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Jews Cannot Be Silent in the Face of Anti-Black Racism

Jews must not be the silent onlookers on anti-black racism in America as we have been the victims of silent onlookers for millennia.
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May 29, 2020
LONDON, ENGLAND – MAY 31: People hold placards as they join a spontaneous Black Lives Matter march at Trafalgar Square to protest the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and in support of the demonstrations in North America on May 31, 2020 in London, England. The death of an African-American man, George Floyd, at the hands of police in Minneapolis has sparked violent protests across the USA. A video of the incident, taken by a bystander and posted on social media, showed Floyd’s neck being pinned to the ground by police officer, Derek Chauvin, as he repeatedly said “I can’t breathe”. Chauvin was fired along with three other officers and has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. (Photo by Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

“The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence.” stated Dr Rabbi Joachim Prinz.

The Jewish community cannot be silent in the face of anti-Black racism in America. 

The Jewish and Black American relationship during the Civil Rights Movement was historic. Rabbis linked arms with Black Americans and marched on Selma. Jewish Americans overwhelmingly supported the civil rights movement compared to White Americans. Jewish Americans made up half the young people who participated in the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964. Jewish lawyers were estimated to be 90% of the lawyers analysing welfare standards, the bail system, arrest procedures, justice-of-peace rulings, obtaining parade permits, and complaining of jail beatings and intimidation.

But we cannot glorify Jewish America’s support of the civil rights movement whilst being a silent onlooker today when getting shot by the police is the leading cause of death for Black men in America. 

We cannot glorify Jewish America’s support of the civil rights movement whilst being a silent onlooker today when getting shot by the police is the leading cause of death for Black men in America.

Holocaust survivor Rabbi Prinz spoke at the March on Washington in 1963 stating that America must not become a nation of silent onlookers. 

America did. 

Jewish America must not. 

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marched the Selma-to-Montgomery March in 1965 and stated “For many of us the march from Selma to Montgomery was about protest and prayer. Legs are not lips and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs praying.”

Rabbi William Frankel marched the Selma-to-Montgomery March with the blessing of his Board of Directors. He was not protesting as an individual but as a representative of his congregation.  

The Jewish community must march again. 

It does not need to be stated how much the Jewish community has suffered. From a thousand years of ghettoization in Europe, to living as Dhimmi in the Middle East and North Africa, to genocide, to synagogue shootings across America. Indifference has enabled our suffering for millennia. The world of silent onlookers has condemned us to our deaths for millennia. We must not be complicit in its condemnation of Black Americans. 

As the Black community mourns another victim of murder by American police forces, the Jewish community must not only mourn with them. We must burn with rage with them too. The Jewish community must protest and aid the Black protestors of today – who protest their unjust murder at the hands of the police departments of America. If we do not, we are complicit in its happening.  

MINNEAPOLIS, MN – MAY 29: Jamela J. Pettiford sings during a protest with Former NBA player Stephen Jackson in response to the police killing of George Floyd outside the Hennepin County Government Center on May 29, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Jackson, who was friends with George Floyd, spoke at a press conference before joining the protest. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

The Jewish community must protect and join those protesting today. Our lawyers must defend protesters unlawfully arrested, our medics must treat victims of police brutality, our everyday Jewish Americans from the orthodox to the secular must march with the Black community, and our Rabbis must speak just as they did in the civil rights movement. 

The Jewish community prides itself on its commitment to social justice, we must show up to meetings, grassroots organizations, press conferences, and protests. Being silent onlookers cannot be an option when believing in Tikkun Olam; in repairing the world. 

Rabbi Jeffery Salkin of Temple Solel stated that “We [Jewish and Black Americans] are partners in creating a better America.” 

We must build a better America together.

Eliyahu Lann is a Jewish activist.

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