In the wake of the recent lynchings in the Black community, a lot of my Jewish friends are asking me “How can we help?” and “What needs to be done?” What should be the response of the Jewish community to the killing of George Floyd?
The answer is simple: We’d like for the Jewish community to help us put an end the murder of innocent Blacks with the exact same fervor, dedication and commitment that you show towards preserving and defending your own families, that you show for Israel.
One of the main challenges to interfaith collaboration is that every community tends to prioritize its own, making the needs of other communities less of a priority, and even making reciprocity and interfaith collaboration themselves less of a priority. Those of us who seek to once again re-establish Black/Jewish relations have to learn how to prioritize one another’s efforts. And in order for our respective cultures to understand one another’s needs, there must first be “real” dialogue, real understanding.
Understand that each and every day, every one of your Black friends, including me, lives with the reality of being killed by police officers. Many Jews are white, or white passing; you walk in the street and be taken for a white person. We can’t. And we need your help putting an end to the white supremacy that puts our lives at risk every day.
We need you to denounce any racist friends that you may have in your circles of influence and speak against the racist “Hamans” that you personally know (you know who they are). We need you to stop racist comments when you hear them, to break business ties with racist whites.
We need you to understand that Blacks and Jews are in this together; white racists view you as the N-word, too. We need you to embrace Blacks as absolute equals. Jews have used their influence to make a difference in society. You’ve used it in the past, during the Civil Rights Movement, to help us. We need you to use it again.
When I attend Jewish solidarity rallies, there are only a handful of Blacks amidst thousands of Jews. When I attend Black solidarity rallies, there are only a handful of Jews. If we can have meaningful, robust dialogue, understand one another’s priorities and come together, when Jewish communities are attacked by anti-Semitic actions or death threats, then the Black community will be there for you by the masses.
And when injustices like the lynching of George Floyd happen, Jews must be there to support our Black communities en masse as well.
As Rabbi Abraham Heschel once said, “The Black church is the salvation of Judaism.” We need each other.
I believe that these recent, unjustifiable, malicious, heinous acts of violence and murder leaves us no other choice but for all people of color as well as people of every race, creed, sexual identity and economic class to at last come together to defeat white supremacy.
We can do infinitely more to bring about real justice, true freedom and democracy, if we at last come together as one people.
Reverend Anthony Johnson is an ordained minister of 23 years, a long-time civil/human rights activist, a former Obama Regional Organizer, a former Alabama State Representative and current MLK Scholar/Doctoral Student at United Theological Seminary. His grandfather was co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) with Dr. King and Dr. Joseph Lowery.