Tools for Elul: Olivia Tucker | A Lesson Returned
Hillel's call of "If not now, when?" has been a rallying call for centuries of Jews. For example, IfNotNow is the name of a national movement of mostly millennial Jews, seeking an end to the American Jewish support of the occupation in Israel/Palestine. Our local chapter mobilizes for awareness and actions, often focusing support on immediate needs of vulnerable Pittsburgh communities, following the lead of Casa San José's work with Latinx immigrants and refugees, and 1Hood's black and brown led social justice goals.
This past Purim, some may recall a class I led on "How NOT to Celebrate Purim," diving into the debates between the Rabbis of the Talmud on how to properly read Megillah (The Book of Esther) and give gifts. At one point they ask: "We cancel temple service to read Megillah, and we cancel temple service for the met mitzvah, burying someone who has no one to bury them. So, which of those two do we cancel for the other? We must choose to accompany the deceased for burial - so great, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi says, is human dignity, that it washes away any law." (Megillah 3b)
I thought that the concluding principle would be practical for rooting disagreements to certain traditionally forbidden elements of LGBTQ lives in rabbinic discourse, but I did not expect to have the very test case brought before me a week later.
IfNotNow was holding a Purim party, gathering donations for the Bukit Bail Fund. This was the evening of March 22, 2019 - and just as we were beginning our Spiel, full of skits and games and costumes, the news came out: the police officer charged with shooting Antwon Rose II in the back three times would not be convicted of murder. My friend June, a street medic, and the only one of my cohort to come to my class, took the stage at Repair the World.
In front of a host of 40, June taught exactly as learned: "that you cancel Purim festivities to be present for those unfairly taken from life." In minutes, we had gathered our hamantashen, oranges, made signs reading Jews in Solidarity, joining the growing throng of protest and mourning in the streets of East Liberty.
It is a unique feeling to have the lessons you've learned and taught be taught back to you, a curious piece of Talmud turned into a rallying call for social justice. It makes me wonder how Hillel the Elder would feel, knowing his mantra has become ours too.
To a meaningful High Holy Days,