As I write this, we are mourning the deaths of George Floyd, killed by a white police officer while saying, now familiarly, “I can’t breathe” and Regis Korchinski-Paquet who fell from a 24th floor balcony while police were present. Details are still being investigated. There is also the story of Christian Cooper, who was birdwatching in Central Park and, upon asking a white woman to leash her dog, was threatened; she called 911 to report being harassed by “an African American man.”
Now there are demonstrations, increased threats of violence, and credible reports of white supremacist groups attempting to fan the flames of violence and hate. Very scary times.
All of this is only a week or so after the Jewish media and community wrestled with some of our own racism.
Articles in eJewishPhilanthropy and the Forward spread hurt and misinformation by downplaying statistics (and, by implication, the importance) of Jews of colour.
I don’t want to share those pieces but I do want to amplify the voices of Jews of colour on that issue. Check out this one by Yoshi Silverstein:
https://ejewishphilanthropy.com/jews-of-color-deserve-teshuva/ and this one by Tema Smith: https://forward.com/opinion/446872/jews-of-color-deserve-an-accurate-count/
In response to the population discussion, and now again in response to police brutality and murder, I find myself arguing with and trying to educate people about how and why the Jewish community needs to stand up against this.
If you are outraged by the fact that no one cared when it was Jews being slaughtered in the streets…
If you are saddened by our legacy of exile, discrimination, hate…
If you are moved by teachings about justice and repairing the world in Judaism…
You should be doing something now.
I know, it is overwhelming, what is there to do? For white Jews, we have a responsibility to stand up and speak out now. For Jews of colour, it is not my place to say how you should respond. Take care of yourself the way you need to now. It is up to me and other people with racial privilege and power to do this work.
Here are some ideas for action:
1) Read the voices of people of colour and talk about their ideas with those in your circle. I suggest Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Me and White Supremacy by Layla F Saad, and White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo if you don’t know where to start.
2) Watch this video about Jews and white privilege (I recorded this for Oraynu a few years ago when we were snowed out of an event): https://www.facebook.com/Oraynu/videos/1591282274287729/
3) Support organizations like Black Lives Matter, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the ACLU/CCLA, and any other, especially if it is an organization run by Black/Indigenous folks doing anti-racist work
4) Have those hard conversations. Don’t submit to “white silence.” Call out racism and keep holding your loved ones to account. We can all do better.
5) Amplify and share the words of people of colour through your social media, book clubs, publications, letters to the editor, anywhere. We each have a small but importance sphere of influence. Let’s use it.
My heart is broken. There is just so much pain in the world right now. I believe Judaism is a path to spiritual wellness, and those who are well are less likely to hurt others, so connect with text, community, ritual, practice, rest on Shabbat, joy on holidays, and the rest of it, all while making sure we don’t lose sight of the ultimate goal: Judaism is here to enrich our lives with a view to making us instruments of justice. Let’s get loud.