In My Own Words

By: RABBI RACHEL ESSERMAN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR

I’ve alway been grateful to be a citizen of the United States. My mother has commented over the years how lucky she is that her grandparents left Europe before the Holocaust. She believes “a fat, little Jewish girl” like herself would never have survived the war. Many of us have ancestors who came to the United States to escape persecution or to better their lives. 
Imagine, though, that your arrival to our shores came a different way. Imagine being captured and kidnapped from the only home you know. Imagine being chained, thrown into the hold of a ship and given little food and water during a long journey. Imagine your welcome to our land was the slave block – being bought and sold like an animal. Imagine being raped or beaten with no legal recourse. Imagine that your husband, wife, children or yourself could be sold across the country and no protest could stop the sale. It’s quite possible that you might have a very different view of the U.S. – especially when, even long after slavery was abolished, institutionalized racism continues.
I don’t know if any of this is going through the minds of the football players who are kneeling, rather than standing, when the national anthem is being played. News reports say that the action began as part of the Black Lives Matter movement and its protests about police violence against black Americans. Underlying that problem is that fact that police – white and black police officers – tend to see black individuals as potentially more dangerous than white ones. I don’t see the Black Lives Matter movement as anti-police (men and women who are doing a difficult and dangerous job), but rather as advocating education of the police officers so they can learn to handle difficult situations and create a safer environment for everyone.
The reasons mentioned above are why I have no problem with the football players who are kneeling during the national anthem. In addition, we live in a free country where everyone has the right to peaceful protest. Whether or not you agree with those kneeling, these are exactly the kind of rights – including the right to freely express an opinion – that American soldiers have fought to make available to all of us, no matter our skin color, ethnicity, sexuality or religion. 
I think it’s sad and disheartening that this legitimate protest has become such a divisive issue. It doesn’t help that the president of the United States said that the protesters should be fired from their jobs. It’s horrifying in a country that loudly proclaims the ideal of freedom to suggest punishing those who disagree with us. That’s what happens in totalitarian regimes. I hope by the time this column appears in print that the issue will be moot, but I fear that in our current political climate, including a president who thrives on controversy, even if it has been resolved, another crisis will soon appear.