By BERNIE FARBER and ZACK BABINS
The death of George Floyd at the hands of four Minneapolis police officers has become the rallying cry that has once again ignited protest in the United States, across this continent, and in Europe.
We have been down this path before. The United States has a sorry and bloodstained history of race relations, from the Jim Crow laws, which set the tone for racist laws and behaviour in America, to the murder of 14-year-old Emmet Till who was beaten and lynched in 1955 for allegedly flirting with a white woman. America’s violent path continued through the 1960’s, with the murder of four young black girls in a Birmingham, Ala., church bombing and culminated with the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King.
There have been points of light in the dark journey. There was the example set by Rosa Parks, who initiated the Montgomery bus boycott when she refused to sit at the back of the bus and the courage of the Little Rock Nine, black high school students who faced down violence and protest to desegregate that city’s schools. But these points of light have not been enough to dispel the darkness.
And where are we today? Nowhere really. The ongoing targeting of black men by both racists and police while driving, jogging, birding, and even “existing while black” has become dangerous to a point where black parents fear for their children’s lives when they simply leave the house.
Jews, of all people, have walked in the shoes of victimization. Many have survived the kingdom of death where they were targeted for annihilation simply because they were Jews. We know better and we cannot be silent.
Those of us who are not people of colour may claim to understand their pain but that is not enough. We must also recognize the unique struggle of Jews of colour, who face oppression and discrimination on multiple fronts, and often from within our own community.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marched arm-in-arm with Rev. King in Selma, Ala., protesting hatred and racism. Following the march, Rabbi Heschel proclaimed, “When I marched with Martin Luther King in Selma, I felt my legs were praying.”
It is time that we Jews take to our legs again and pray alongside our racialized brothers and sisters. In the words of Jewish philosopher Elie Wiesel “there may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”
At The CJR, we are committed to amplifying the voices of black Jews and Jews of colour, and diversifying our editorial board. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in being a part of this initiative.