Isaiah 58:1

קְרָ֤א בְגָרוֹן֙ אַל־תַּחְשֹׂ֔ךְ כַּשּׁוֹפָ֖ר הָרֵ֣ם קוֹלֶ֑ךָ וְהַגֵּ֤ד לְעַמִּי֙ פִּשְׁעָ֔ם וּלְבֵ֥ית יַעֲקֹ֖ב חַטֹּאתָֽם׃

Cry from your throat. Do not hold back. Lift up your voice like the shofar, and show my people their transgression, and the house of Ya῾aqov their sins.

In these days of Teshuvah — return — leading up to the High Holy days, I’ve been reflecting on the 40 Days of Tesvhuah we held together in bringing the physical fight for racial justice and Black lives to meet the spiritual.

For 40 days we came together at sunset, both communally at Grand Army Plaza and individually in our backyards and rooftops, to blow the shofar and raise our voices like a shofar to the Heavens, mourning the degradation and destruction of Black communities, confessing the ways in which we participate and perpetuate racism, and crying out to the Heavens our commitment to be a co-conspirator in seeking justice and defending Black lives. These 40 days culminated with Tisha B’av, an annual fast that marks the destruction of our communities throughout time, and we commemorated this year’s Tisha B’av to specifically mourn the destruction of Black communities in these 400 years of ongoing oppression.

Photo credit: Gili Getz.

We did this — the same ritual action — for 40 days to mourn the pain and suffering of racism that words alone cannot express. We persevered in these 40 days despite the many challenges because as long as anti-Black racism endures, our anti-racism can’t just be an intellectual theory to discuss — it must be an embodied practice that we engage in again and again. For Black lives to actually matter, our anti-racist actions can’t be limited to just an instagram trend or a clever tweet. We made teshuvah for 40 days because anti-racism must become incorporated into our way of being in each and every moment and that requires a reorientation to ourselves, each other and the Heavens.

Click above to watch a video of our Tisha B'av action.

Looking back now on this ritual action we held as a community, I yearn for the spiritual grounding and communal accountability that we fostered. I’m humbled and proud of the personal and communal growth I experienced in this time and space and am constantly reminded it wasn’t nearly enough. I wonder now how best to continue the personal and communal transformation I experienced in that time and space, incorporating its energy of protest and commitment of introspection into my life each and everyday. I dream of the world we’re creating together where we can experience the true measure of Teshuvah, treating those oppressed and less fortunate in our communities with the dignity and humanity we expect for ourselves and families.

Photo credit: Ali Levin.

May this season of teshuvah and reflection motivate us beyond the ritual of this time to concretely incorporate the fight for racial justice and Black lives into our daily lives.

Yehudah Webster
Community Organizer, JFREJ