We began last Shabbat’s worship with this excerpt of “Freedom’s Plow” by Langston Hughes:
A long time ago,
An enslaved people heading toward freedom
Made up a song:
Keep Your Hand On The Plow! Hold On!
The plow plowed a new furrow
Across the field of history.
Into that furrow the freedom seed was dropped.
From that seed a tree grew, is growing, will ever grow.
That tree is for everybody,
For all America, for all the world.
May its branches spread and shelter grow
Until all races and all peoples know its shade.
KEEP YOUR HAND ON THE PLOW! HOLD ON!
Last week, with the conviction of Derek Chauvin, one seed of restorative justice was planted in a long furrow of national pain. But that one seed won’t uproot history’s wrongs. It won’t bring back all those Black men and women, boys and girls who have been lynched and choked, beaten and shot.
In the days since the verdict alone, we learned of the police shootings of two more Black men, Andrew Brown Jr. in North Carolina and Isaiah Brown in Virginia, and of sixteen-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant in Ohio. While the circumstances of each case differ, one common thread binds them: American justice’s repeated, often deadly failure of Black Americans.
If the “freedom seed” is ever to grow into a tree, and if its branches are ever to spread and shelter all races and peoples, we are going to have to keep our hands on the plow, and hold on until many more seeds of justice and fairness and accountability and change are planted beside it.
As Rabbi Tarfon taught: Whether or not we complete the task, we must never desist from the effort.
The Clergy of Temple Emanu-El