Accompanying Texts to "Being Better Jonahs"

On why Jonah didn’t go…

“The nations were ‘near to repent’; they could be easily motivated to repent [Michilta, Pesichta Bo, Yerushalmi Sandhedrin Tanchuma, PdRE]. They would heed Jonah’s call and earn God’s mercy, but if that were to happen, it would point the most accusing of fingers at sinful Israel …Were Jonah to go to Nineveh he would be the instrument of a terrible condemnation of Israel. Jonah had to choose between obeying God and defending the honor of Israel.

…When he had prophesied against Jerusalem and the people repented, the ignorant members of the populace had reviled him. ‘False prophet!’ they called him…there had been a vocal outcry against him and Jonah had tasted the bitterness of vilification. Were he to go to Nineveh and were his warnings to result in a mass repentances as he was sure it would, the entire Assyrian nation would reverberate with the shout, ‘Jonah is a false prophet!’ That, Jonah wished to avoid, so he fled to the sea (PdRE)”

- ArtScroll Book of Jonah; Overview by Rabbi Nosson Scherman

Calls to be better Jonahs regarding racial justice…

“Jews need to take risks and show up.

… for many people of color, their only experience of Jews is as more white people. White strangers who go about their lives disengaged while we watch our siblings being stopped and frisked, our civil rights violated and our friends harassed or jailed. We want neighbors, allies and friends, not onlookers. Instead of Jews being strangers, I want communities of color to think of Jews instinctively as their friends and allies and family — as the people they know intimately from planning meetings and protests and campaigns. These kind of deep, enduring and lasting relationships — bound in struggle; grounded in work both mundane and exhilarating — these relationships are the best vehicles we can ever create for building mutual understanding and trust, for fighting anti-Semitism and white supremacy.

…We can reflect on why we, collectively, stopped answering the call to fight alongside our black and brown neighbors and the Jews of color in our midst — why we often don't even know their faces. As the Rambam states, we must do differently after our self-reflection. We will, I hope, learn to be vulnerable. Rather than rushing to refute and denounce, we will lean in and we will listen and ask to be listened to. So that the next time we feel hurt or afraid, we will also know that we are looking into the face of a friend, and before hurting them in turn, we will hesitate.”

-“White Jews Left the Movement for Racial Justice, but it’s Not too Late to Return”

by Leo Ferguson, Haaretz, 10.7.16

“Black Lives Matter is a Jewish community issue because there are African-American Jewish children. When racism’s cruel face emerges, all our cries to “just ignore those ignorant people” will not help them, shield them, keep them safe, or even keep them Jewish.

…Does this pinch? Does the tug of what is intellectually or even morally correct in the abstract, such as support for those who suffer injustice, rub up against concrete reality, such as the brutal injury sustained from “A Movement for Black Lives Platform’s” invocation of our own experience of genocide, still too vast and raw to ignore?

Well, good. It should. That means we are being honest, and the issues are real.”

-“Ahead of Yom Kippur, How Can You Repair Relationships with African-American Jews?” by Tamara Fish, The Forward, 10.11.16

“What I’m going to say to you is that I’m here representing the mothers who are not heard, I am here representing the mothers who have lost children as we go on about our daily lives. When the cameras and lights are gone, our babies are dead. So I’m going to ask you here today to wake up. Wake up…

Movements move. Activists activate. We have got to stop talking and move. So I leave you with this: it is time to wake up, get up, step up, or shut up.”

-Excerpt from a speech given at The Congressional Caucus for Black Women and Girls by Geneva Reed-Veal, the mother of Sandra Bland who died while in police custody

“The forgetting is habit, is yet another necessary component of the Dream. They have forgotten the scale of theft that enriched them in slavery; the terror that allowed them, for a century, to pilfer the vote; the segregationist policy that gave them their suburbs. They have forgotten, because to remember would tumble them out of the beautiful Dream and force them to live down here with us, down here in the world. I am convinced that the Dreamers, at least the Dreamers of today, would rather live white than live free. In the Dream they are Buck Rogers, Prince Aragorn, an entire race of Skywalkers. To awaken them is to reveal that they are an empire of humans and, like all empires of humans, are built on the destruction of the body. It is to stain their nobility, to make them vulnerable, fallible, breakable humans.”

― Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Between the World and Me”

Questions for discussion:

  • Whose calls do we hear? Whose calls do we listen to?
  • To whom do we respond with action? To whom do we turn aside and run in the other direction?
  • Why?
  • Considering our individual and collective answers to the question of “Why?” – How can we be better Jonahs?


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