Joel Block: The Honest Struggle

All of us, throughout our lives, often have to make choices between what we think we ought to do and what we think is good for us.  This pandemic has only exacerbated that dilemma. 

I am a committed Reform Jew, and that means that I believe that it is incumbent upon me, and all of us, to be deeply involved in social justice.  To that end, I support Black Lives Matter, the current protests happening around our country as they relate to racial inequality issues, and that we live in a land guided by systemic racism. 

By belief and desire, I acknowledge that I should be out there with the protesters and should be active in various social justice movements. 

And yet…I am also guided by the Jewish belief that we should not sacrifice our own lives to help others.  While Pekuach Nefesh is essential to Jewish life, we may not give up our own lives to save another, albeit with very limited exceptions.  According to our sage, Rabbi Akiva, our lives are a gift from God and we do not have the right to make it less important than anothers. (Talmud, Bava Metzia 62(b) 

 Thus, I reach my current dilemma.  I am one of those people that, due to age and other health issues, is considered at risk during this pandemic.  Joining the public protests would significantly add to the level of risk.  Even if all of the protesters are wearing masks, participants do not truly socially distance. I have no idea as to their practices in terms of personal sanitation, hand washing, etc.  Given my own health issues, and the fact that I live with somebody whom I would put at risk by joining the protests, is the basis for my dilemma. 

My solution has been to find other ways to support the causes in which I believe.  I often speak about racial inequality at Santa Barbara School Board meetings sharing my thoughts, my frustration, and my anger at how racial inequality and systemic racism negatively affects the students in our schools.  I also have decided to make it my mission to do everything I can to teach about these issues and help change the system. 

I teach Social Studies to at-risk high school students, many of whom suffer from racial inequality and systemic racism.  Currently I am teaching courses in U.S. History and Government.  This year the focus of my teaching is to expose and inform my students to the values that were used in the founding of our country and government, and how those choices affect our lives today.  While I extol the virtues of America, I do not sugar coat these sensitive issues, and I try to develop my students understanding that their choices, both conscious and unconscious, will determine how they live their lives now and in the future. 

While I am not completely comfortable with my decisions, I can live with and feel confident that I am doing my best to live up to what believe is the proper way for a committed Reform Jew to live.

Joel Block is a 25+ year resident of Santa Barbara, former Dir. of Education at CBB, long time teacher in the SB School District & at UCSB, and an attorney.  He is an active participant in the Shabbat minyan, the Day Yomi group as well as other CBB activities including working in the Hebrew School.  Joel’s greatest claim to fame is that he is married to super teacher and tutor Alisse and is the father of Nathaniel, a graduate of Beit HaYeladim and the religious school.