A New Chapter in the Pursuit of Racial Justice

Inside Leadership

A New Chapter in the Pursuit of Racial Justice

“History repeats itself.”

This statement is often uttered despondently, conjuring up repeated human suffering caused by tragic or misguided events, wars, and choices. But perhaps it also should inspire us.

As America commemorates Black History Month, we are called on both to remember the enslavement that brought Africans to this country and to celebrate the generations of activists who have fought – and continue to fight – for racial justice.

Black leaders have fought for the right to vote, for desegregation, and for an end to mass incarceration – each effort strengthened by the history that proves it can succeed. Jewish leaders have participated as allies in many of these efforts; fighting for racial justice is something we Jews do repeatedly.  

Despite these efforts, racial justice eludes us.

In his Rosh HaShanah sermon at The Temple in Atlanta, GA, Rabbi David Spinrad cited statistics that demonstrate racial inequality in our country:

He then rightly asked, “How does all of this impact our congregation?”

His answer reminds us that “[w]e are not talking about points of data on a page. We are talking about human lives. These are our sisters and our brothers, and we all live under the same God.”

Indeed, we cannot ignore this inequality, so how is the Reform Movement pursuing racial justice? 

In 2015, we launched the Reform Movement’s racial justice campaign, a joint effort of the URJ’s Just Congregations and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism with significant leadership from the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR). The campaign aims to increase education about racial diversity and injustice in the United States and within Reform Jewish congregations, to foster stronger community relationships across lines of race, and to promote advocacy on behalf of policies that mitigate racial inequality.

Designed around the “three Rs” of Reflect, Relate, Reform, this is the framework congregations can use to focus their efforts to dismantle structural racism:

  • Reflect: This component of the campaign offers materials congregations can use to help congregants, leaders and others in the community understand the systemic roots of racial injustice and inspire us to take action. Hosting a RAC Reads discussion, for example, focused on Waking Up White by Debby Irving, Just Mercy by Bryan Stephenson, or other racial justice themed books is one way congregations can participate. The goal of this component of the campaign is for our Jewish communities to reflect together on the causes of and our complicity in racism, as well as how we are impacted by it.
  • Relate: This facet of the campaign will enable congregations to develop relationships with communities across lines of race in order to take action together on these issues. Work on this facet of the campaign began this past summer when nearly 200 Reform rabbis, along with dozens of Reform congregants, joined the NAACP and its many partners on a march from Selma, Alabama to Washington, D.C. The relationship between the NAACP and the Reform Movement is historic; the connections created as our communities walked side-by-side reignited our shared commitment to pursue justice together. The goal of this component of the campaign is for our Jewish communities to relate to others by sharing and hearing each others’ stories and to participate in diverse coalitions acting for change together.
  • Reform: Here congregations can take action in pursuit of policy changes that advance efforts to dismantle structural racism. Current participation in this aspect of the campaign focuses on urging members of Congress to support sentencing reform, the most comprehensive criminal justice reform efforts in decades. On January 19, 2016, 500 Reform Jews made 1000 calls to their senators in support of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (S.2123). The goal of this component of the campaign is for our Jewish communities to successfully change the systems that create inequality on racial lines in our country.

The Reform Movement is honoring Black History Month by lifting up stories of suffering, activism, and triumphs within America’s black community, and by authoring a new chapter in the story of the Jewish community’s alliance with people of color in campaigns for racial justice. 

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Joy Friedman is Senior Organizer of Just Congregations.

Joy Friedman

Published: 2/02/2016

Categories: Social Justice & Advocacy
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