[Comment] It is our Liberal Jewish obligation to speak out

Black Lives Matter

By Rabbi Charley Baginsky

On one of our Facebook groups for clergy, an American Rabbi tried to articulate their shock following the murder of George Floyd. She noted that it reached the proof required by the rabbis of old for a murder conviction.

Why is this significant? For the same reason that I had had the same thought when watching the horrific film of Mr Floyd dying before our eyes.

As young students of Jewish law, even before we set foot in rabbinical college, we were taught that this was an almost impossible proof. For first, the act of murder had to be witnessed by at least two people and then they had to warn them to stop.

It is not enough to think we are in another country, that the fight is not our fight, that we have our own troubles. We are all witnesses now. We have seen and we cannot unsee.

Here in the UK there have been demonstrations not only showing solidarity with the US protestors but also expressing anger at the increased use of stop and search during the lockdown in areas with large BAME populations. Many of the spontaneous protestors have said that they wanted to “shine a spotlight on the impact of institutional racism in the UK”.

The emotion is high, communities have been affected not only by this unlawful murder in the US, but here by Grenfell, by the Windrush scandal and by the disproportionate numbers of BAME deaths during the Covid-19 epidemic.

Lockdown has been awful for so many, it has been lonely and scary and for too many a period of mourning. But it has also been a time when we have seen that there are striking differences in the reality of life that segments of our society live in.

It is our obligation as Liberal Jews to draw attention to that.

What can we do? Carly Pildis, the American advocate and organiser, powerfully wrote: “Speaking on a panel? Demand people of colour be invited. Working at a school? Try to influence the curriculum to grapple with our history of anti-blackness. Do you have disposable income? Give. Do you have Kids? Talk to them about racism. Worried they are too young? Read them books with black kids, especially books with Jews of colour. Work for a Jewish organisation? Insist that black Jewish voices be heard. Insist on hiring them. Pay for anti-racism training for your staff. Set a high bar for inclusion, one that feels difficult to attain, and strive for it.”

Our Jewish community has been great at coming together and ensuring that people are fed and cared for, within our community and outside.

But we are being called to do more – to raise the issues of institutional racism and unfairness and inequality loudly, to see it as our own fight. We are all witnesses now. We have seen and we cannot unsee.

  • Rabbi Charley Baginsky is Interim Director of Liberal Judaism

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