Among the limited invitees for George Floyd’s family memorial service in Minneapolis on June 4, were two rabbis — Jill Crimmings and Aaron Weininger, the heads of the Minnesota Rabbinical Association.
The two rabbis spoke with The Times of Israel on June 10 in an exclusive ToI Community webinar on avenues of Jewish communal activism in this era of racially driven protests. Included in the hour-long panel conversation is a deep dive into why the community must take more steps towards embracing Jews of Color, and what it is to be Jews who “pass” as white, but do not identify with the color of their skin.
Likewise, the rabbis explained how their Jewish communities are balancing the national upswing of anti-Semitism and their institutions’ real need for increased security, while at the same time continuing to be allies to the Black community and its experience of systemic racism with police.
Floyd’s family memorial service took place in the city in which he was killed on May 25 during his arrest for purchasing goods with an allegedly counterfeit bill. A white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into the handcuffed black man’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds.
The service was led by Rev. Al Sharpton, attended by many of Minnesota’s top elected leaders, members of Congress, and representatives of local faith communities. The rabbis said they felt humbled to have been included in the family memorial service and that they came as guests to listen and witness, not speak.
Crimmings said she felt initial discomfort at the idea that she was taking another mourner’s seat, but understood that it was important to Floyd’s family, who are religious Christians, that the service have an interfaith presence.
There was a “desire from the family and those working hard to plan the memorial service [to have] representatives from all faith communities,” Crimmings said during the webinar, who was honored to give her “silent support.”
Weininger described his experience at the service as “humbling.”
“The most powerful moment was having the eight minutes and 46 seconds to remember that a knee of a police officer was on George Floyd’s neck for that amount of time… Black men cried out ‘I can’t breathe,’” he said. “For me, that moment felt like a shofar piercing the silence.” (Weininger also wrote about the experience in an oped published on The Times of Israel.)
Both rabbis are located in Minnetonka, Minnesota, where Weininger serves at Adath Jeshurun Congregation, and Crimmings at Bet Shalom Congregation.
Going forward, the two are acting to make synagogues across the state more welcoming for Jews of Color and make these Jews feel “more visible.” Part of the efforts will include uncomfortable conversations on racism within the Jewish community, they said.
“We should have done a better job of realizing the trauma that a person of color experiences when they walk into our synagogue space and see a police officer standing at the front door,” Crimmings said. “We want to figure out a way to support those in the community who experience that trauma.”
Within days of Floyd’s death, ongoing protests across the US have called for various forms of justice — spanning from arresting the officers involved to reallocating police resources into crime-prevention methods.
On the topic of creating a better local policing system, Weininger discussed Exodus 18, in which Moses speaks to Jethro, his father-in-law, about a communal problem. “First thing we learn of Jethro is that he’s listening… He doesn’t say ‘Okay, Moshe, I have the answers for you’… That, for me… provides a helpful template to not run away from the conversations… Like Jethro, [we should] ask the hard questions so that the systems we are creating around safety are the best systems possible.”
For the Jewish community, there are likewise “multiple avenues to make a difference,” Crimmings said when explaining how people can support the current activism in ways other than protesting on the streets.
“Building relationships, engaging in education… supporting policies that are anti-racist,” Crimmings said. Her synagogue is engaging in book clubs, working with those facing food insecurity, and have set up a social advocacy committee for broad strokes social change, for example.
“We also have a responsibility to think about the broader picture of what will bring about systemic change and structural change. And, a lot of time, that’s policy… making phone calls and calling our legislators… makes a difference,” said Crimmings.
Weininger cited the local organization Nechama: Jewish Response for Disaster, which gives updates on what is most needed at any moment.
To view the entire webinar, please click on the video below:
And check out a previous webinar: Two voices from Minneapolis: George Floyd, Civil Rights, Civil Unrest, and Where we go from here