A Reflection on Black History Month

Mural in our lobby by Eitan Dantzig

From the Desk of the President

We have now reached the end of Black History month and I would be remiss if I didn’t share a few words. Since the events of Spring 2020, our FJC community has been steadily engaged in work to raise our Race Consciousness as a community. Over the past 9 months, I have had the opportunity to work in different pockets of the larger Jewish community and have joined my voice with those who are dedicated to making all of our Jewish spaces safe and embracing of Jews of Color. It is apropos that we read Parshat Yitro this month. It is one of my favorite parshas because in it we are given a beautiful image of the multitudes who stood at Sinai to receive the Torah and we are reminded of the mosaic that is our people. In this moment, the Israelites stood shoulder to shoulder with people from different nations who fled Egypt with them and wandered the desert with them and we read that they all stood in awe as they received G-d’s commandments. I struggled this month as I read, in Parshat Mishpatim, that even though the Israelites had just been released from bondage, they had a difficult time letting their own slaves go and accepting them as being part of their tribe. As our Jewish community is now reckoning with the fact that one type of Judaism has been held as the dominant definition of what it means to be a Jew, I think about the juxtaposition of these two Parshiot. Even in that moment in the Torah, we were commanded to be united as one people but the execution was hard for the people to do and this conflict still exists.

A couple of weeks ago, Joshua came home embarrassed to ask me why he learns so little about Black History in school. Over the course of this month, I have engaged in conversations with Jewish communities across the country who (even though they were engaged in anti-racism work) chose not to do anything for Black History Month out of fear of being tokenizing or to focus on Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month because those were the easier (read: more comfortable) programmatic choices. By now, we have all learned that 12-15% of Jews in our country identify as Jews of Color, we have started to unpack why we don’t see them in our communities and we have proclaimed our desire to be inclusive. Yet, we still see that in our day to day, the real work of anti-racism is hard to do and many of us are still making the choice not to intervene. We see that choice in the Day School/Hebrew School/Teen Program curriculums and in synagogue programming because it is still difficult to take off our own shoes so that we can walk in another’s and see how all of this matters to those who are holding their breath for change.

I guarantee that many, if not most, of us own something that has ‘Justice, Justice, Shall You Pursue’ written on it and as a mantra I am reminded that our work is never done and that we have not yet ‘caught’ Justice. It is an everyday pursuit to learn how to stand shoulder to shoulder with the multitudes and see them, really see them, as part of our tribe. It is an everyday pursuit to make choices in all of our circles that ensure that we live up to the promise that we all made at Sinai. We chose to quote Hinei Ma Tov in FJCs mural because that dream is an aspiration too.

This Shabbat, we are commanded to remember the evil of Amalek because he was a threat to all that was good and pure in G-d’s creation. As a Black Jewish woman, I see racism as one of our modern day Amelek’s and a threat to all of us who were created B’tzelem Elohim and I too, want us to remember to eradicate it from this Earth. So as you enter this final week of Black History month, I challenge you to think of the ways that you live the promise of the Jewish world we working so hard to co-create: to be embracing of the stories and histories of all of us so that our whole beautiful selves are truly welcome. As you’re praying this week, think about how those aspirations are lifted from your siddur and inscribed in your heart, how you teach them to your children when you are sitting at home and how they are active when you are out in the world. I challenge you to reflect on your daily actions towards the creation of this Jewish world as you’re about to lie down and after your soul has been returned to you when you rise and how you’re making sure that this aspiration is passed down l’dor v’dor.

Here are new people to get to know and new stories to read:

You Should Know These Black Jews Who Made History

A Great List of Jewish Books for Black History Month and Beyond

Shabbat Shalom,