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Black and Jewish In This Moment: A Personal Reflection

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to engage in the JCPA Webinar “Black Lives Matter: Being Jewish and Black in This Moment”- Featuring Ilana Kaufman, Executive Director, Jews of Color Initiative and Yavilah McCoy, CEO, Dimensions Educational Consulting, moderated by La’Mar Walker, LPC, CPCS, Counselor, Mindful Works Counseling Services. You can watch the webinar here. Being a Black Jewish Woman, this topic jumped out to me because rarely do I see Jewish and Black in the same sentence outside of Black History Month or hearing about Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s extraordinary allyship in the Civil Rights Movement and The Selma to Montgomery March. As colorful as the Jewish community is, more times than not Blacks and Jews of Color are separate in written and visual form. So yes, it was genuinely nice to listen to a different perspective of Being Jewish and Being Black from Jews that look like me from the comfort of my laptop.

Seven Generations. This statement provided by Yavilah is powerful—the historical trauma of slavery and all forms of racism is “embodied” or held personally and passed down over generations of Black Americans. Identities were stowed and stolen from 7 generations, continuing throughout the white supremacist history of America. As Jews we have migrated to America and assimilated to a culture that has continuously berated our fellowomen. Ilana Kaufman reminded us of the statistics of Jews of Color, 12%-15% of Jews are Jews of color. The impact of the “Us versus Them” myth, Jews vs Jews of Color/Black Jews, has stifled the relationship which will make us all better and greater. Ilana spoke bluntly and honestly on how America is “raised on white supremacy from the cereal we eat to the air we breathe…...” Yavilah asserts that it is the responsibility of every Jew to ensure that Black Jews receive reparations that garner success for seven generations into the future, and combat racism whether or not Jews of Color are represented in your Shul.

The strength of the Jewish culture is the amount of community building resources available mainly through the Jewish Community Relation Council (JCRC). After all, it is essential that the Jewish Community can call on the Council to provide appropriate resources for all Jews, not just the ones that make up the majority. The JCRC is responsible for helping to reconstruct the very systems that have perpetuated racist policies that hinder the growth of Black Jewish People and the Jewish People as a whole. Yavilah issued a call to action to embody racial equity for ALL Jews, dismantling the “unearned accumulation of resources” or privilege.

Regarding police brutality, how do white bodies experience this and how do Black bodies experience it? Yavilah asks, “what happened to our embodiment?” Growing up in a predominately white neighborhood, as the first Blacks, I recall my mother going out and purchasing an expensive camcorder to capture the callousness that we endured through police brutality. Within my own body no more than 12 years of age when I should have been enjoying childhood, I was learning how to capture these brutal moments that wreaked havoc on my ability to thrive because of my melanated skin. Never once was I shadowed with personal hatred of my melanin, I embraced it and fought hard to have it recognized through the lens of my white counterparts. And to think--I am still fighting! However now my scrutiny is focused not on how white people view me, but on how I view them and their embodiment of privilege. It is time for white Jews to have conversations regarding their embodiment of justice for groups that are not afforded the equities they need. Where is the alliance?

The webinar called out the fundamental reality-- prosperity and equity have been denied Black and Brown people. Ilana charged white Jews to tap into their subconscious and wake up. “It’s easy for a community who has not been marginalized” to remain oblivious.

As White Jews, it is your responsibility to seek the truth and repair the world outside the comfort of your privilege. It is time to get comfortable with being uncomfortable! Do not rely on Black Jews or Jews of Color to tell you their story and provide you with ammunition through their story to go out and fight. Through your personal lens you have seen the discrimination and oppression that has plagued Black Jews, and it is your obligation to fight as best you can by writing to elected officials on the local, state and national level, by marching, by calling out a family member whose vernacular spews racist views. “We will not steal from ourselves the opportunity to be in partnership, to be in relationship or to be part of a moment not just of Black people” (Ilana Kaufman).

Black Lives Matter has always been a movement within the Black Culture, before the Black Lives Matter Organization and before the huge communal participation we now see. Keep the momentum going and provoke change, demand change, and Get Engaged. We must start within. I would love to see more Black Jews and Jews of Color in leadership roles, partnering roles, and advocacy roles, as representatives of Jews of Color and ALL Jews. My story is not your ammo-- Your awareness of injustice and your hunger for racial equity is your ammo!

I said it before and I will say it again, it is time to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, until racial equity is given to everyone. Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdorf!!!


--Kotarah Thompson

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