Justice, Religion

#TorahForTheResistance: Shavuot For Black Lives

After the Exodus, Torah was revealed at Sinai, and our ancestors had to figure out how their lives would be different after their liberation from Mitzrayim. The Vision for Black Lives policy platform is similarly a revelation, a vision of how we can be different with each other as we continue marching towards a liberation that ends slavery in all of its 21st century manifestations. In some ways, it is unsurprising that we’ve struggled with this revelation—especially Jews with white privilege. Revelation shows us in multiple time frames, one in which we are held in a paradigm of endless oppression and a future paradigm in which we are free. For many white folx this mirror to the past shows the ugliest of our possibilities and for black folx the depths of suffering.  At this moment, we have to engage with this revelation, the Vision for Black Lives, like we do Torah and turn it over and over again—studying it, adding to it, figuring out how we can be a part of it, and finding ways to get closer to experiencing the transformative liberation this revelation offers us, just like our ancestors when they left Mitzrayim.  

The Vision for Black Lives includes a number of policy suggestions, including: End the War on Black People, Reparations, Invest-Divest, Economic Justice, Community Control, and Political Power. The Shavuot for Black Lives Guide is laid out like a page of Talmud (see image above). At the center, in the position of the Mishnah, is platform text from the Vision, using the demands for Reparations and Invest-Divest. Below that, commenting on the Mishnah, is commentary we wrote in response, thinking about how we relate to these demands as Black Jews. Around this, we have placed Jewish text, articles and studies, statistics, and other quotes. Like with a page of Talmud, these outside materials all serve to shine light in on the central text–here, the Vision for Black Lives–to deepen understanding, ground, nuance, clarify, celebrate, reinforce.  As Shavuot approaches, we at Jews for Racial and Economic Justice are excited for our Jewish communities to immerse themselves in the Vision for Black Lives through our Shavuot for Black Lives Study Guideand by hosting a Shavuot for Black Lives study session on Shavuot (these are happening world-wide, including: Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, NY; Detroit, MI; Philadelphia, PA; Eugene, OR; Stony Point, NY; Falls Village, CT; Montclair, NJ; Jaffa; Jerusalem; Madrid; NYC (Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan locations).

An excerpt from our Shavuot Guide commentary on Invest-Divest:
GBH: … I want what is owed to black people because for hundreds of years black people were only black bodies and black bodies were only black property. I want black people to be able to be whole people in America. I want what is owed to black people because I live in a tradition of Judaism that says that it is right for oppressed people to be free, it is right for a thief to return the value of what is stolen, and it is right to be penitent when I am a thief. KBF: To invest is to allocate resources in the expectation that it will benefit you in the future. America has indeed benefited from its investment in the exploitation of black bodies through slavery, indentured servitude and life long imprisonment. Leviticus 25 gives us a blueprint for divestment. We count 49 years, like we count 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot, and at the 50th year, it will be jubilee. The slave must be freed. The land must be returned. America must divest from exploitation and actually invest in the health, wealth and wellbeing of the people it has exploited.

On Shavuot, we celebrate the revelation of Torah, the revelation of a vision of a different world. Work for justice and liberation must be guided by revelation. Revelation we can understand as that flash we feel when we know something is true, that we have encountered something that will shake us up and push us on into a new world. At Shavuot we wrestle with our most meaningful texts. Sometimes these texts are ones that affirm a vision of the world that should be. Sometimes they are texts that make us wrestle with the challenges of this world. We turn Torah around and round again to understand how it illuminates our lives, and where our texts prompt us to go. That is the aim of the Vision for Black Lives policy platform. To get us, all, to engage with what Black liberation could look like, what changes it demands, what new world is possible if we transform this world into one that truly cherishes Black lives. For Black Jews, this engagement is long overdue.

This piece of #TorahForTheResistance was written by Graie Barasch-Hagans and Koach Baruch Frazier. Graie is a national organizer and training coordinator with Bend the Arc Jewish Action. He is a Black Trans Jewish G*d fearing justice lover. Koach is a Black/Queer/Trans/Jewish healer, facilitator and musician working towards the day everyone experiences liberation.

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