Jewish Youth for Community Action members at a recent Oakland protest. (Photo/Rachel Gottfried)
Jewish Youth for Community Action members at a recent Oakland protest. (Photo/Rachel Gottfried)

Racial justice is a Jewish imperative

In the few short weeks since George Floyd died under a police officer’s knee, our nation has been jolted out of complacency.

Millions of protesters have taken to the streets, demanding a reckoning and calling for an end to systemic racism and police violence against people of color. Mayors and governors are supporting them. Members of Congress have been photographed together taking a knee, as have some police departments.

America is going through a crisis of conscience not seen since the civil rights movement of the 1960s. And the Jewish community, now as then, is deeply involved in the national moment of self-reflection, seeking to find a path forward.

That path requires acknowledgment of the racism endemic in our society. It requires learning about the history and experiences of people of color, and sitting with the discomfort. It requires careful listening, and changing behaviors. It requires speaking out and demanding real change — legislative, economic and societal.

But there is much learning to do inside our own Jewish community, too. Jews of color are sharing their pain and frustration, and we must listen.

In our cover story this week, we hear from a number of Bay Area Jews of color. One tells a story of being handcuffed at a BART station for playing music too loudly. Others share how they are questioned in their own synagogues, even, in one case, being taken for a janitor. They speak of the fear in their hearts when they send their black teenage sons out into the world.

The dominant white Jewish community must hear these stories, and feel the tension and anger in them. If we do not, we are complicit. As one of our op-ed writers puts it, you don’t have to be a racist to permit racism to exist; you just have to turn a blind eye.

Some of our Jewish institutions are already stepping up. Rabbis are reaching out to black Christian clergy. The Contemporary Jewish Museum has declared itself in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, acknowledging “the colonial origins and the inherent legacy of white supremacy embedded in all museums.” AJC has invited members of minority caucuses in the state Legislature to discuss a legislative response to racial injustice. The Jewish Community Relations Council has organized the #KneelAtHome campaign, and has provided a list of nonprofits working for racial justice that need donations, including Be’chol Lashon and the Jews of Color Field Building Initiative. These are just a few examples.

Change doesn’t happen on its own — we have to make it happen. And it needs to start now.

J. Editorial Board

The J. Editorial Board pens editorials as the voice of J.