Unetaneh Tokef for Black Lives

Friday would’ve been the 65th birthday of my first wife and her yahrzeit is this week. As I thought about the beauty of her laugh and the pain of her end, so different from those on whose behalf we cry out, the words of the Unetaneh Tokef—a prayer that inspires fear and awe during the High Holidays—came to me.

Both the Unetaneh Tokef and the impact of this list of killings of Black Americans (compiled by an unknown community member) inspired “Unetaneh Tokef for Black Lives”.

Each day we hazard our Black lives in the Court of the White World

We know our worth

Yet the white world is judge-self-appointed

We pass before you to be counted

12.5 million bodies stolen

1.8 million mercifully avoided your shores

Stolen shores, stolen land

10.7 million arrived unsafely

…times 401 years

…times infinite human indignities

…times ⅗ of a human being

We now number 47.8 million

In the morning it is written and by curfew it is sealed

Who shall die while jogging (#AhmaudArbery)

Who shall die while relaxing in the comfort of their home (#BothamJean #AtatianaJefferson)

Who shall die while seeking help after a car crash (#JonathanFerrell #RenishaMcBride).

Who shall die while holding a cellphone (#StephonClark).

Who shall die while decorating for a party (#ClaudeReese).

Who shall die while leaving a party (#JordanEdwards #SeanBell)

Who shall die while enjoying music (#JordanDavis).

Who shall die while selling music…trying to make a way outta no way (#AltonSterling).

Who shall die while sleeping (#AiyanaJones)

Who shall die while worshipping the Lord (#Charleston9).

Who shall die for a traffic violation (#SandraBland).

Who shall die while coming from the store (#MikeBrown and #TrayvonMartin).

Who shall die while playing cops and robbers (#TamirRice).

Who shall die while lawfully carrying a weapon (#PhilandoCastile, #FreddieGray).

Who shall die while on the shoulder of the road with car problems (#CoreyJones #TerrenceCrutcher).

Who shall die in the first hours of the new year (#OscarGrant)

Who shall die while shopping at Walmart (#JohnCrawford).

Who shall die while cashing a check in peace (#YvonneSmallwood).

Who shall die while reading a book in their own car (#KeithScott).

Who shall die while taking a walk with their stepfather (#CliffordGlover).

Who shall die while reaching for their wallet (#AmadouDiallo).

Who shall die while running away (#WalterScott).

Who shall die while asking a cop a question (#RandyEvans).

Who shall die while begging for their life, their breath (#EricGarner #GeorgeFloyd).

Who shall die by the effects of supremacy, greed, and apathy

…who by beast, indeed

“But repentance, prayer and charity temper judgment’s severe decree”

“But repentance, prayer and charity avert judgment’s severe decree?”

But turning, connection and giving, these return us to our Gd?

Whose repentance? Whose prayer? Whose charity?

Temper, please temper

Temper already! Temper…

For sins against God, the Day of Atonement brings forgiveness; for sins against one’s fellowman, the Day of Atonement brings no forgiveness till he has become reconciled with the fellowman he wronged. (Mishnah Yoma 8:9)

“The Day of Atonement brings no forgiveness

till he has become reconciled with the fellowman he wronged.”

When will you atone? How will you atone?

For you, like us, will be judged.

You, like us, will return to dust.

Imani Romney-Rosa Chapman is one of the co-founders of Romney Associates, Inc. She has more than 25 years of experience organizing, educating, and developing curriculum for social justice. Her writing about racial intimacy and anti-racism at her Brooklyn synagogue can be found in the chapter she co-authored in UnCommon Bonds: Women Reflect on Race and Friendship (Peter Lang). 

2 comments on “Unetaneh Tokef for Black Lives

  1. Reb Deb Gordon on

    Yasher koach! Thank you for the work you do, day in and day out.
    I would like to use this in my YK service this year, with your permission.
    Is there an appropriate place to add Breonna Taylor?
    Reb Deb Gordon
    Troy NY

  2. Bobby5000 on

    But please note the consequences in the other direction. There will probably not be another Breanna Taylor in Louisville. Police will be told to check, investigate, verify, confirm, re-check, re-verify. A mother calls, there is a gang selling heroin in her complex. Police advise that they will conduct an investigation which will take 2-30 months. Vigorous police enforcement in NYC in the early 1990’s by Bloomberg et al led to a reduction in murders from over 2,500 to under 600.

    Don’t those lives matter? Can we say the names of people who were helped or saved by police enforcement. In the 80’s and 90’s there were so-called bad areas where police did not go, there was rampant violence and few choices. Robberies, shooting, and murders, were the lot of many blacks already the victim of historic inequality and segregation, while enforcement made lives better.

    We have choices in the new year and they are difficult. Warehousing large numbers of blacks with high arrest and incarceration worked injustice on some whose danger was overstated. However, the ultra-liberal policies of DiBlasio were a complete failure dramatically increasing the number of shootings and murders and leading to a mass exodus from New York.

    The book No Visible Bruises condemns police for not taking action against those who abuse women, while recent events blame police for intervening in several domestic violence incidents, you assume they are not dangerous because of your misogynistic background, you assume they are dangerous because of your racist leanings, contradictory messages are sent.

    Assuming we have a nice president, liberal groups need to sort out their message and its likely success, instead of lobbing broad generalities which accomplish little.

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