Over last weekend, 90 teens from across NFTY Southern came together in Memphis, TN for a meaningful, ruach-filled Winter Kallah-Clave. The event’s co-chairs Jared Lindy, NFTY Southern MVP, and Andrew Rogers, NFTY Southern RCVP, challenged their peers to think differently, to take ownership of their communities and their roles in the continuation of the fight for justice. Below is Andrew’s D’var Torah, which he shared with the region in Shabbat morning services. Kol hakavod, Jared and Andrew!
Look around. For every step forward, a privilege is recognized, and for every step back we acknowledge a challenge that not everyone faces that makes our road to success bumpy. The activity we just did represents the privileges that members of NFTY Southern enjoy as a region and as you can see, we are in a very blessed spot when it comes to these everyday opportunities.
The Torah portion for this week is Va’era, and it details events that are very much related to our theme and the activities that are happening this weekend. In English, Va’era means “I appeared,” expressing God’s words of redemption and promises to bring Israel out of Egyptian bondage. The first seven plagues are described later in the portion, and these seven plagues revolve around privileges that the Egyptians took for granted, such as water, which turns to blood, and cattle that end up dying. There are things that plague our society today, including unemployment, poverty, and hunger, and it is up to us to alleviate the impact of these plagues. Whether self-enforced or literal bondage, the Torah states that when a person is in this bondage, he is not able to liberate himself. He needs the help of his community. But what really is a community?
The key part of this important word is unity, which is really what brings people together. Our community extends far beyond the people who are in this room. Later today, we will be venturing to South Memphis and working as a community in order to make this city more beautiful and build relationships that will encourage further growth. This event is part of a much larger project to bring Memphians together and clean up our city to commemorate Martin Luther King Day. When we leave Temple today, we will be going to the National Civil Rights Museum, the assassination site of Dr. Martin Luther King. As we reflect on the events of our past, we also acknowledge our present: that there is still room to improve. For example, #BlackLivesMatter is a movement that was started by our peers created to address the social and systematic subtle racism that takes place every day. To give you a snap shot of what the movement is fighting against, here are some statistics:
Memphis has a poverty rate of 28.30%, and child poverty is 44.30%. Poverty rates for African Americans are 33.6%, and 43.10% of Latinos are poor, while the poverty rate among Caucasians is 11.9%. Finally, an estimated 25.1 percent of black American women live in poverty. This is higher than any other ethnic group. But today is different because we have the ability to do something to positively affect these statistics. What makes today special is that we have the opportunity to do the opposite of the Egyptians – we acknowledge our privileges and the injustices that still plague our society. We will execute the necessary actions to take steps forward with community members in order to assist our community in its growth. Not only can this growth occur in Memphis, but each person can make a difference in their individual cities, whether that be Mobile, AL, Hot Springs, AR, or Baton Rouge, LA.
In response to those who say “I don’t know where to go from here,” Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, keep moving.” So, today I encourage you to really open your eyes and be aware of your surroundings. Understand and acknowledge the fact that we have privileges that we should be grateful for, and make it a goal to actively attempt to make your community a better place.