Few domestic issues have roiled the country in recent months as has the alarming number of people shot and killed by police officers. According to the FBI, 385 have died in police shootings so far this year.
A disproportionate number of those killed have been African Americans. In the wake of last summer’s shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by a white officer in Ferguson, Missouri, the Black Lives Matter movement has spread nationwide, spurring debate over the specter of racism still haunting our country.
This problem affects all Americans, including the Jewish community. As much as we boast of progressive values, Jewish connections to the civil rights movement and our commitment to diversity, there is more we can and must do.
Thus we applaud the organizers of a recent Bay Area workshop, “Race and Privilege in the Jewish Community,” which we report on in this issue. The goal of the event, held at the JCC of San Francisco, was to start a conversation about how Jewish institutions, agencies and individuals navigate sensitive issues of race, especially when it comes to Jews of color.
Just look around. The Bay Area Jewish community is remarkably heterogeneous. Black Jews, Asian Jews and Latino Jews belong to our synagogues, work for our agencies and lead our congregations. Whether Jews by choice or born into Jewish families, these individuals are part of the community fabric and help us thrive.
Yet as our story about the workshop notes, even in the tolerant Bay Area, Jews of color say they have often been made to feel like outsiders in their own community. Synagogue members are asked whether they “need help” when they arrive at services or an event, as if they are visitors; the question may be well intentioned, but the assumption behind it is hurtful, trading in old stereotypes that no longer match reality.
Thankfully, the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, the Walter and Elise Haas Fund, the JCCSF and the advocacy group Be’chol Lashon teamed up to sponsor this workshop, which drew more than 100 community leaders, including many Jews of color. This shows a real determination to address the issue openly and honestly.
The conversation is just beginning. We agree with workshop organizers that we all must reflect and take action to open our own eyes and those of our colleagues and friends. Let’s make the Bay Area Jewish community a warm, welcoming place for all of its members.