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Why Jewish #BlackLivesMatter Activists Should Take Back Seat

The Black Lives Matter movement that has erupted in the past few months in response to the killing of unarmed African-Americans — the most well-known of whom are Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice — has struck a deep chord with Americans of all races and backgrounds.

As the protests continue, more and more Jews are standing behind the African-American community. Many are doing so beautifully; T’ruah, Jews for Racial & Economic Justice and the unnamed individuals and organizations behind ChanukahAction.org, to name just three, are modeling well the ways in which Jews can step up and support the movement while ensuring that people of color hold the mic, literally and proverbially.

I still see a lot of individual, well-meaning Jews struggling with this, though — wanting to be helpful without knowing how to engage in the holy act of tzimtzum, self-contraction, to let others lead.

I also see that many large Jewish organizations and influential individuals haven’t yet taken a public stance on the protests. Perhaps they think that since this form of racism doesn’t impact white Jews, it isn’t a Jewish issue.

My hope for 2015 is that all parts of the organized Jewish community will choose to take a stand against racism and to put some real skin in the game, as it were.

I hope that Jewish activists and organizations will work to be of meaningful service to communities of color — not to create equal “partnerships,” though incredible partnerships could emerge organically as individual relationships deepen, but to use our formidable resources in solidarity with those who are most on the front lines of this work.

It is also my hope that Jews of color will be made central to any Jewish activism that does take place around race and racism.

Danya Ruttenberg is the author of “Surprised by God: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Religion” (Beacon Press, 2008).

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