My Brother George

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by Dr. David Sanders

I wash my hands both night and day

To keep the spread of COVID at bay

For 20 seconds I lather, rinse and clean

This has now become my new routine.


With the fear of corona contagion, we have become accustomed to washing our hands. But there is another unseen pathogen that is harder to wash away or wash our hands from. Shakespeare was not the first to create the image for us with Lady Macbeth washing her hands to no avail, for she cannot remove that damn spot!


The bible records an unusual practice in eight verses in Deuteronomy regarding the finding of a corpse in a remote location and the cause of death is homicide. The first directive is to determine which city is the closest to the murder victim, with the assumption that proximity is a sign of culpability. But why is anyone culpable? The rabbis elaborate that had someone offered the person refuge in their city they wouldn’t have been vulnerable to attack. Another assumption. Murder occurs because society has not taken the proper measures to ensure care and concern for all those who dwell or pass by.


What then ensues is remarkable. Once it has been determined which is the closest city, the elders of that city must gather and perform a ritual washing of their hands and pronouncing, “Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it done.”


The Talmud asks: Would we think that the elders of the city are murderers? Why is it necessary for them to publicize that they did not kill him? Rather, they must declare: “It is not so that this victim came to our city and we dismissed him without food or we did not provide him with an escort.”


What did I feel watching the murder of George Floyd? Culpability and shame. I cannot wash my hands from him and proclaim: “My hands did not shed this blood, nor did my eyes see it done.” Have I done enough to be of assistance and to care for the plight of all my brothers and sisters?


“They have eyes but do not see, they have ears but do not hear, they have voices but do not shout, they have hands but do not reach out.” Have I turned a deaf ear and a blind eye, not raised my voice loud enough and not offered a helping hand so that I am clean and clear from culpability.


As I wash my hands now day and night

I see my counterfeit concern in a new light

I will rail and protest and join in the fight

Stand up for justice and proper oversight

To ensure that no person is not treated right.

The issues we face as a nation are complex but that does not mean that I can shirk my responsibility to ensure, as much as I can, that all people are treated equally. Which one of us is not the “closest city” to the murdered victim?

Comments 11

  1. Thank you David. We must all take responsibility to ensure there is change.

  2. I found your sentence most profound (paraphrasing): even though I did not do it, nor did I see it, what is my part in it? I am, as a taxpayer, supporting a system that is unfair and/or unjust. Therefore, I am also must shoulder part of the blame. And there are things I can do to make it right. Through the ballot box, through protest, through lobbying my local and state officials. But, most importantly, when I see injustice, I must call it out, and stand in truth.

  3. David, thank you for this message, and for the suggestion of a practical reminder, not just to guide our thoughts to this incredibly important issue, but also to use small tasks like hand-washing as an opportunity to reset our thoughts and intentions throughout the day.

  4. Brilliant d’rash! You moved our hearts and connected us deeply and so meaningfully with our distant roots! We are keeping this one and sharing with others. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  5. Thank you for your powerful words connecting our tradition to the challenges facing our nation today. As I read them , I remembered that the American Jewish community was one if the earliest allies in the young Civil Rights movement , in the 60s. Some may remember Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heshel marching with Dr Martin Luther King in an early protest. 60 years later, we still have work to do in this fight for social justice!

  6. Thank you for your Post David. An awakening is happening… “Black Lives Matter.”


    JUN 15, 2020
    I am sick and tired of being sick and tired. —Fannie Lou Hamer

    Those words have never felt more appropriate for me as they do right now. This is a hard message to write and may be an even harder message to read but please, stick with me to the end. It isn’t just anger, even though anger is there; it isn’t just mistrust, though that is there too. There is also faith, hope, and love.

