The Minneapolis George Floyd mural on the evening of June 6, 2020
A George Floyd mural on the evening of June 6, 2020 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Jewish News invited individuals to share their thoughts on the death of George Floyd, the protests, the current state of our country and what they would like to see from their Jewish community.

As told to Jen Lovy, Contributing Writer

When Shabbat ended Saturday, May 30, Ashira Solomon sat uncomfortably in front of her computer as she processed images of protesters and police clashing on the streets of Detroit over police brutality and racial injustice. Solomon, who is a Jew of color, described feeling absolutely devastated.

A subsequent text from her best friend helped ease some of the pain. “I hope you know this goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway because I feel it’s necessary,” the message said. “We see you, we love you and we support you.”

“My best friend is a dirty blonde, green-eyed Jewish girl who grew up across the street from me,” Solomon said. “As children, we came from two different worlds, but when met, our souls connected instantly.”

Locally, Jews of color have expressed a range of emotions as they continue to process all that has happened in the country since the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Minneapolis man killed by a white police officer pressing his knee into the man’s neck. The officer has since been arrested and charged with second-degree murder, and three other officers have been charged in connection with his death, but the protests over systemic racism in policing have raged on.

In February, the Jewish News profiled Solomon and other Jews of color in an article about the joys and challenges of being a minority among a minority. This week we invited those individuals to share their thoughts on the protests, the death of George Floyd, the current state of our country and what they would like to see from their Jewish community. This is what they said.

Local Jews of color respond to George Floyd’s death.
Olivia Guterson Photos taken by CJ Benninger of Olivia Guterson

 Olivia Guterson, Detroit 

I’m heartbroken, scared and exhausted. I’m seven months pregnant with a black child and deeply concerned about the world they will be born into. I hope everyone is paying attention and listening to the pain, sorrow and rage, and that there is a collective understanding that the tragic, unnecessary death of George Floyd and many others are not isolated events, but the reality of America’s 400-year epidemic that is American racism.

I’ve had a lot of white friends, co-workers and community members reach out, expressing their sorrow and pain and asking what they should do. I wish instead of asking me and other BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) to educate and shoulder their trauma, they took time to listen to what the community is telling the world we need (and have needed) and creating space to witness our feelings, processing and coping.

Vote, donate, read books, go to marches, register new voters, organize … Ultimately, if you feel moved at the moment (and we all should), commit to being in it for the long haul.

I would like to see the Jewish community using their political powers and platforms to align with the policies and campaigns that advocate for human rights and decency.
Let this not be a moment but a movement.

Local Jews of color respond to George Floyd’s death.
Chris Harrison Courtesy of Chris Harrison

Chris Harrison, Waterford

As a Jew, I can’t think of a better form of sacred action than protest. And protest can mean anything from being on the front lines marching with signs to donating money and time to antiracist causes; it’s all valid. Further, seeing not only so many black people protesting, but also non-black allies, is incredible. This is how it should be.

I feel a heightened sense of paranoia. I hope I don’t get pulled over by the wrong cop or my neighbors don’t racially profile me for walking my dog. Despite everything, however, I can’t help but feel hopeful. Seeing how seriously everyone is finally starting to take police brutality, unchecked authority and systemic racism makes me think that the tide might be shifting; that non-black people are fully seeing what’s happening.

Make antiracism a priority in your congregations and institutions. This isn’t optional; it’s a necessity. This is not just because black people are suffering in your surrounding communities, but because there may very well be black Jews and black family members of Jews in your very Jewish communities who need to be listened to and actively included.

Address your individual and institutional implicit biases and learn to be OK with the discomfort that comes with it. Read books and articles and watch videos by antiracists. I also recommend rabbis, cantors and lay leaders also read the Union for Reform Judaism article “Ways Your Congregation Can Act Now for Racial Justice” by Rabbi Jonah Pesner.
When people ask me for suggestions, I feel really glad that they’re asking, but it can also get overwhelming right now. I want to be there to help people, but I also want them to feel confident enough to look things up themselves. The Jewish community alone has plenty of resources.

Local Jews of color respond to George Floyd’s death.
Daniel Hodges and his son Jacob Courtesy of Daniel Hodges

Daniel Y. Hodges, Novi

My rabbi was the first Jewish person to reach out and ask me how I am. There have been others who’ve responded to my Facebook posts, but my rabbi called me.

For those protesting peacefully, I applaud and hold high. I struggle to hold myself among you. But my pain is real. I lost my father to racists just after my bar mitzvah. I have not burned. I have not broken. But my eyes flame, and my heart cracks.

