Mark Jacobs says we are especially harsh on ourselves.
I think it’s safe to say that we Jews are, well, maybe just a tad bit opinionated. We’re quick to speak our minds and certainly not shy to offer our criticism – of just about everything. But there is one area where our criticisms have been especially harsh: ourselves.
We are brutal on ourselves. We debate, judge and criticize everything about fellow Jews – are they too pious, or not pious enough, too vocal, or not vocal enough, or too pro-Israel or not pro-Israel, etc.
In the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing national discussion about racial injustice, Jews are taking a closer look in the mirror. Once again, we are beating each other up. Fellow Jews, it has been suggested, are either oblivious or insensitive to racial injustice or, worse, are outright racists. The far left, pro-BDS Jewish group, Jewish Voice for Peace, and others, advanced the position that American police receive training from the Israeli police, and hence Israel is partially to blame here (a claim that was debunked and yet the PLO and Palestinian Authority quickly jumped on it). So the narrative that Israel (Jews) lurks behind this whole issue, not surprisingly, has surfaced.
Excuse me, but I’m not jumping on any part of this bandwagon. Of course there are some Jews who are racially insensitive and of course white Jews enjoy a certain degree of privilege because of their whiteness. I accept that Jews cannot fully grasp what it is to be Black in America, just as no ethnic group can fully grasp what it means to walk in the shoes of another ethnic group. We each have our own visceral and exclusive connection to our ancestors.
But let’s not lose perspective. There are 6,000,000 Jews in America. Some of them are insensitive, or worse. When it comes to the issue of racial justice, however, I believe the vast number of Jews are extraordinarily empathetic and supportive. That’s been the case for years, as there is a long history of Jewish support for civil rights and racial equality. We know all-too-well the pain of injustice, and our commitment to justice is, I would argue, a fundamental Jewish principle.
Following the George Floyd killing, the Jewish response was swift and unequivocal. Major Jewish organizations immediately issued statements of condemnation. This spanned the full spectrum from liberal to conservative groups, and included all forms of Judaism, from Humanist to Orthodox. Diverse groups like The Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, the JCRC/AJC, the ADL, the Zionist Organization of America, Hadassah, Stand With Us, AIPAC, Zioness and many others were – and continue to be – vociferous on the issue of racial injustice. Our rabbis give sermons on racial justice, and write, teach, and attend protest marches. There’s a torrent of Jewish-sponsored webinars, classes, op-ed pieces. The Jewish News, our community’s central news source, has been all over this issue, many times practically devoting entire issues to racial healing and education. So I have no doubt that our community is deeply moved and committed to racial justice, and demonstrating it with words and deeds.
A local group I’m with, the Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity, has been relentless in organizing virtual events, writing articles, presenting seminars, pushing for anti-hate legislation, voter registration, criminal justice reform, and a host of other activities – and each time Jews gain more cultural knowledge and empathy towards the black community. Our commitment preceded the George Floyd case, just as with other Jewish groups.
Yes, there’s more work to be done. There is always more work to be done. There are ignorant Jews that need to be educated, and I have no doubt fellow Jews will continue to do so. We are far from perfect, but when it comes to our community’s support and actions for racial justice, we can hold our heads high. That struggle is deep within our Jewish DNA.
No need to beat ourselves up over this one. But as to other issues…