The response from the institutional Jewish community has paralleled that of the Chinese American community in the Liang trial.
[/pullquote]As the Days of Awe approach, Jewish tradition tasks us with atoning for our sins of the past year in order to be inscribed in the Book of Life for the year to come. Such observance cannot be separated from the mass protests in Charlotte, Tulsa, and across the country mourning the losses of Keith Lamont Scott, Terrence Crutcher, Korryn Gaines, and the countless other Black men, women, and children whose lives have been taken by ungodly circumstances — namely, an unaccountable American police system entrenched in anti-Black racism.
The daily crisis of police violence necessitates a different sort of reflection this Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It asks us to interrogate how we are being in community with one another. Whose lives do we mourn? Which names enter our consciousness through headlines and hashtags but go unspoken at the dinner table or when reciting mourner’s Kaddish?
For historically marginalized groups, community is often forged as much out of a shared experience of oppression as it is out of culture, language, and geography. From Chinatowns formed in the face of immigration exclusion and anti-Chinese violence, to a Jewish diasporic identity defined by displacement, homelessness, and genocide, this means our communities are often insular and isolated. In a society that marks people of color and religious minorities as lesser from birth, to be held by one’s community is a revolutionary thing. But when a sense of community and shared identity becomes isolationist — a mentality of “only protect your own kind” — we risk losing the thing that makes community so powerful in the first place: connection.
I watched that mentality draw stark lines across the Chinese American community after Peter Liang, a Chinese American NYPD officer, shot and killed Akai Gurley.
[/pullquote]I watched that mentality draw stark lines across the Chinese American community after Peter Liang, a Chinese American NYPD officer, shot and killed Akai Gurley, an unarmed Black man, father, and partner, in the stairwell of a Brooklyn housing project in November 2014. In the aftermath of the shooting, and after a century of persecution and political isolation, some Chinese Americans turned inwards — seeing one of their own as a “scapegoat” facing manslaughter charges where white officers walked away with not even a slap on the wrist. In a moment where community isolationism met Americanized attitudes of anti-Black racism, tens of thousands of Chinese Americans marched across the country to condemn Liang’s conviction.
But rather than turn inwards, many Asian American organizations and individuals with deep roots in the multiracial fight to end police brutality, like CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities, chose to support the Gurley family’s search for justice, bearing witness to the system of police violence borne disproportionately by the Black community. Groups like Asians4BlackLives emerged in San Francisco, New York City, and Minnesota, staging direct actions alongside the Black Lives Matter movement while advancing an analysis of how policing hurts some of the most marginalized in our Chinese American communities — from street vendors to immigrant tenants caught in volatile disputes with abusive landlords. But the costs were high: threats were made, friends and peers were labeled “race traitors,” and “enemy lists” were circulated of Asian American individuals and organizations supporting the Gurley family. I watched the dark side of identity politics — the fear, the distrust, the impulse to “protect one of our own” — nearly tear us apart.
I don’t want to watch that happen again. And yet I’m watching a familiar dynamic play out in the Jewish community after the release of the prophetic Vision for Black Lives policy platform. Amidst an intricate, inspired platform that ranges from calls to demilitarize law enforcement to demands for mass investment in education and restorative justice services, the platform also included an implicit endorsement of the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction movement and a sharp critique of “apartheid” Israel and it’s practices of “genocide” against the Palestinian people.
The response from the institutional Jewish community has paralleled that of the Chinese American community in the Liang trial — one borne of fear, distrust, and a sense of victimization hardened by long histories of persecution. The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Boston went so far as to release a statement disassociating itself “from the Black Lives Matter platform and those BLM organizations that embrace it.” Meanwhile, statements and op-eds came out condemning JCRC’s outright disavowal of Black Lives Matter. And yet all of it erased the lived experience and very existence of Black Jews living under global systems of both anti-Blackness and anti-Semitism.
We cannot allow the Jewish community to turn its back on the Movement for Black Lives in this critical moment.
[/pullquote]We cannot allow the Jewish community to turn its back on the Movement for Black Lives in this critical moment. We cannot condone white Jews to proudly wear their “ally” badges only to shed them when radical Black visions of liberation make them uncomfortable. As non-Black individuals and communities, it is not our role to dictate the terms of Black liberation, or for our solidarity to hinge on conditionalities. It is our role to keep showing up for our “enduring and unconditional” belief that Black lives matter, as Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ) put it in a recent statement.
Only in a nation founded on anti-Black racism is the phrase “Black Lives Matter” controversial. Only in a world in which colonial violence is considered normal is an argument over the use of the word “genocide” more important than dismantling Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territories. And only when our communities refuse to organize beyond the bounds of our shared identities do visions of justice for all oppressed peoples become “divisive”.
We know where these knee-jerk reactions lead us. But we also know what the alternative looks like: it looks like Asians4BlackLives – NYC staging actions to call in our community and hold Chinese ethnic media accountable for spreading anti-Black messages to our immigrant communities. It looks like Letters for Black Lives crowdsourcing a multilingual letter to our immigrant parents, aunties, and uncles explaining why Black lives must matter to them, too. It looks like the multiracial group of Jewish people of color that shut down the street in front of a West Village NYPD precinct last month in support of Black Lives Matter and the Right to Know Act in New York City — a moment of solidarity I was proud to participate in.We know that this is what community can look like, if we only let it. This is when we are at our most powerful — when we allow our communities to come together and see their struggles as connected, like when Black and Latino families joined the family of Yong Xin Huang’s calls for justice after the 16-year old Chinese American boy was killed by NYPD in 1995, or when Jews of color come together to embrace both their shared and divergent experiences to build political power, and yes, when Black and Palestinian freedom fighters see their struggles as inextricably linked. That is the greatest weapon we have in this fight for justice, when we come together and build radical community, in all of its messiness. That is the vision that stirred me as my peers blew the shofar in the midst of our Jews4BlackLives civil disobedience — the same vision I hope our entire Jewish community can share as the ram’s horn rings out on these High Holy Days.