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Today Jews Need to Support Black Lives Matter; Tomorrow We Can Talk About Israel

Jews need to support black people, BDS or no, because… well, “First they came for the Blacks and I did nothing.”
[additional-authors]
June 3, 2020
A protest sign on Third and Fairfax. Photo by Sa Winfield

The morning after I saw the video of George Floyd’s death-by-police, I gave a small donation to Black Lives Matter (BLM) and shared a link on social media encouraging friends to do the same. A fellow member of my temple’s Tzedek Council took exception. He declared that while he supports the cause of ending police brutality against African Americans, he couldn’t in good conscience contribute to BLM because of their support of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS), and condemnation of Israel.

In President Donald Trump’s America, on the subject of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel, there are divisions even among progressive, Reform, Social Justice Warrior (SJW) Jews in West Hollywood.

Three days later, on Shabbat morning, I learned of the planned BLM protest at Pan Pacific Park, adjacent to the Holocaust Museum in the heart of the historically Jewish Fairfax district. Having publicly proclaimed that I’d take a bullet protecting innocent Black lives from police, I told my wife Sa that I had to show up.

She was displeased — not primarily out of concern for my safety, but because of COVID-19. “People won’t be social distancing,” she said. “I don’t want to get sick or become a carrier. Otherwise I’d go with you.” I demurred.

At first.

Then CNN reported live from the demonstration. It was peaceful. I proposed a compromise. We go, but stay in our car. Make a sign, hold it out the window, bear witness, maybe document with a few pictures. My wife tentatively agreed, and we gathered masks and a camera. I asked her, the artist in the family, to make a sign. She asked me, the writer, what it should say.

I thought about my exchange with my fellow congregant, about BDS and about Israel. I thought, Jewish and Black people should support each other. Our ancestors, too, were once slaves. Rabbis marched with Dr. Martin Luther King in Selma, Ala. What went wrong?

Louis Farrakhan.

If, in these insane times, Chabad youth and Black Lives Matter protesters can find common cause with this Reform Social Justice Warrior, then perhaps there is hope for the fight against racism in America after all.

But Jews need to support black people, BDS or no, because… well, “First they came for the Blacks and I did nothing.”

I told Sa: “Jews 4 Black Lives.”

Before we headed out the door, we checked the news. The protest had turned heated: pushing and shoving in the skirmish line, protesters shouting at cops. The camera bag was over my shoulder, but we hesitated. “We stay in the car,” I said.

As we approached Pan Pacific Park, we passed protesters going in both directions. I displayed our sign while she drove. At a stoplight two blocks from the protest, a black woman sitting on the curb holding a BLACK LIVES MATTER sign read ours and her face lit up. “Thank you. Thank you,” she said.

Protestors march in Santa Monica on May 31. Photo courtesy of Lorelei Laird

We were able to get within a block of the main crowd of protesters, which had moved from the park to 3rd Street, just east of Fairfax. Here, behind the march, the street was almost empty. “Can we get a couple of quick photos?” I asked, and Sa agreed.

Just as we got out of the car, we heard a boom. A black cloud of smoke went up from the midst of the crowd, and the mood darkened. People ran past us yelling “Get  out!” I posted a video on Instagram documenting what I later learned was a car ablaze.

Sa headed back to the car with the sign. An African American man stopped her and asked for a picture. A group of four young Chabadniks, wearing tzitzit and kippot but no masks (a kippah would make a fine mask, guys), ambled by. One gave her a thumbs up and said, “Cool.”

My big takeaway from that day — and the days since, when so many people at protests, black and Jewish alike, have given me thank-yous and thumbs-up while I carried the same message — is this: If, in these insane times, Chabad youth and Black Lives Matter protesters can find common cause with this Reform SJW, then perhaps there is hope for the fight against racism in America after all.

Israel is another story.

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