Pittsburgh Rabbi Leads Public Fast and Learning to Mourn George Floyd

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The George Floyd mural outside Cup Foods at Chicago Ave and E 38th St in Minneapolis. From Wikimedia Commons.

How one Jewish community leader emphasizes social justice

June 2, 2020

On the eve of the conclusion of George Floyd’s shiva, the seven day Jewish mourning period, Rabbi Jeremy Markiz is fasting.

The Pittsburgh rabbi organized a public fast day on Sunday, calling for a community-wide day of mourning that also serves as a call for justice against police brutality. The Facebook event, which Markiz created, has more than 560 responses.

But Markiz is careful not to let the fast be the end goal of the event.

“One thing people should take away: if there’s fasting this should be one act of many. If they only fast, they missed the point,” says Markiz. “They should be listening and paying attention and doing their homework and understanding that we have to be more anti-racist that we have to be more active, listening more deeply.”

Today, Rabbi Markiz is studying Gemara with his chavruta (Talmudic study partner), who is also fasting. But he also makes sure to read books by black authors that will further his understanding of racial issues in America. Previously, Markiz led a reading group specifically to read “How to be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi.

Markiz cites a conversation between Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarfon in the Talmud, in discussion about whether study or action is more important. Rabbi Akiva concludes: “Study is greater, but not as an independent value; rather, it is greater as study leads to action.” This principle guides Markiz’s efforts with organizing the fast and supplementary study materials.

He also created a worksheet for the Facebook event, so observers of the fast can educate themselves by reading works by black authors. In addition to Jewish texts that fast observers can learn from, the worksheet also lists “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo and “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander.

This is not the first time Rabbi Markiz has organized a public remembrance day for social justice issues. His first time was in 2019, in response to ICE raids on 680 undocumented workers at a food processing plant in Mississippi. Coincidentally, that 2019 sit-in fell on Tisha B’Av, which is also a fast day and the Jewish day of remembrance of the destruction of the Temple, among other Jewish tragedies.

“As a white, heterosexual male, I’ve had almost every kind of privilege there is,” he says.

About his motivation for incorporating social justice in his leadership, Markiz says, “It’s about what comes from the heart.”

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