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From the Desk of Rabbi Arthur Waskow

The Torah of the Baltimore Uprising is very short and simple. — See below.

HARLEM by Langston Hughes (1951)
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore –
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over –
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?


I grew up in Baltimore. I lived in the same house there from 1933 to 1954. All those years, the neighborhood was utterly white (and heavily Jewish). During the McCarthy years, my home-town heroes were our (Jewish) representatives on the Baltimore City Council -- the only Council-members to vote against imposing a loyalty oath on civil servants.

My high school was all-white and all-male. The police force was all-white and all-male.The only time I remember seeing more than two or three Blacks in the same place at the same time was at a Paul Robeson concert in a public park not far from my home.

That pattern had deep roots in Baltimore's history. Another of my home-town heroes is Rabbi David Einhorn, who during the 1850s dared in Baltimore -- a slave-holding city --to call for the abolition of slavery. His congregants threatened to kill him and forced him to leave the city.

One of my first political acts took place in 1950 at my high school. Just three yeas ago, I got to tell the story to an assembly of its students.

My parents continued living in the same house till after my mother died in 1985. By then the neighborhood, which continued to be neighborly, was 99.9% Black. During the transition, my parents worked hard to help their new neighbors register to vote.

When the tragic TV show The Wire unveiled the arrogant corruption of those who ruled Baltimore and the despairing corruption of those over whom they ruled, I cried.

Some of the Baltimore Uprising exploded about ten blocks from where I grew up.

I mourn for Freddie Gray. I mourn my shattered city, left too many centuries to fester like a raisin in the sun.


Rabbi Arthur Waskow is an American author, political activist, and Rabbi associated with the Jewish Renewal movement.


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