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Friday, March 5, 2021

Black/Jewish Justice Alliance Rethinks Safety and Security

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Erin is the Digital Content Manager at the Jewish Journal. She also covers Jewish art, entertainment and culture.

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Erin Ben-Moche
Erin is the Digital Content Manager at the Jewish Journal. She also covers Jewish art, entertainment and culture.

Discussions on safety, security, white supremacy and allyship were at the forefront of the second annual Heschel/King Forum put on by the Black/Jewish Justice Alliance (BJJA) on Oct. 8.

Sponsored by Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California (SCLC), Bend the Arc: A Partnership for Jewish Justice, the ACLU of Southern California, IKAR and various multifaith organizations, the forum focused on bringing together the Jewish and Black communities to fight racial and anti-Semitic injustice. More than 100 people attended and, to date, the forum has more than 1,900 views.

IKAR Rabbi Sharon Brous kicked off the first discussion, moderating a panel on Black and Jewish relations featuring Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Shalom and Rev. William D. Smart, president and CEO at SCLC.

Smart and Comess-Daniels acknowledged the decades of work Jewish and Christian leaders have done to bring together the two communities, dating back to the civil rights movement.

Smart and Comess-Daniels acknowledged the decades of work Jewish and Christian leaders have done to bring together the two communities, dating back to the civil rights movement.

“We have found a common enemy,” Smart said. “I know at times the common enemy — white supremacists — have tried to pit us against each other, but they are our common enemy …. We need to pull up our sleeves and go to work.”

Noting the August 2017 Charlottesville, Va., Unite the Right rally that turned violent, the October 2018 Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, the April 2019 Poway synagogue shooting, numerous cases of police brutality, and what federal authorities say was an attempted kidnapping last week of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer by white supremacists, Comess-Daniels said now is the time to band together and “overwhelm” the hate groups to “make this nation whole.”

In another panel with Pastor Stephen Cue Jn-Marie; Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter L.A.; Rabbi Sarah Bassin of Temple Emanuel Beverly Hills; and Gamal J. Palmer, senior vice president of leadership development at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the discussion focused on how to ensure safety for both the Black and Jewish communities.

When asked what public safety meant to each of them, Abdullah said,
“It’s not grounded in policing. There is no Black person who feels safe when a cop car pulls up behind them.”

Bassin said what safety currently means and what it should mean are two different ideas. “We talk about safety through the lens of crime and only crime. I think we would benefit as a community if we talked about safety in terms of security of one’s body, and the assurance of one’s well-being,” she said.

Palmer added that economic safety and Black entrepreneurship is essential, so that Black-owned businesses can be normalized in various communities. “[It means] we feel safe to invest in Black communities … Black entrepreneurs …. We don’t have that tradition of passed-down wealth … of financial security, so we have to get creative. When we have [economic and financial security] in our communities; [when] we can go into any area in Los Angeles or around the country and know it is a norm for folks of color to be business owners and not a special opportunity, then we have reached a different kind of level of safety.”

Abdullah said one way to keep people safe is through police reform and efforts to defund the police and reallocate those funds into programs and services that will benefit all communities.

“We know that budgets are absolutely zero-sum games. If you spend money in one place you do not have money to spend somewhere else,” Abdullah said, referencing Los Angeles’ city budget, which allocated 54% of its funds to the LAPD. “If you are spending money on police, you’re not spending money to make sure that every Angeleno is housed … you are not making sure there is quality care for after-school programs for our children or health resources.”

Bassin noted that with many synagogues and/or Jewish buildings employing security because Jewish spaces are often attacked, “Your budget is an expression of your value.” She added that although she is relieved that her synagogue has a 90-second response time from her local police department, she understands not everyone, including Jews of Color, feels safe. She said there needs to be reallocation at the local level with police and at the national level with the military.

“The revolutionaries push [the]conversation further so that the gradualists, when they open up in that space, can start to be heard,” Bassin said. “I think the relationship is really symbiotic.”

For Palmer, who is Black, gay and Jewish, it’s all about knowing “what we consider to be safe and who our protectors are.” Stating he’s been both protected and beaten by police, Palmer said, “I don’t think we are really owning the totality of what we’ve allowed police to mean in this country and we’ve accepted procedures and policies in this country and normalized it. We are talking about a system that we have accepted and that is an outgrowth of the fundamental illness of this country in the first place, which is structural racism.”

Palmer also shared how Jews of Color have been working to change values and ideas in the Jewish community. “We all have an opportunity here to really accept that Jews are Black,” he said. “Jews are also Asian, Jews are also Latino, Spanish and they’re also white: Caucasian. There’s been an erasure of Jews of Color. I want people to know there’s a massive movement right now within the Jewish community that was happening prior to the killing of George Floyd, and the response to that killing. There’s a massive movement for Jews of Color to be visible …. That’s a real thing and Jewish organizations are investing in that movement. It’s forcing white Jews to think about security …. That’s why I look at it as a system. New structures to change the system.”

Click here to watch the full conversation.

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