An open letter in support of the Black Lives movement signed by more than 600 different Jewish groups was published by the New York Times On the 57th anniversary of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr’s 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Appearing as an advertisement, the open letter was posted on the 17th page of the Times’ main section.
Jews have always supported the Civil Rights Movement in America. People have forgotten how deeply rooted anti-Semitism was in that country until the changes brought about by the Civil Rights Movement. Segregation of Jews was the reason why there were so many separate Jewish law firms and financial firms in America: Jews could not get hired at the “traditional” firms.
Films can be seen of prominent Jewish leaders like the Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marching alongside the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr in demonstrations. But today, unfortunately, we dwell more on the visions between American Black and Jewish communities.
The signatories were a plethora of congregations as well as some major organizations like the Anti-Defamation League, multiple chapters of the National Council of Jewish Women, the Union for Reform Judaism and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
Detractors will point out that most of the Jewish groups are representative of the more politically liberal Jewish communities in America and there were even some with names like Anti-Zionist Shabbat.
The letter declared: “The Black Lives Matter movement is the current day Civil Rights Movement in this country, and it is our best chance at equity and justice. By supporting this movement we can build a country that fulfills the promise of freedom, unity, and safety for all of us, no exceptions.”
The Jewish groups stated: “We are Jewish organizations and synagogues from across the racial and political spectrum; from different streams of Judaism; whose members trace their lineage from countries around the world. We support the Black-led movement in this country that is calling for accountability and transparency from the government and law enforcement. We know that freedom and safety for any of us depends on the freedom and safety of all of us,”
As Jews, we know how dangerous this is: when politicians target Jewish people and blame us for problems, it leads directly to violence against us. When Black movements are undermined, it leads to more violence against Black people, including Black Jews.
Antisemitism is part of the same machinery those politicians use to blame Black and brown people, people who are immigrants, people who are Muslim, and more. But whether they generate division and fear based on our religion, our skin color, or how long we’ve been here, their goal is to keep us from working together to win the things we all need to survive and thrive.
When Jewish people join together with our neighbors across racial and religious differences, as we have in the past, we can protect each other and build the future of freedom and safety we all deserve.
Jewish tradition teaches us that justice is not something that will be bestowed upon us, it is something that we need to pursue — the pursuit is itself sacred work. We’ll show up for each other every time one of us is targeted because of our differences, and reject any effort to use fear to divide us against each other.”