Shout Loudly and Don’t Hold Back

October 26, 2016

By Ben Halbig
JCUA Board Member

JCUA Board Member Ben Halbig gave this drash at Mishkan’s Yom Kippur morning services for the Isaiah Haftarah . As we move into this new year, Ben asks how can we do more? How can we make this year reflect “the fast God really wants?”

halbig_benjamin_color“Good morning. I’m Ben. I grew up on the East Coast, but Chicago has been my adopted home for the better part of the past decade – first as an undergrad in Hyde Park, and now as a practicing lawyer living in the Gold Coast. Mishkan has been my spiritual home in Chicago since I moved back after law school. As a Chicagoan and a Mishkanite, I am honored to be sharing a few thoughts on what we are about to read together.

This has been a rough year for Chicago.

Almost a year ago – just before Thanksgiving– a judge ordered the city to release a video showing a CPD officer emptying his 9 millimeter semi-automatic rifle into an unarmed high school student. The video of Laquan McDonald’s murder tore at the heart of the city.

I remember live-streaming the protests on Black Friday 2015 in my parents’ house in Maryland. You know what has stuck with me all these months? Not the thousands of young activists pleading for justice on Michigan Avenue but Channel 5’s interviews with angry shoppers whose plans for holiday bargains had been ruined by the march. “Why today?” “Why here?” “Why can’t they just protest in their own neighborhood?”

I wish I could stand here and tell you how I am not them, how I would have been with the protesters. But the truth is – I know in my heart of hearts, I am a shopper. I am an employed white man living on the North Side of Chicago. When I think and talk about violence in in our city, it’s something that happens to other people. I don’t know anyone who has been shot this year. I don’t fear for my life when stopped by police.

Isaiah’s words in the passage we read today can be disheartening in the middle of the day on Yom Kippur. He’s essentially telling us that, after about 18 hours of fasting, praying, and asking to be inscribed in the Book of Life, we are doing it wrong. This is not the fast God wants.

You’d think after all these years of reading Isaiah’s words, we might get it right. But his message seems to be really hard for us to hear. What makes it so hard to hear? Read the rest of this entry »







My Son Came Home

April 13, 2016

(This blog post was originally printed in Oy! Chicago on March 25, 2016)

Annice MosesBy Annice Moses
JCUA Member

Three teen boys running around with saggy pants and backpacks. One of them is wearing a black hoodie — hood up, a bandana covering the lower half of his face. That kid has a gun in his hand. He’s shooting it. The police are called. You know what happens next…

What happens next is I get a call from my son. He tells me his friend was being an idiot and shooting squirrels. Someone called the cops. Can I come pick him up? He gives me the address. It’s not the address of the police station.

I am the first parent to arrive on the scene. There are two police Suburbans parked, their engines running. My son and his two friends are standing nervously. Two guns and a giant canister of ammo sit on the hood of one of the police vehicles. The officers are extremely polite. They tell me that the boy with the hoodie had been shooting his Airsoft gun and both my son and the third boy had not. They said the boys had all been cooperative. My son was free to go. Free. To. Go.

I found out later — many days later — that my son also had an Airsoft gun. A gun that was shifting anxiously in my son’s backpack, while he was being respectfully questioned by officers. A backpack that was never searched — a gun that was never discovered.

My son, at age 13, had just gotten a big dose of white privilege. A privilege that may have saved his life.

My son came home that day. He left his bed unmade and his towel on the floor the next day and the day after that, and the day after that. My son continues to have breakfast every Sunday with his grandparents. He still opens up a mouth about having to clean his dishes before going out with friends. He still takes too long doing his hair and regularly makes his brothers late to school. He got strep throat. He turned 14. My son came home.

Tamir Rice was black. He was 12 years old. He was playing with a BB gun in a park. He will never play in that park again. He will never celebrate another birthday. He was shot by an officer before he had a chance to explain his gun was a toy; before he had a chance to hide it in his backpack; before he had a chance to call his mom and say he needed her to pick him up; before he felt his nerves kick in worrying about what his mom was going to say. He’ll never come home again.

I can’t stop thinking about it. But I can if I want to. I’m not raising a black son. I don’t need to teach my son — my sons — to keep their hands on the steering wheel when they get pulled over. I don’t have to help my sons’ white friends understand that the usual mischief boys get into can’t be for mine because I fear his life may be taken in a “misunderstanding” because he’s black. When the dispatcher comes over the radio saying, “Suspect is a black male…” somehow those words — BLACK MALE — strike such a fear, that a routine nuisance call can escalate to a child dying in a park next to his toy gun. The gratitude that my son came home is forever paired with shame. There can be no solace in injustice, even if my son came home.


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