Lamentations for Trayvon Martin


In preparation for tonight’s Tisha B’av services, I’ve been re-reading Eykha (Lamentations)—the text we chant each year to mourn and commemorate the destructions of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem.  It’s one of my favorites of the canonical texts—there’s always something I’ve never noticed before, some new line jumps out and gets stuck in my head.  The poetry is dramatic and compelling, rich with imagery and shading. 

Reading over my JPS translation this weekend, one eye on my book and one eye on my Twitter feed, it was almost too easy to read the Trayvon Martin case into the text. Too easy to feel that, in addition to commemorating the Temples of old, we should be in mourning for the justice system of today.

I saw Trayvon Martin in the lines about suffering at the hands of unjust tormentors.

My foes have snared me like a bird,
Without any cause.
They have ended my life in a pit
And cast stones at me.

I read the failure of our courts in the tales of Jerusalem’s crimes and punishments.

Jerusalem has greatly sinned, 
Therefore she is become a mockery.
All who admired her despise her,
For they have seen her disgraced;
And she can only sigh
And shrink back

I heard echoes of my own disillusionment in our justice system.

To deny a man his rights
In the presence of the Most High
To wrong a man in his cause—
This the Lord does not choose.

In anger and in sadness, I’ll be thinking about Trayvon tonight.  Anger because I have witnessed unabashed disregard for the way racism continues to permeate our American systems. Deep sadness because Trayvon died so young, amidst such venom.  Fury because George Zimmerman killed a young black man and was acquitted. Our American justice system endorsed this injustice.

My children are forlorn,
For the foe has prevailed.

Sonia Isard is Lilith’s associate editor.

3 comments on “Lamentations for Trayvon Martin

  1. ConnieHinesDorothyProvine on

    This case should make us ask a serious question: what kind of a society have we become? After the election of Obama, we heard people celebrate the “post-racial” America. However, the majority of the US prison population is African-American and Latino. Two generations of African-Americans have seen their communities devastated by mandatory sentencing for drug-related offenses (most of which are minor infractions). Amid all this, there have been commentators who called Trayvon Martin a hoodlum, and others who said that maybe he shouldn’t have worn a hoodie. Never mind that, in the wake of the verdict, anchors expressed worries about potential riots that ended up never happening.

    It is true that the millennials are the most colorblind generation. But even if we and every successive generation marries outside our race, the residual effects of the racism that dominated the United States (first in the form of slavery, then in the form of Jim Crow Laws, now in the prison system) will not go away so easily.

  2. ConnieHinesDorothyProvine on

    By the way, if you get a chance, you should see Wallace Shawn’s play The Designated Mourner, directed by Andre Gregory and playing in NY. The review made it sound really good. My parents met Shawn and Gregory when their movie My Dinner with Andre came out and the four of them had a philosophical discussion about the art world.

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