Justice, Justice, Shall You Pursue

By Jennie Spector

To my fellow Jews, especially white Ashkenazim –

Our liberation is inextricably wound in Black liberation. We have an obligation as Jews to loudly declare that Black Lives Matter, to show up for the movement, and to, in the words of Rabbi Heschel, pray with our feet.

We fled to the US to escape similar violence that Black people face today — state-sanctioned murder and terror, economic disenfranchisement, centuries of myths that worked to dehumanize us, to say that our lives don’t matter, that the violence is deserved, woven into the fabric of the cultural consciousness. We arrived in this country, and struggled, but also prospered. We found safety and opportunity the likes of which our people hadn’t known for thousands of years.

A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to hear Ta-Nehisi Coates speak at my university. He said many revelatory things, but the one that had the greatest impact was this: while those who fled persecution and arrived in America may have had nothing to do with slavery and its legacy, it is vital to actively remember that this country is only one that we could prosper in because of the labor of Black people. The economy that allowed us to build ourselves up was created on the backs of Black people. The rights we enjoyed, even while facing anti-semitism, were denied to Black people. We may have not participated in the first several hundred years of Black oppression, but we built our lives on top of it. This idea caused me to critically think about my connection as a Jew to the Black Lives Matter movement, and my obligation to show up.

I recently found a book that quoted my grandfather (z”tl) speaking on what he witnessed as a young boy in Germany around the time of Kristallnacht. What he recounted shook me to my core. When I close my eyes, I can envision the violence he described seeing in the streets. I remember that this violence too was legalized by the state. This violence too took place in full view, its perpetrators secure in the knowledge that the surrounding community either felt it was deserved, or believed that they had no power to stop it.

As Jews, we are intimate with state-sanctioned violence. We remember it in our bones. We are too often reminded of the hatred that remains for our people today. We cannot shy away from our moral obligation to donate, to march, to educate ourselves, to listen, to learn, to reach out to the Black community. We must also make extra space for Black Jews, who not only experience the pain and danger of an anti-Black culture, but also antisemitism and all of the complications that come with being both Black and Jewish. Reach out to our Black mishpocha. Ask them what they need, privately. Listen. Have conversations with your synagogues and community centers about the police that stand outside our doors. Can they truly be trusted to protect all members of our community? Recognize that racism is alive within the Jewish community. Our minority status does not preclude us from doing the work to recognize it, and to fight for an anti-racist Jewish America.

The website below has a great list of books and articles that dive deeper into how white Jews can better show up for the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as Black and POC Jews in our communities. There are plenty of ways to donate to the movement — give in increments of chai to commemorate the lives lost, and the ones still on the line. Please keep in mind that educating is labor-intensive work, and don’t ask Black people to explain things for you. I too have so much more to learn, and I would be honored to be a resource as we navigate this crucial time together.

Justice, Justice, Shall You Pursue. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?

Readings: https://rac.org/resources-embracing-racial-diversity-our-jewish-communities

List of places to donate, and other ways to support the work: https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/?fbclid=IwAR0TdvDUmQZvi-21rfp7rc0ZbxC7pULNhKXPtMAD8SzlOOSXnw4yNWBOzK8#donate

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