taking stock

Racial justice and the Jewish community: One year after the death of George Floyd

By Leslie Dannin Rosenthal, Lois Frank, and Melanie Roth Gorelick

As we begin the second year of living through a pandemic, and as the vaccine brings hope to resuming our normal lives, we recognize that our country has changed, and not only in terms of health. This past year has launched the most significant conversation on race and advancement of racial justice since the 1960s. What this means for the Jewish community and where we go from here is the topic of the upcoming JCPA2021 National Conference.

As we write this piece, we are on the precipice of receiving the verdict in the Chauvin police case for the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police. In April, the CDC director, Rochelle Walensky, declared that the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color, as seen in case numbers, deaths and social consequences were not a result of COVID-19. Rather, the disparities imbalance resulted from “inequities that have existed for generations and revealed for all of America a known, but often unaddressed, epidemic impacting public health: racism.”

As American Jews with a proud history working in civil rights, we care deeply about the dignity of all people. We work to ensure a justice and equitable society. Yet this moment underscores that there is still work to do. At the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) we are prioritizing rebuilding the multiracial Jewish-Black alliance. JCPA began this process by taking stock of the Jewish community’s engagement within civil rights coalitions and relationships with Black leaders locally. We learned what we had most feared, that in far too many places, the Jewish and Black communities are not proximate to each other. There has been a large turnover of leaders locally and nationally, a new generation is taking up the cause, and it is time to again build trusted relationships based on collaboration fueled by a new vision of the future. To support our network we created toolkits, templates, webinars and a range of resources to support local efforts.

In October, JCPA created a Task Force to navigate the opportunities and challenges facing our network of 125 JCRCs and 16 national agencies, presented by the new phase of the civil rights movement.

What We Have Learned:

  • We must listen and learn about the experience of being Black in America and be open and empathetic to others. We must do our part to understand racism and its impact on people’s lives in our communities and society.
  • We must double down on our advocacy for racial justice concerns including voting rights and criminal justice reform. We need to prioritize our engagement in national coalitions and advocacy on these issues locally and nationally.
  • We must strengthen relationships with Black and civil rights leaders locally and nationally and work together on common cause based on our vision and values.
  • We must fight antisemitism and racism together. We are working hard to ensure accusations of antisemitism are not used as a wedge issue for partisan purposes.

Building the Multiracial Jewish-Black alliance is the path forward. We have seen the Black communities rise up to fight antisemitism. We have seen joint actions result in making positive change in America. By working together to create a society that works for the safety and security of all people, we also ensure the safety of the multiracial Jewish community.

What is our next move? At JCPA2021 we will convene to grapple with racial justice issues and more. Here is what we are doing:

  • Plenary with Marc Morial, CEO of Urban League, Derrick Johnson CEO of NAACP, and Cheryl Wills, veteran anchor of NY1, on the State of Black America.
  • Plenary with Athletes Against Antisemitism featuring NFL player Zach Banner.
  • Screening of the documentary “Shared Legacies” and talk back with Amb. Andrew Young and Sherry Frank, leaders of Atlanta’s Black-Jewish Coalition in the 1980s
  • Courageous conversations on Black Lives Matter and the Jewish community.
  • Racial Equity training.
  • Panel with Jews of Color professionals on working within the Jewish communal space.
  • Sessions on voting rights and criminal justice reform, and more.

We take our role in this moment seriously. As a network hub of the diverse Jewish community, we are providing a unique opportunity to take a deep dive into these concerns.

Leslie Dannin Rosenthal is a JCPA Board Member from Greater MetroWest New Jersey.
Lois Frank is JCPA Former Board Chair, Atlanta.
Melanie Roth Gorelick is Senior Vice President, Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA)