As protests continue across the United States, we are witnessing at the forefront, a conversation about what the Jewish community relations field has long understood to exist under the surface: systemic racism underlies and permeates our societal structures. Policies such as housing and zoning practices, inequitable school funding, access to early childhood education, differential policing practices, prosecutorial decisions, sentencing practices and so many others continue to create widely differing life outcomes for Black and white residents.
Today we say the name of George Floyd as we mourn his death, condemn the killing and demand justice for his family. But his name is far from the first or the only. Our country has experienced too many incidents of police violence and too many deaths of African Americans at the hands of the police. Every city holds a name; for many of us, more than one.
For decades, Jewish Community Relations Councils (JCRCs) have worked in 125 Jewish communities to build bridges between the Jewish community and other faith, ethnic, political, and civic groups. We act on our belief that all of our communities are strongest when we work in partnership, and that the fate of our Jewish community is intrinsically tied to the fates of our regions.
The work is rarely glorious. Much of it is done by sharing the fears and vulnerabilities of ourselves and our community, while striving to understand the pain and hope in others. Today, that fear and pain is crying out for all to hear.
There are members of our Jewish community who face increased risk of violence and death — even from those tasked with serving and protecting us — because of the color of their skin. Additionally, in our efforts to rightly safeguard our institutions against anti-Semitic attacks, many of our Jewish spaces have increased police presence, calming the concerns of some while escalating the anxiety of others.
We have much work to do. The work can come in the form of nonviolent protest, of contacting elected officials, and of educating oneself about the racism that exists and has existed within our country and our institutions for hundreds of years. The work is already happening.
As we proceed, we must:
Follow the lead of Black organizers. Just as our Jewish community gets to determine how we understand anti-Semitism and how we want our partners to respond, so too those who are most impacted by these policies must have our support in defining the response;
Listen to and lift up the voices of Jews of color. The Jewish community is not separate from the fight for racial equity because the fight for racial equity includes cherished members of our Jewish community;
Acknowledge our own prejudices, educate ourselves, and do the work to be anti-racist. This work is not easy and it is not simple. It is a lifelong undertaking. Racism has existed in our country for hundreds of years and it cannot be eradicated in a matter of months; and
Vote! National elections are important, but often the structural systems listed above are under the control of state and local authorities.
We will make mistakes. Our community already has. But these issues impact us all, and we do not have the luxury to stay silent.
Jeremy Burton, Lindsey Mintz, Rori Picker Neiss, and Josh Sayles serve as Directors of the Jewish Community Relations Councils of Boston, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh, respectively. They currently serve as Officers of the Community Relations Council Directors Association.