From ongoing racial tensions, to the recent death of George Floyd at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer, to ensuing nationwide protests, The Temple-Tifereth Israel’s Rabbi Jonathan Cohen and civil rights activist and spiritual leader the Rev. Otis Moss Jr. informed the 750 people tuning into a virtual interfaith discussion June 9 to rise up over hate and love your neighbor.
The discussion was hosted by the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in Beachwood, where Moss is also a founding board member.
David Schafer, the managing director of the Maltz Museum, moderated the event.
Cohen stressed the importance of not letting this time of need experienced by the African American community pass by.
“Standing and upstanding means standing for good,” Cohen said. “It means standing for God. It means standing against injustice. It means standing in community with those others who stand. And yet, standing sometimes is not quite enough.
“We read in the Book of Leviticus Chapter 19, ‘You may not stand on the blood of your fellow human being.’ And so, sometimes, we need to rise up.”
Rising up can provide something Cohen strongly believes the nation needs right now: change.
“In Hebrew, quwn, it relates to movement; it relates to changing hearts and minds,” Cohen said. “We rise in order to bring change. ... The blood of innocent men, women and children has been spilled in this land. We must rise and change; we must rise and speak out. ... We must make our voices heard not only against injustice but for our dreams of a better, more just, more equitable society.”
Moss reminded the virtual audience to follow their religious assignment given by God.
“Love God and love your neighbor as yourself,” Moss said. “When you do that, you become what I like to call transformational idealists and creative realists.”
Moss recalled a lesson he learned about hate and how it can fester and grow in an individual. If untreated, it can spread to others and eventually infect an entire government.
“If the government has practiced for centuries putting its knee on other peoples’ necks, it becomes relatively easy for an individual to put his knee on someone else’s neck until that person can no longer breathe,” Moss said. “And being unable to breathe for 8 minutes and 47 seconds, we then have a dead body and a bloody nation.”
Moss believes the cure to hate is following the assignment God gave us all and constantly being taught it every day.
“When it is taught, we create disciples of truth and disciples of love,” Moss said. “Those disciples of love and truth united become an army of faith, hope, love, creativity and even a government of the people, by the people and for the people.”
When Cohen asked Moss how the Jewish community could best provide the black community with assistance during this time, Moss gave him a series of steps toward the lifetime assignment of building a shared community.
“We have to intentionally get to know one another ... hear each other ... listen to each other ... respect each other ... (and) learn from each other,” Moss said. “(Then) we become teachers, one to the other. Out of that arrangement, which has to be intentional, we create community. In that community, we produce and create and build.”
If everyone comes together to fight for equal human rights, Moss can’t help but see the strength and force in numbers.
“This is a critical hour to make our nation better, stronger and more just,” Moss said. “That power is in the hands of each one of us. When our hands are united, there is no limit to what we can achieve in our own time and pass on to the next generation.”