A St. Louis Rabbi On the Ground in Ferguson

August, 21 2014
Ferguson Protestor Amid Flares

Tensions erupted last Friday between police and protesters in Ferguson, Missouri. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

It has been almost two weeks of unrest since the shooting death of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Since then, “clashes between the police and protesters have become a nightly ritual,” The New York Times reports. In response, many spiritual leaders around the country have taken note, standing in solidarity with protesters and descending upon the state to offer spiritual guidance and help quell the violence.

Yet some have been on the scene from the beginning. One is Rabbi Susan Talve, who leads the progressive Central Reform Congregation in St. Louis, just 20 minutes away from suburban Ferguson. Moment spoke with Talve, who has been campaigning for progressive causes including gun control and race issues for many years, and is working with the Jewish community to address the race and class tensions that have flared up in Ferguson. Here’s what she had to say.–Rachel E. Gross

How would you characterize the situation in Ferguson right now?

Things are quieting down on the street, but they’re ramping up in the community, because the people who have been engaged are fired up—number one, to see justice for Michael Brown and his family, and number two, to re-energize and reform the civil rights movement as a human rights movement that is focused on jobs, access to education and healthcare. We need to deal with the racism that allows for discriminating practices like racial profiling that have torn apart our community because it’s broken down trust, especially between people of color and the police.

How have you and your congregation been involved?

I’ve been there since the very first vigil last Sunday. And it’s not just me, it’s my whole congregation. The leadership in the Jewish community really is trying to be part of the solution by engaging itself. We’re taking the opportunity to be part of the struggle. I really feel a deep connection and a love for the African-American clergy that I have come to know for the decades I’ve been in St. Louis. If they’re on the front lines, I’m on the front lines with them.

This is personal for us. Not just because we have kids of color in the neighborhood who have grown up there. It’s been a tough situation for the people living in Ferguson. So we’ve tried to help there. We have a Jewish camp owner who is a member of the community who has figured out a way to take up to 100 children to a camp outside St. Louis for the weekend, after one of the Ferguson school districts closed down school.

We are working on long-range projects through the Jewish community that will use this energy to make sure that Michael Brown did not die in vain; that the festering sore that his death has opened up will not be allowed to be hidden; there won’t be any band-aids put on it. We’re going to let it see the light of day and we’re going to heal it before we allow it to be covered up again.

I promise you there will be long-term responses to the wake-up call that Ferguson has given us in St. Louis, and I hope it’s a wake-up call for the whole country.

What do you see as the most pressing issue in Ferguson right now?

The main issue right now is to get justice for Michael Brown’s family and to regain trust in the legal system. We cannot allow for the divide between our elected officials and the people. We have to regain trust by working together and by listening to the people on the street, and that’s the job of the clergy. The engagement of our young people is a good thing.

I was out on the street one night before the violence started. It was a Thursday night before that terrible Friday night when the looting began. And I’m telling you that Thursday night, there were young black men directing traffic, protecting people of all colors, all genders, all races. They were protecting us. They were doing the job of the police and I never felt so safe in St. Louis as I did that night with those young people in control.

Unfortunately, a small number of agitators and people with self-interested agendas took over. It was hijacked. But that young, energized group of young black leaders—if we empower them, if we support them and listen to them most importantly, we will see finally the changes that we have been praying for and talking about for generations now.

Is there anything most people don’t know about Ferguson, but should?

Ferguson is not the urban core. Ferguson is a nice quiet suburb. Ferguson is where people move to get away from the problems of the city. 

What does it mean that violence ignited here, instead of somewhere more urban?

That it’s everywhere. You can’t escape it. The racial divide, the geographic divide, all of the divides have been crossed.

Why should Jews care about Ferguson?

If we’re not part of the solution, we’re part of the problem. If it’s not our issue to care for the unempowered, the people without a voice, the people who are most vulnerable, then we’re not paying attention to Torah. That’s why we’re in the city. We created the Central Reform Congregation 30 years ago to be in the city of St. Louis because we felt there needed to be a Jewish presence where racism is most pronounced.

Related Posts

10 thoughts on “A St. Louis Rabbi On the Ground in Ferguson

  1. Tom Hulscher says:

    Thank you Rabbi Susan Talve, for your call that we all get involved in recognizing and dealing with the racial divide and continuing double standards of treatment by law enforcement and other parts of our society. As a grandparent of two biracial children I often feel at a loss for how to address this issue that will affect them greatly as adults in America. Tom Hulscher, Member of Temple Beth Am, Seattle, WA

  2. Shirley Grey says:

    She’s an inspiring woman. As a Jew I’m proud. Grew up in the south during the battles there. Was outspoken as a Jew. Even as a little girls, drank at the “black only” water fountains. I thought it was wrong to have them. Tikun Olam.

