SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — When a Jewish person dies, friends and family sit shiva, gathering for a week to provide solidarity and comfort to those the deceased left behind. Congregants at Congregation Beth El decided to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement by sitting shiva publicly for George Floyd this week.

The congregation is social-action oriented, said Mindy Schwartz-Brown on a recent visit to the canopy on the synagogue’s Irvington Avenue front lawn. 

Schwartz-Brown, who lives in South Orange herself, was part of the committee that organized the event. During the quarantine, she said, programming has been largely streaming. Being able to hold the shiva outside and socially distanced was a way to show support for the Black community “that was safe and consistent with Jewish practice and our values,” she noted.

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“Typically when you sit shiva, it’s with somebody from your family, but the assumption [in this case] is that we are all family, and our objection to anybody being killed or discriminated against is that we are all made in God’s image. It’s a violation.”

Stacey Levine of Chatham saw the event on social media and decided to join in, even though she is not a member at Beth El. She is now suggesting the action to her own synagogue, Temple Sinai of Summit.

Other members of the public posted about it on Facebook. Andre Waters-Bowers shared a photo of the shiva tent he took as he walked by and said it was the “most powerful picture I have ever taken.”

 “We didn’t seek any publicity about this,” said Schwartz-Brown. “We’re delighted that people are moved by it, because we are all moved by it.” The sign up document — for 11.5 hours a day for seven days — was filled in less than 48 hours, Schwartz-Brown said. “Everybody was that excited about it.”


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