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Black Lives Matter: A Jewish Perspective

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Star of David laid on top of an open Torah

In Judaism, there is a central obligation to what we call Tzedakah. Signifying justice and righteousness, Tzedakah is typically understood as acts of goodwill and generosity.

Though reason enough on its own to explain why the Jewish community should and does support the Black Lives Matter movement, the basic principle of Tzedakah is just a small part of our motivation.

Our community’s allegiance to the movement is also strengthened by the realization that Jewish people have experienced enough oppression throughout our history to understand and empathize with the struggles the Black community has been facing for just as long.

As Elena Robustelli says in an Instagram post from July 9th, “in America, anti-Black racism and antisemitism are inextricably linked.” In this post, Robustelli explains how Hitler and the Third Reich were inspired by Jim Crow, and how the American eugenics movement focused on ideals of “racial purity.”

A huge reason why Jews support Black Lives Matter is that our fights are so similar. The difference is that anti-Black racism is rampant and devastating right now in a way antisemitism isn’t.

Many members of the Jewish community recognize that, and we support Black Lives Matter because we know that, though we live relatively comfortably right now, we are always vulnerable to possible attacks of antisemitism

Then came the DeSean Jackson scandal, and suddenly antisemitism became alive and well again in mainstream media. The support the Jewish community received in response to DeSean Jackson’s antisemitism from the Black community, as well as the other activism groups participating in the Black Lives Matter movement, was not only uplifting but essential to the fight for social justice.

It demonstrated how connected our communities are and how important it is that we support each other.

As Zach Banner of the Pittsburgh Steelers said in a Facebook post, “We need to understand that Jewish people deal with hate and similar hardships and hard times. I want to preach to the Black and Brown community that we need to uplift the Jewish community and put our arms around them just as much as when we talk about Black Lives Matter and elevating ourselves. We can’t do that while stepping on the backs of other people to elevate ourselves.”

Sentiments like these prove that true activism is not about sticking only to the issues that affect you personally, but rather confronting all forms of oppression and discrimination. In order to make real change and unite as a people, we have to fight for each other.

As it says in the Jewish text Pirkei Avot 1:14, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”

Nevertheless, it is important to acknowledge that race and religion are very different. No matter how much Jews think we can relate, the truth is that religion usually isn’t anywhere near as visible as race is. Most Jews have not been profiled or attacked or mistreated in an antisemitic way as an immediate reaction to our appearance.

It is true that some of us are more “visibly Jewish” than others, but even that cannot be compared to the daily discrimination members of the Black community are confronted within this country.

“The major difference between the two forms of hate is that in America, anti-Black racism is deeply systemic, whereas antisemitism is not. Also, Jews are not easily classified into one race, but are rather an ethno-religion,” said Robustelli.

As a White Jew, I recognize that I am amongst the majority of Jews in America and that I have a type of privilege here that many other Jews do not. It is White Jews’ responsibility to acknowledge our race’s history of persecution in America and include it as a reason to advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement.

In addition, we should be motivated by the fact that the movement is shared by our many Jewish brothers and sisters who are Black. The race and religious identities overlap, so the advocacy and support should too.

As Yavilah McCoy said, “The voices and experiences of Jews of Color must be brought to the center of our movement if we are ever to get a glimpse of the power, relevance, and significance of what it has meant to embrace and understand Jewish identity on American soil.”

Even if antisemitism hadn’t come back into the spotlight and the Jewish community hadn’t seen firsthand how supportive the Black community is to our cause, the Jewish community would have still wholeheartedly supported Black Lives Matter.

As Jews, we have the commandment of Tikkun Olam, which means “repair of the world,” and the commandment of Pikuach Nefesh, which means “save lives.” Supporting Black Lives Matter and being actively anti-racist is a commandment for us.