  3. Ltpar says:

    Sorry folks, no pat on the head for this liberal do gooder, Susan Talve, who is out there fanning the flames of racial unrest. Her statement about the community “seeking justice for Michael Brown,” is the giveaway toward a biased view. What she should have said was, “The community is seeking that justice be served after the investigation is complete and the facts are in.” In the end, when it is proven that Michael Brown was just another street thug, who committed a strong arm robbery, physically assaulted a Police Officer and was killed during a second attack on the Officer, Rabbi Talve can scurry off to her next project with egg all over her face. Moral of the story is that people should ave waited until all the facts are in before stringing up Officer Wilson.

  4. Jay B. says:

    There is no one in the city more capable, hard working and compassionate than Rabbi Susan Talve. She does good, which is far different than the ‘do gooder’ label Ltpar tries to pin on her (as if doing good is a bad thing in his world). And, I’ll guarantee him…there will be no scurrying off…there will only be moving on to the next project to help bring real justice, understanding and compassion for all in our community.

  5. Jay B. says:

    Just another short note…while Ltpar suggests that Rabbi Talve is showing bias in her call for justice, it seems that he is in fact revealing his bias….Saying “In the end, when it is proven that Michael Brown was just another street thug” even while hypocritically saying “people should have waited until all the facts are in”) Also, calling for justice for Michael Brown is in no way calling for “stringing up Officer Wilson” (again, his bias)…justice just means getting the facts out, whichever way they may fall. Finally, in the end…if there is a bias, isn’t being biased in favor of kindness and humanity a good thing? At least far better than assuming a dead 18 yr old is “just another street thug”.

  6. n says:

    We need a justice. Michael Brown his life cut off beacuse he is just a young black.

  7. David says:

    The Rabbi is missing the boat. Backing a thug, black or white, makes no sense whatsoever. Will she consider backing Hamas because they are misunderstood and deprived? Please Rabbi continue ministering to your congreagation and pray for Israel.

  8. DeeDee says:

    David — Yes, she probably will. That’s where the Jewish left is at these days, and female rabbis are leading the left-wing pack in the U.S.

  9. Robert says:

    It’s sad that this woman, through her contempt for Justice and her willingness to bear false witness, has no place in the world to come.

    It’s also sad that this woman supports a bully like Michael Brown. I can’t watch that video of him beating up that store clerk without feeling terrible. Why does she stick her neck out for Michael Brown and the (pro-Hamas, Semitic) anarchists? Can’t she at least wait for the Grand Jury to practice Justice the American way.

    This rabbi is a terrible person, and an insult to Judaism.

  10. Elad Ben says:

    I commend the rabbi on her commitment to justice. She is on the right track and those who oppose her should study Torah more and follow news media less. Tzedek, tirdof tzedek. Justice, justice shall you pursue. There can be no justice for Michael Brown, in this world because he is dead. He was never placed under arrest, charged with a crime, or entitled to legal counsel. He will never be able to respond to his accusers who judge him based on a store video, facts still conflicting. These are things that I am most certain would have been considered by the Sanhedrin, no?

    He had no criminal/juvenile record, no day in court, no conviction or exoneration, no due process. He did however, have a high school diploma, future plans to be an HVAC technician and business owner, and he was scheduled to begin technical college only a few days after he met his demise. Those facts have been lost in the race baiting tirades and sound byte rhetoric of liberal and conservative media. We, as Jews, are taught to question everything and to commit ourselves to tikkun olam.

    Did Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel hesitate and hide when injustice reared its hideous head? No, he spoke out and marched with Dr. King and others. Notice that I haven’t mentioned anything in my post about racism or the police officer. As an African-American Jew, it pains me whenever life is lost but it stings even more when lashon hara is spoken against a deceased child that no one on this post even knew. This is a tragedy. Every 28 hours, an African-American man, woman, or child is killed by law enforcement. Would this be tolerated in any other community? This is an issue for the people of Ferguson and the nation as a whole. Keep up the good work, Rabbi. You are in good company, Rabbi Talve. Yasher Ko’ach.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *