The Prospect Heights Shul is a Modern Orthodox Shul in Brownstone Brooklyn


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Thank you to everyone that joined our first communal conversation last Thursday. Please join for a follow up conversation TONIGHT at 8 PM
Meeting ID: 955 6407 4376
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Dear PHS Family, 

“I propose that you, Mr. President, declare a state of moral emergency.” These are the words dated June 16, 1963 in a telegram sent to President John F. Kennedy by a Holocaust refugee decrying racial injustice in the United States. The author was Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the leading Jewish theologians of the 20th Century. Having fled from the Nazis, Heschel was intimately familiar with the costs of hatred unhinged.

Marching alongside the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma in 1965, Heschel was never isolated in an ivory tower of academia. The telegram continued: “Please demand of religious leaders personal involvement not just solemn declaration. We forfeit the right to worship God as long as we continue to humiliate Negroes. Churches and synagogues have failed. They must repent.” Heschel understood that responding to the suffering of others isn’t an afterthought or an extra-curricular activity; it is the foundational prerequisite for religiosity.  Devaluing any human life diminishes godliness everywhere.

Judaism affirms that all human beings are created in the image of the divine. A question then follows: if we ignore the pain of others, are we not affronting God? Heschel and King understood this as they were religious leaders first, who refused to remain barricaded in their pews and instead infused the Bible’s thesis of serving as our brothers’ keepers into the fabric of American life. 

Fifty-three years have passed since that telegram was sent and many religious leaders and institutions continue to largely be morally apathetic. We have the opportunity to do better. We have to do better. With our shul located in a predominantly black neighborhood, we have a responsibility not just as good neighbors but as Torah observant Jews to join them peacefully in our collective fight for racial justice. 

What is the role of our yiddishkeit if not to make us more compassionate and filled with love towards the other? Just as Heschel implored for there to be “a moral emergency” installed, we must do so now. This is an opportunity for us to bring the Torah’s moral vision into reality. Let us not forsake this moment. 

I hope you will consider joining a virtual rally on Thursday in solidarity with the black community to speak out against racism. I also need your help in thinking about how we as a PHS community can be of service and stand with our black neighbors in this time of great need. I will be holding a Zoom conversation for the shul on Thursday night (9PM) to brainstorm and strategize. Also, in lieu of my weekly Parsha sheets, I collected Jewish sources and created questions around activism that can be learned and discussed at your Shabbat table. 

Finally, on a personal note. The first step in Teshuva is admitting guilt. I have not done enough to help bring justice to our Brooklyn streets. I’m sorry. This is unacceptable. Sadly, it took yet another senseless death (of George Floyd) to reawaken my spirit. I will do better. 

Blessings of peace, 

Rabbi Leener