Among the pieces of art in my office, there is a small colorful print in a metallic turquoise frame
that intentionally hangs in my direct line of sight. It is a drawing done by my beloved friend Micah Bazant that says, “Honor our dead & fight like hell for the living.” They made this image to support CeCe McDonald and all trans women of color who are fighting for their lives. Micah made it on Transgender Day of Remembrance 2013, to reframe the event towards supporting the survival and leadership of trans feminine people of color.
As Janet Mock, a transfemme activist puts it: “It’s a state of emergency for trans women and trans feminine folk of color”… "The disproportionate levels of violence trans women of color face pains me, and so does the pervasive framing of trans womanhood being directly linked to images of victimhood and tragedy. It hurts that our names are often amplified only when we are dead, gone, inactive.”… " We can’t only celebrate trans women of color in memoriam. We must begin uplifting trans women of color, speaking their names and praises, in their lives.”
As we enter the month of November and approach another Trans Day of Remembrance, I have been holding these words close like an amulet and an oracle.
They have also been an anthem at the many protests I have attended calling for a ceasefire. Janet Mock’s words invoke my own feelings about Palestinian lives as well. As progressive Jewish communities, we are growing accustomed to reading their names at Kaddish and less practiced at building trusting relationships with Palestinians.
There is grounding for this imperative in this week’s Torah portion, Vayera. Not once, but twice, Abraham argues with God and insists that the Holy One reach deeper and find more compassion to save innocent lives. The first occurrence is on behalf of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. God wanted to wipe out the two cities in their entirety and Abraham implores God!
וַיִּגַּשׁ אַבְרָהָם וַיֹּאמַר הַאַף תִּסְפֶּה צַדִּיק עִם־רָשָׁע׃
Abraham approached God and said,
“Will You sweep away the innocent along with the guilty?
Abraham then begins to bargain with the Holy Blessed One: “What if I can find 50 righteous people? Will you save the city? How about 40 righteous people? 20? 10? 5?”
At which point Abraham calls God in:
חָלִלָה לְּךָ מֵעֲשֹׂת כַּדָּבָר הַזֶּה לְהָמִית צַדִּיק עִם־רָשָׁע וְהָיָה כַצַּדִּיק כָּרָשָׁע חָלִלָה לָּךְ הֲשֹׁפֵט כׇּל־הָאָרֶץ לֹא יַעֲשֶׂה מִשְׁפָּט׃
“Far be it from You to do such a thing, to bring death upon the innocent as well as the guilty, so that innocent and guilty fare alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” (Genesis 18:25)
The echoes of this political moment are eerie and clear.
I too feel the desperate call to try to save every innocent life.
Later in the parsha, The Holy One comes to Avimelech in a dream and describes Abraham as someone willing to intercede. The use of the word intercede here is significant (Genesis 20:7). The hebrew word is וְיִתְפַּלֵּל / v’yitpallel, meaning to pray, is the same root as tefillah, as in Jewish prayer. For the rabbis, the core meaning of prayer itself is born of Abraham’s spiritual efforts in this week’s parsha to bring about a more just God, and therefore a more just world. So when we sing, “In hope, in prayer, we find ourselves here,” we should know that our ancestors are really with us.
The call I am hearing and amplifying is the call coming directly from Israeli families whose loved ones are being held hostage, “Everyone for everyone, Ceasefire Now!” Which I understand as: The fates of Israelis and Palestinians are intertwined. Jewish and Palestinian safety are not at odds. We are beseeching our governments and our God for a world in which we all keep each other safe. We are in mourning for so many righteous lives lost in Israel and too many more righteous lives lost in Palestine. And we are called to fight like hell for the living.
הֲשֹׁפֵט כׇּל־הָאָרֶץ לֹא יַעֲשֶׂה מִשְׁפָּט׃
May the Source of Justice for all lands, not withhold a just peace now.
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.