On lives, and mattering

At a fairly young age, Jewish children are shown a picture similar to this one: A pile of dirty shoes, all gray with soot and ash. They range in sizes from toddler to adult. It’s an uncountably large pile, with no ground visible between the shoes as you look down from above. The shoes were taken from liberated concentration camps, their former owners gassed or shot or butchered for no reason other than an accident of being born into a faith (usually Jewish, occasionally Catholic) or race (usually black or Romany) or sexual orientation (this might surprise you, but Nazis were against homosexuality).

Often, the photo is accompanied by a short poem by Moshe Szulsztein. It reads like this:

We are the shoes, we are the last witnesses.
We are shoes from grandchildren and grandfathers
From Prague, Paris and Amsterdam,
And because we are only made of fabric and leather
And not of blood and flesh,
Each one of us avoided the hellfire

When the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum opened in 1993, they recreated the photo in a large display, with the poem stenciled on the wall above the shoes.

Jewish children are also exposed throughout their religious education to this poem by Pastor Martin Niemöller. It’s also stenciled on a wall at the museum.

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me

Nobody asks them, but I’m guessing reading this poem throughout their formative years is one of the reasons so many Jews get involved in social justice causes. And let’s be clear: there’s a difference between social justice and what we call woke culture. Lawyers taking up civil rights cases and journalists writing books about the history of radical movements are much different than sitting on Twitter and nitpicking.

And having this poem knocked into my cranium is probably why I take it for granted that black lives matter, and trans lives matters, and my life matters, and your life matters, and everyone’s life matters and not one of those things is mutually exclusive to any of the others, and none of those things is a political statement.


You’ll notice I left out “blue lives matter,” which seems to be in political opposition right now to “black lives matter.” “All lives matter” seems to have a similar political opposition to “black lives matter,” but let me put forth a couple of things here.

First, I don’t say blue lives matter because no one is literally born a police officer. Yes, I think the vast majority of the 800,000 police officers in the U.S. are good at their jobs and unfortunately, a few bad apples show up as representative of the profession in some people’s eyes.

I invite you to read what I wrote in the wake of George Floyd’s death for more on that.

Georgia recently made police officers a protected class under hate crimes laws. While I appreciate the hard — and often dangerous — work our men and women in blue do, other hate crimes laws cover things that are part of people either by birth or by raising. Race. Sexuality. Gender. Religion (yes, we can choose our faith as adults, but there’s a reason it’s constitutionally protected).

There are one, perhaps two professions mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. Journalists are protected by freedom of the press, and faith leaders are, by and large, protected by freedom of religion. The founders of our country decided those were important enough to the continuation of a free and open society to mention them. There aren’t hate crime laws protecting journalists, by the way, but they would apply to religious leaders in most cases, one would think.

No other profession is protected under hate crime laws. I think it’s a little too virtue-signally.


In the early days of the Back Lives Matter movement, I heard it described, as opposed to All Lives Matter, like this. I wish I had an attribution for it.

You’re a child at dinner with your parents and your three siblings. Everyone gets served except for you. “Dad, I deserve my fair share,” you say. “That’s selfish,” he replies. “Everyone deserves their fair share.”

The implication is that yes, everybody deservers their fair share, but you didn’t get yours; how can everybody be treated fairly if you’re not treated fairly?

Similarly, yeah, sure, everyone’s life matters, but if a large swath of the population believes their lives don’t appear to matter, it can’t be true that all lives matter. In short, All Lives Matter because Black Lives Matter. And if black lives don’t matter, it can’t be true that all lives matter.

Get it? It’s pretty simple.


I’ve been trying for months to figure out how to say “Black Lives Matter” without it sounding political, because while I don’t believe it’s a political statement, too often it sounds like one. I’m not looking for a pat on the back. I’m looking for a way to recognize that All Lives Matter because Black Lives Matter and because Jewish Lives Matter and because Catholic Lives Matter and because Trans Lives Matter and because Baptist and Muslim and Brown and White and Asian and Zoroastrian and Queer lives matter.

Just be nice to each other, people. There’s plenty for everyone. Promise.

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