“What do you think about Black Lives Matter? Should Jewish organizations support this movement?”
An audience member posed these questions to me earlier this summer as part of a panel discussion on creating inclusive communities at the Union for Reform Judaism’s Kutz Camp in Warwick, New York and within NFTY, the Reform Jewish youth movement. While I knew many members of the audience of more than 300 staff and participants, this was one of the first times that I was speaking with them about the challenges that confront Jews of Color. As I briefly considered these questions, I was still so nervous to receive this question and anxious to respond to it so that my true message would get across.
After thanking the audience member for their question, I took a deep breath and responded:
“The Black Lives Matter movement is an incredibly important component to talking about and addressing the issues that Black people must confront in this country. Additionally, I believe that all Jewish organizations should support the Black Lives Matter movement because 2-3% of Jews in America also identify as Black. If we are truly to be inclusive of Jews of Color in our communities, we must acknowledge, affirm, support, and celebrate their entire being, not just the Jewish part of their identity”.
Following the panel discussion, I had the opportunity to work with a breakout group of about 35 people and continue the conversation on creating inclusive communities for Jews of Color. We provided space for everyone to comment on how their racial and religious identity has influenced their connection to the Jewish community. We explored how Jews of Color may especially struggle with these questions of identity and how that can negatively affect their participation in congregations and Jewish organizations. And we brainstormed ways that our communities, at the URJ Kutz Camp and within NFTY youth groups and regions, we can be more inclusive of Jews of Color and ensure that they feel empowered to contribute to organized Jewish life.
Several weeks after this inspirational panel discussion and workshop, I find myself drawn to this conversation of Jewish organizations and institutions supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. While some people and groups may find its motives or tactics controversial, there is nothing controversial about affirming the value of people in our world. In addition to continuing our broader commitment to justice for people outside of our community, Jews must also consider that many members of our communities identify as Black and that by supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, we are supporting the inherent worth of our fellow congregants and community members.
A cornerstone of the Jewish faith and community is in the Talmudic passage, “Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh” or “All of Israel is responsible for one another”. Having Jews of Color in our congregations and organization is an opportunity to enrich our already bright community. Now is the time for all Jewish institutions to stand with the Black Lives Matter movement. This is not an issue of politics; it is a decision to understand our commitment to justice and to truly see ourselves as responsible for every single member of our community.