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