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The Jewish Heart of #BlackLivesMatter

The Jewish establishment struggled this year to come to terms with Black Lives Matter. Rachel Gilmer, a 28-year-old African American who was raised Jewish, both embodies the #BLM movement and was responsible for some of the Israel-related intersectionality that gave the establishment pause.

The tensions came to a head with the August release of a sprawling “policy platform” associated with the Movement for Black Lives — which branded Israel an “apartheid state” committing “genocide” against the Palestinian people. The Jewish establishment went into crisis mode; it wanted to be on the side of social justice, but was put off by the characterization of Israel

To the surprise of many, the co-author of the platform’s section on Israel had a Jewish background.

Born to an African-American father and a white Jewish mother, Gilmer was raised as a Jew and participated in Young Judaea, the Zionist youth group, when she was a teen. There, she rose to become a leading member of her local group. But Gilmer later distanced herself from organized religion and Jewish identity.

Gilmer has long been involved in black-Palestinian solidarity work. She is currently associated with the activist group Dream Defenders, which has been on the forefront of recent black-Palestinian solidarity efforts, such as bringing high-profile delegations of African-American activists to Israel and the West Bank.

Gilmer told the Forward that she found her calling outside of the Jewish world. “When I got connected to social justice, I found my spirituality in the heart of organizing.”

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