“Human beings were created as single individuals to teach us that anyone who destroys a single life is as though that person has destroyed an entire world; and anyone who preserves a single life is as though an entire world has been preserved. The creation of an individual human being was done also for the sake of peace among humanity, so that no person could say to another, ‘My parent is greater than your parent.’” (Talmud Sanhedrin 4:5)
While thinking of everything going on in the world today, this piece from the Talmud speaks to me loudly. Under God’s rule, all humans are created equal. We are created as if our lives mean everything.
This means we stand together.
During this period of fighting for justice, and the lives of black people, I have seen much controversy. Some people are against the Black Lives Matter (BLM) organization because of anti-Semitic comments made four years ago. Some people use this to justify not fighting for an entire race. There are many issues with these arguments, beginning with the belittlement of this civil battle.
Black Lives Matter runs deeper than the organization. It means that black people should be able to live a full life; that we should be able to live fully without the people meant to protect us killing us; that we shouldn’t be persecuted more harshly for the same or lesser crimes, and that we should be protected and equal under the law.
This should not only be black people vs. the police, black people vs. the government, or black vs. white. It should be everybody against racists, supremacists, inequality and injustice.
This should not only be black people vs. the police, black people vs. the government, or black vs. white. It should be everybody against racists, supremacists, inequality and injustice. When choosing to ignore this cause as a Jew, you are also choosing to deny yourself equality as a minority. You are inadvertently giving way to anti-Semitism.
Throughout history, Jews and African-Americans have faced pain. From the traumas of Egypt to the discrimination of both in modern times, now is an important time to stand together. Although Jewish blood runs deeper ethnically, a good number of Jews are white-passing in skin. While I see people denounce it, when it isn’t physically clear that you’re Jewish (i.e. wearing a kippah, Star of David symbol, etc.) white privilege is something from whom many benefit. The privilege of your skin color does not have to be a bad thing. It allows for a bigger and wider platform, as black voices have been widely silenced.
Another issue I see in the community is the lack of care because of the belief that people were not there for Jewish lives when they were lost. As a black, Jewish woman, this makes me somewhat sick. The divisions and separations in our community need to stop. We need to stand together for all lives lost, no matter who the victim. How can we all sing “Hinei ma tov u’ma na’im shevet achim gam yachad” (Behold how good and how pleasing / for brothers (people) to sit together in unity) when we refuse to come together as a community? My conversion began because of the community I was shown. When we drive for a deeper divide, what makes us different from everybody else?
We cannot live together as one if we cannot unify. This is the time for it. Be the change you want to see. As Rabbi Sandra Lawson said, “You are either racist or anti-racist… The latter meaning you are working everyday either emotionally or physically to dismantle the racism that we have all been taught since day one in the United States.”
Erykah Gaston is an 18-year-old from the Bronx, NY, currently studying special education at Ohio University.