This Week in America: Reflections and Resources

Geoff Menkowitz6.5.20
By Eliana Leader and Geoff Menkowitz

This week – a week filled with deep grief and anger over the state of racial injustice in the United States – we have also felt the absence of a vital aspect of the Ramah Darom experience.

This week we are supposed to be together at Ramah Darom already, working with our staff to prepare for the Summer Camp season. And if we were together at Camp this week we would be teaching, sharing and having critical conversations about the moral emergency we are facing. We would be drawing inspiration from our tradition which compels us to pursue justice and listening to the prophetic voices, ancient and modern, calling for racial equality and justice for all.

We were together at Camp in June of 2015 when nine parishioners were killed during a Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC. We engaged in conversations about encountering hate and white supremacy. We studied the eulogy for Reverend Pickney the way we read a sacred text and struggled to understand the forgiveness offered to the assailant by the family members of those slain.

We were together at Camp in June of 2016 when we heard the news of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. We cried and stood together in moments of Tefilah. We led conversations about the need to oppose gun violence and advocate for legislative reform. We developed even deeper sensitivities to the challenges of the LGBTQ community and recommitted ourselves as allies.

If we were together at Camp now, we would be grappling with the current state of social unrest. We would be saying the names of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor killed at the hands of police officers and of Ahmaud Arbery, who was gunned down while jogging, right here in Georgia. We would be talking about the false accusation of Central Park bird watcher Christian Cooper and the death of New York City teacher Rana Mungin, who died after being twice denied a COVID-19 test. And throughout the summer, in age-appropriate ways, we would be working to foster among our campers and staff members an understanding of the toll of structural racism and violence on Black people in the United States.

The beauty of Camp is that Camp is a “bubble” separated from the woes in our world, disconnected from technology, the news-cycle and the stress of daily life. We’ve all learned this year that the bubble is not strong enough to withstand a pandemic. But while we have maintained an intense focus for so many weeks on getting back to this place and the respite that it would provide, we should remember that the purpose of Camp is not to keep us sealed off and ignorant of the world around us. One of the things that Ramah Darom affords individuals of all ages, all-year-round is an educational setting in which to grapple with serious questions: What do these troubling events mean? And what do they mean to me?

We are not together at Camp and we can’t sit in a circle on the grass or on the porch of our bunk and have these conversations. But they are important conversations which need to take place! Just as parents rely on Ramah Darom as partners to help nurture their kids, we are relying on you as parents to make sure that your family is discussing racism right now. We have listed a collection of resources below to guide you and different age children through the conversation. It can be scary for some of us, but we assure you – the only wrong thing you can do is not talk about this with your kids.

As we head into Shabbat, we want to share with you a word of Torah inspired by our friend Rabbi Shai Held, who is a regularly featured scholar at Ramah Darom’s Pesach Retreat.

On Friday night, we traditionally offer our children a blessing which concludes with the priestly benediction read in this week’s Torah portion, Nasso.

יִשָּׂ֨א יי פָּנָיו֙ אֵלֶ֔יךָ וְיָשֵׂ֥ם לְךָ֖ שָׁלֽוֹם
May God shine God’s countenance upon you and grant you shalom.

It is always powerful to behold families at a Ramah Darom Retreat offering blessings to their kids, or in the summer when counselors recite these words to their campers in a heartfelt and intense moment of praying for a child to experience peace and a sense of wholeness.

Sadly, these blessings of shalom will not be heard at Ramah Darom this week. But when we recite them at home, let us not only be mindful of the children sitting at our own Shabbat table. Let us have focused intention on all children and how for so many Black Americans and People of Color, peace is missing. As Rabbi Held teaches, if we are to take seriously the notion that we are all created in God’s image, then we must hold “in our minds, in our hearts and in our guts — that a black child is as infinitely valuable as a white child” and work tirelessly “to build a society that reflects universal dignity and worth”.

Physically separated though we may be, we will remain connected by our shared values and support of bringing true justice to our world.

May our conversations and prayers over this Shabbat inspire us to lead lives of commitment and purpose.

Family Resources for talking about Race and Current Events 

Be’Chol Lashon: Passport to Peoplehood educational resources – Explore the history and traditions of Jewish communities around the world and celebrate the fact that Jews are a multicultural people. The resources collected on this page are perfect for families and children to use at home.

Resources for Talking With Kids About Racism by PJ Library

Teaching Your Kids About Racism: Anti-Racism Books for Kids by Age from The New York Times

Resources for Talking about Race, Racism and Racialized Violence with Kids from The Center for Racial Justice in Education

Embracerace.org: Resources to teach children about race

How to Talk to Kids about Race and Racism by Parent ToolKit

Some General Opening Conversation Starters for All Ages (pbs.org/parents):

  • What questions do you have? What have you heard?
  • What do you know about the situation or people involved?
  • Who are the communities and groups of people involved?
  • How are different communities and countries coming together over this issue?
  • What would you like to do to help?

Young Children:

Article: Your 5 Year Old Is Already Racially Biased

Activity: Crack eggs together for scrambled eggs, cake, meatloaf, etc. Use brown and white eggs and discuss how even though they are different colors on the outside they are the same on the inside. Or for a sweeter example eat candy coated chocolates like M&Ms together – they are different colors but taste the same; bite some in half to look at the candy coating and chocolate at the same time.

Watch: Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood Season 4 Episode 3 – Daniel’s New Friend/Same and Different

Conversation starter: What is special or different about you from your friends? What do you do to show other people kindness and respect?

Watch: CNN & Sesame Street Town Hall on Racism: Airing live on Saturday, June 6 at 10:00am EDT, the replay will be available on YouTube.

Elementary School:

Watch: Hidden Figures https://www.commonsensemedia.org/movie-reviews/hidden-figures

Conversation starter: How do the lessons from the civil rights movement apply today? What has changed? What hasn’t? How are people still discriminated against?

Watch: Remember the Titans https://www.commonsensemedia.org/movie-reviews/remember-the-titans

Conversation starter:Have you ever seen someone in real life being treated unfairly for no reason? What would you do if you felt discriminated against or saw a friend being held back from their goals based on their skin color?

Middle School:

Discuss: Watch the video Peanut Butter, Jelly and Racism about implicit bias. After watching, have a brief discussion by asking:

  • What is implicit bias?
  • How is implicit bias different from racism?
  • How does implicit bias lead to discrimination like racism?
  • What do implicit bias or racism have to do with peanut butter and jelly?
  • What’s an example of implicit bias that you have experienced, witnessed or heard about?

Watch: The Hate U Give

Conversation starter: One character in the movie says that “white folks want diversity but not too much diversity” — what do you think she means? Do you agree?

High School:

Discuss: ADL’s  Table Talk: Family Conversations – George Floyd, Racism and Law Enforcement

Watch: The 13th, a Netflix documentary

Conversation starter: What surprised/upset you most about our country’s treatment of African American citizens over its long history?