Yifat Clein writes about how she’s feeling empowered by the huge uprising happening around the country and gives ideas on things you can do to show up.
I was a sensitive child. After I learned about the Holocaust as a young child growing up in Israel, thoughts and images of people being tortured and murdered by the Nazis because of their race, religion, sexual orientation and political beliefs kept me up at night. I felt deep horror at these thoughts and was consumed by them to the point where it seemed like I could almost feel their terror, their pain. As I lay awake, my father would try to reassure me by saying, “These things happened a long time ago, in a land far away.”
Today, I lay awake at night again. This time, I am horrified by thoughts about the Black lives injured and lost to racism and police violence every day. The words of my father, “a long time ago, in a land far away,” do not comfort me as they no longer apply. This is happening here. Now.
The systems of American society continue to normalize and justify the brutal killing, systemic imprisonment, and structural disadvantage of Black and brown people. And up until recently, many of us, including myself, chose silence. Instead of struggling to find the “right” words to express my deep sorrow and horror about those horrifying, infuriating, senseless killings of Black people, I chose my own comfort and said nothing at all. But no more.
I am empowered by the huge uprising happening around the country. As a new mother, I am more invested in the future of humanity than ever before. I am happy to finally be here. I wish I had gotten here sooner. Now, I prefer to piss someone off by saying the wrong thing than to stay silent in the face of what is happening to our brothers and sisters at the hands of systems we all implicitly uphold.
As Jews, we know all too well what it is like to be victimized by other human beings while the rest of humanity stands still and silent. We know this pain. We carry this trauma for generations. We say, “never again.” Our generational trauma, which can sometimes feel like a heavy load to carry, can be our asset. It can empower us to show up, to speak up. Not only against discrimination directed at us, but against discrimination and hate that systematically make the everyday lives of our Black and brown brothers and sisters difficult, frightening and exhausting.
Our trauma may lead us to seek to blend in, assimilate and hibernate in our privilege. Let’s not let it. We can do so much more. Remember, our liberation is bound with the liberation of our entire human family. We do not all have to agree about politics, but I do think it is important that we all agree that being alive and, furthermore, not being targeted or persecuted by your government, is a basic human right for all people. Until that is reflected in our policies and our systems, we need to show up and challenge these systems.
Here are some ideas for things you can do to show up:
• Support antiracist organizations, such as EJI, NAACP, ACLU and The Bail Project.
• Contribute your time and skills to antiracist grassroots organizations such as DJJ and Detroit Will Breathe.
• Educate yourself. A good place to start is the book So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo.
• Support Black-owned businesses. Ima, Detroit Vegan Soul and Good Cakes and Bakes are three of my favorites.
• Think before you speak. When you meet someone who lives in the city, ask them, “How do you like your neighborhood?” instead of, “Do you feel safe?” You may not mean it that way, but this question perpetuates a very racist idea of a “dangerous Black neighborhood,” according to Ibram X. Kendi.
• Adopt antiracist policies and attitudes. For example, if a visitor to your synagogue says that s/he is Jewish (regardless of the color of their skin), believe them. Don’t ask further questions.
• Encourage your employer to be antiracist in its policies — hiring, retention and more. Don’t be silent. Show up.
Yifat Clein is a social worker and mom living in the city of Detroit. She was born and raised in Kibbutz Sasa, Israel.