Black, Jewish Communities Join Forces to Combat Racism

Sept. 22, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

Two communities with long histories of persecution are linking arms to push for a better future.

B’nai Brith Canada and the Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce have signed an agreement to collaborate on efforts to end antisemitism and racism in the country.

The deal, signed in a special ceremony Sept. 16 in Toronto, commits both groups to share their knowledge and strategies for attacking their common problem.

“It is easy to get swept up in the divisiveness rhetoric that that often accompanies political discussions,” said B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn. “We are coming together today to reject divisiveness and together forge an uplifting, positive and concrete path for the future of our communities.”

Andria Barrett, president of the two-year-old Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce (CBCC), said B’nai Brith’s long history of advocating for the Jewish community will help her organization in its struggle.

“We see B’nai Brith as an ally in our quest for equality, equity and opportunity,” she said. “This is an important partnership that will amplify the efforts of both organizations.”

B’nai Brith, Barrett said, “has demonstrated time and again that [it is] skilled at advocacy.”

Canada’s Black and Jewish communities have a long history of working together. When the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was formed in 1909 in Niagara Falls, Ont., and in the infancy of the 1960s civil rights movement of Martin Luther King Jr., Jewish groups marched with their Black neighbours.

“For generations Jewish Canadians and Black Canadians have stood side-by-side in our efforts to oppose discrimination and build a brighter future,” Mostyn said.

That support famously included Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marching arm-in-arm with King. Another involved Hamilton Rabbi Eugene Weiner, who organized a group of local clergy to fly to Selma, Alabama, where images of white police attacking peaceful protesters ignited a wave of protest.

Despite sharing goals and methods, the relationship between the communities has always been informal. Now, the leaders said, swelling anti-Black racism in the United States and antisemitism growing around the world made a formal alliance important.

“After the horrific killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, we realized we were at a turning point in our history,” said Aubrey Zidenberg, chair of the Special Advisory Committee to the League for Human Rights.

“Both the Jewish and Black communities have suffered through years of racism, injury and exclusionary policies,” he said. “Together we can collectively achieve great things in this magnificent country of ours.”

Beyond protest marches and briefs to government, both groups hope to use their shared skills to foster positive growth in the country. A special focus will be on efforts to improve the economic situation of marginalized communities.

“It is far too easy, especially in these troubling times, to complain and yell and scream and sometimes to bring things down without having answers for some very serious societal problems,” Mostyn said. “We are both looking to make a real difference across this country.”

Small Acts Fill Big Needs

By ELIZABETH KATCHEN

It is difficult to put into words what we are going through right now. The unthinkable, the unbelievable, the heart-wrenching. We are in the middle of a global pandemic, something rarely conceived of in the past 100 years.

This is our reality, and while it is safe to say that everyone is experiencing a new set of challenges, some populations are harder hit than others.

Currently the United States, Brazil and Russia have staggering numbers of COVID patients, so much so that their citizens have been banned from entering the European Union.

The homeless are particularly vulnerable to the pandemic. Many have pre-existing health conditions, and due to physical distancing measures, fewer beds in shelters are available. Further, the usual resources, such as case managers assisting in the relocation of the homeless and following up with regular support, have decreased.

From another perspective, certain ethnic minorities are at higher risk of contracting the virus, of requiring hospitalization, and even of dying from COVID. While information is constantly updated, according to Statistics Canada, those at greater risk include Indigenous populations, among others.

In addition, Public Health Ontario has announced that sociodemographic and race-based data will be collected and used to plan for public health practices.

Like the rest of the world, the Jewish community has been shaken by the pandemic, both physically and economically. Of note is that the proportion of Jews dying in the Diaspora, as opposed to Jews in Israel, is much higher. Israel was able to contain the virus with extremely strict restrictions in place from the outset, despite a recent spike in infections after much of the country re-opened.

The Jewish community has a well-deserved reputation for philanthropy. Tzedakah (charity) in Judaism states that the giver benefits more than the receiver. In fact, it is a mitzvah (a commandment) to give 10 percent of one’s earnings to charity. Children from a young age are taught to give charity – even dropping a few coins in the tzedakah box can be a meaningful gesture. Maimonides, the great Jewish philosopher, identified eight levels of charity, each greater than the last. Now, during these most challenging times, is a perfect time to review these levels. Beginning with the highest, they are as follows:

Level 1 – Enabling another individual to be self-sufficient.
Level 2 – Giving when one does not know the recipient and the recipient does not know the giver: anonymous giving.
Level 3 – Giving when one knows the recipient, but the recipient is unaware of the giver.
Level 4 – The recipient knows the giver, but the giver is unaware of the recipient. This level allows for less shame to the recipient.
Level 5 – The giver gives directly to the recipient but without being asked.
Level 6 – The giver gives to the recipient after being asked.
Level 7 – The giver gives insufficiently, but still gives with a smile.
Level 8 – Giving in a reluctant manner.

Financial giving is certainly a timely gesture right now, but it is important to address other forms of charity that can also have a huge impact. Volunteering can reduce feelings of loneliness and provide a sense of optimism. Donations of non-perishable items are needed for food banks that are currently under greater demand. Checking on elderly neighbors (at a safe distance or by phone) is surely appreciated at this time. Fostering a pet is another special opportunity if you can safely care for an animal. If you have a special skill, such as website development, writing or marketing, do a web search for volunteer opportunities. The list goes on.

Tzedakah is supposed to be done with a full heart. Performed in a less willing manner, the effect is not quite the same. It is said that even presenting someone with a smile, and nothing else, is a form of tzedakah. Please help if you can. Consider what way would be meaningful to you, and do so with a smile. 


Elizabeth Katchen
Elizabeth Katchen

Elizabeth Katchen was born and raised in Victoria, B.C. and cares deeply about animals, the environment and the Jewish community. She is the former editor of FutureTense magazine, a national Jewish student publication, and a past freelance contributor to the Canadian Jewish News. Elizabeth is executive assistant to the programs department at Toronto’s Schwartz/Reisman Centre and Prosserman JCC.