    But before we get there, some radical candor:

    I am a bridge builder. I always have been. In every school, professional environment, and often in social situations, I have been the one to connect people of varying backgrounds because I have been so acutely aware of my own immigrant background. Born in Jamaica and growing up in Canada, it was a beautiful blend of multicultural experiences and deep friendships. I was/am the black friend they would send to talk to white people. My black friends tease me about my ability to navigate predominantly white environments. I have been able to do that both because of my upbringing that roots me in a strong, black, Jamaican heritage and pride, and because I am often one of very few black people in my surroundings. Because of this, I have learned to listen, to try to find the common ground, and to push with candor and an open heart.

    But now the bridge builders are tired and the bridge builders are angry.

    And let me be clear: I am not tired or angry because I am black — that is a beautiful, bountiful blessing. I am tired and angry because of oppression, racism, and fair-weather liberalism. Being black in America is to live with what feels like daily racial jabs — to get up and know that even in spite of your other privileges, it is not a question of whether you will face racism but rather how and to what degree.

    Why would I not welcome all of this new desire to learn, to grow, to lean fully into allyship? Because I don’t fully believe it. People are talking about this being a new moment for society, that people are really starting to listen. But didn’t we say that after Trayvon Martin? Mike Brown? Tamir Rice? Sandra Bland? Alton Sterling? Philando Castile? This moment, for me, feels like: Wait, verify, and then trust.

    I am tired of white colleagues who have ignored the reports of microagressions and outright racism but are now posting black boxes on social media or reaching out to me with an “I love you.” They may mean well, but it often feels so little and too late.

    READ: How White Liberals Perpetuate Relational Violence
    Where were they when the president of the organization talked about the need to hire a person of color but he needed to hire a qualified person?

    Where were they when the leader of the organization asked a young black female employee whose pregnancy we were celebrating if she was married?

    Where were they when my manager, after reading my strategic plan for my department, asked me, “Who helped you with that?” Or when I cried during a meeting because it was the week Alton Sterling was killed and she suggested I was too emotional?

    Where were they when I had my lighter-skinned baby to my breast and two ladies approached me and asked me for a card for my wet nursing services?

    Where were they when my oldest son, who had not yet turned 7, was called aggressive and punished by his white chess teacher for protecting himself against a bully?

    Where were they when that same son was 5 and at pick up time from golf camp, the coach summoned another black boy, and when I pointed out that that wasn’t my son, literally said to me in front of my child, that “With the color thing it is hard to keep track”?

    I told my leaders in my jobs. I told my colleagues. I told administrators. I told teachers. I told my friends. I am tired of talking. I am tired of having to temper my words so that things land well or help someone along. I am tired of white fragility and so tired of the tears.

    But my faith allows me to lay my burdens down, (Matthew 11:28-30). “When I am weary and burdened, I know where I can get rest.”

    But my faith empowers me, (Isaiah 40:31). “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

    But my faith means I have somewhere to put my stress, (Philippians 4:6-7). “Do not be anxious about anything but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

    Because of my faith I am still here. But in this time of upheaval and unrest, I am not here to call my white friends when they need comfort: I have to be a wife, mother, colleague, manager, home CEO, and friend. I have to do all of those things while handling my own trauma and also supporting my black husband and children. I am not here to talk with parents who are teaching their children not to see color: I cannot trust them to raise children who will stand by my boys when they are profiled, discriminated against, or unlawfully detained by cops. I am not here to applaud symbolic gestures: I don’t have patience for anyone who protests, puts up Facebook posts, buys the trending anti-racism books, or makes signs but then does nothing to sustain this movement.

    I am still here to build bridges. I am still committed to encourage an authentic desire to learn, to push, and dismantle.

    My faith gives me the strength to love, honor, forgive, and to go deeper into my friendships. So even though I am weary, angry, afraid for the beautiful black men in my life, and did I mention tired, I will still try to be a bridge, because I still believe that it takes a village. But dear white people, don’t look for those bridges if all you do is treat this time like a moment and not an ongoing movement and go back to business as usual.

    Sharee McKenzie Taylor
    Sheree McKenzie Taylor is a black woman, lawyer, mother, and wife of Adam R. Taylor, executive director of Sojourners.

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