In this interview, the first question was, “How do I feel about the protests?” This mirrors what has been asked of me by most other people with a few exceptions. It was not, “How do I feel about the death of George Floyd?”

It’s taken me a while, but I’m crying a bit now for the first time at George’s death. I’m remembering my own father. I’m also deathly afraid of my son suffering like I still do to this day because of the potential for someone to murder me because I scared them with my blackness. I see my entire family under that cop’s knee.

My message to the greater Detroit Jewish community is, “Get your priorities right. Also, be actively antiracist. Don’t just say, ‘I’m not racist.’”

As to what the Jewish community can do, publicly stand up and stand with George’s family. Call or write elected officials and demand that there be immediate and effective actions to combat racism. Racism is not non-threatening. These organizations practice hate and plot harm. They will not stop with black people.

Local Jews of color respond to George Floyd’s death.
Aliza Klein Courtesy of Aliza Klein

Aliza Klein, Oak Park

I’ve had so many people reach out to me within the last few days, who provided me with empathy and support. I can’t thank them enough. Their kind words helped me ease my pain and helped me feel like I’m not alone.

It’s great that I see individuals standing up for racism and hate on social media, but it takes a lot more than just that. However, it is a start in the right direction. We have to truly dig deeper and have more insight into ourselves.

Ask yourself this question: If you were faced with a racial situation in person, beyond social media, would you be willing to have the courage to stand up to that person? We have to check our own unconscious biases, get uncomfortable and learn about our neighbor, not just from media, but from real people.

Local Jews of color respond to George Floyd’s death.
Ashira Solomon and her daughter, Naomi Courtesy of Ashira Solomon

Ashira Solomon, Southfield

I have seen peaceful protest footage honoring the life of George Floyd from all over the world. The protests continue to exist and rightfully so. People around the globe are showing up to protest the injustices revolving around the countless murders committed by an array of police officers against people of color in America.

I’m paying attention. I’m watching every country, every company, every industry. I’m watching friends, and I’m watching acquaintances. I’m watching loudly, and I’m watching silently.

This is one of those instances where you’re either on my team — the team of all that is good and just and right — or you’re not.

There are no blurry lines, and there is no gray area. Justice must be demanded. I will fully rebuke my support for any organization or acquaintance who does not stand on the side of what is just and right.

If your biggest outrage in all of this is rioting or looting, you’re not paying attention. Imagine a teacher in a classroom. She’s in the middle of her lesson when all of a sudden, one of her students begins tantrumming. It’s not only inconvenient for the teacher, but also feels completely random and unwarranted. How many times that week, or that year, did she ignore all the opportunities he gave her to listen? How many times did she walk away from him when he was begging to be heard? And why? Why did it take a complete outburst in the middle of her lesson for her to open her eyes to the pain he was feeling all along, and that he was counting on her to see him through?

Local Jews of color respond to George Floyd’s death.
Re’uvein Rickman in his usual seat at Adat Shalom Jerry Zolynsky

Re’uvein Rickman, Farmington Hills

There’s prejudice everywhere. What we can do as a community is look at the prejudice within our community and try to address it.

I know members of my congregation teach in the inner city and help the kids there learn to read and better themselves. I was deprived of my education. I made it, but it was very, very difficult. There are so many black children out there, and they’re proud. I’m proud.
Help the black community in a way where they’re able to help themselves and be proud. The Jewish community helped me. They helped me be able to read from the Torah. I know we can help those who can’t help themselves.

I was walking my dog and a policeman pulled beside me, slowed down and got out of the car. He said, “Nice dog.” And I said, “Yeah, thank you.” The next thing out of his mouth was “do you live around here?”

I knew why he stopped me. He stopped me because I was black and he was wondering why I was out here in this neighborhood and I just felt like this never ends.

When I was living in Livonia, there was a gym over there where I was training clients. I had a client at 5 a.m. and I got pulled over every morning. Every morning. One morning, I said to the officer, “Why do you pull me over every morning? You know who I am. I’m the only black guy who comes over here.”

He never said anything to me. He just ignored me like I was nobody. Even today, when I take my dog to the park in Livonia, I don’t feel comfortable.

I’m concerned about the police. I’m getting ready to get a body camera. It won’t save my life, but I just feel like I’m a target for some racist police officer because there’s always going to be one in the system. That won’t save my life, but I just don’t want the person to get away with it. This is how I live. I don’t worry. I’m not afraid. I’m just sad that I have to prepare myself like that. Not to save my life but to save other lives.

I feel loved and I know it and I’m not mad. I’m just really saddened by human beings taking the lives of other human beings. Being black, it just hits home more.

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