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Black Lives Matter

Harriet Tubman Monument, Harlem

I watch the still unfolding events in the United States with mixed emotions. On the one hand I

am heartbroken by the persistence of systemic racism and the justified feeling of exclusion with

which blacks must live; numb from the recurrence of unnecessary, even gratuitous brutality

against blacks by police officers; chagrined that some few would take advantage of the unrest

by looting businesses, whether or not their socio-economic desperation makes this

understandable; and perhaps most of all aghast at the utterly callous, short-sighted and

clueless “leadership” emanating from the White House and the Republican party.

On the other hand I feel a thrill of pride at the courage of “ordinary” people who have

taken to the streets by the hundreds of thousands and publicly raised their voices, despite the

very real threat of a hostile reception from police and armed white vigilantes; deep admiration

for the innumerable activists who fight day in and day out, usually behind the scenes and

without the current spotlight, for police reform, abolition of the prison-industrial complex,

transformation of the judicial system, empowerment for black, brown, immigrant and poor

communities, meaningful economic change, and a long-overdue end to racism, both structural

and attitudinal; joyful contentment at the evidence of self-organization, cooperation, and

mutual assistance that the protests have brought out: racially and ethnically diverse crowds or

protestors, sympathetic protests across the world, in some cases focusing on local forms of

racism, volunteers cleaning up after looting, volunteers donating and making available personal

protective equipment, water or fruit to protestors, a Washington, DC man who let dozens of

unfamiliar protestors into his home when they were chased by the police.

This moment hopefully will become a tipping point, a spur for real change. But even

what has happened so far is a reminder that change rarely happens without the persistent

efforts of activists, without their passion and anger, without their agitation and cries of

urgency; a testament to the fact that those in power never yield unless prodded or forced. In

this wave of frustration and anger racist confederate monuments are being toppled or ordered

removed by municipal officials across the United States, the U. S. military announced a ban on

confederate symbols, the statue of a major slave trader was torn down in Bristol, editors at

major newspapers have been pushed to resign for running insensitive or reactionary pieces, the

president’s incendiary anti-black social media messages are being challenged and curtailed by

some tech companies and their employees, Minnesota just banned police use of chokeholds

and required police officers to intervene if they see a fellow officer behaving in an

inappropriate manner, New York and Los Angeles announced cuts to police budgets,

Minneapolis just announced the dismantling of its police department from top to bottom in

order to replace it with an alternative model. Little or big, these are all immensely important

and welcome steps.

We at the Jewish Activism Summer School stand in absolute solidarity with the

protestors demanding justice and change, we mourn for George Floyd and countless other

victims of racism and police brutality. As Jews, we have been taught since the Bible to extend special care toward the powerless and the stranger. As victims of persecution from dominant

cultures for well over a millennium, we stand shoulder to shoulder with all victims of similar

socially-constructed discrimination, segregation, exploitation and violence. As Jews, we in the

U. S. have had historically an empathetic and supportive alliance with blacks, however flawed

and limited it was. As a Jewish organization located in Germany -- a country that under the

shadow of a sociopathic right-wing regime perpetrated one of the most terrible and grotesque

genocides in world history, yet since then has made deep, far-reaching and sincere attempts to

atone for its deeds, change itself and prevent a repetition of hateful xenophobia -- we at JASS

recognize that without a brave and difficult reckoning with its historical crimes and sins no

society can heal itself and move forward.

The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, located in Harlem, put out an

extensive list of books on the long struggle of blacks for equality. Read up!

Here you can find one U. S. expert’s list of the most effective organizations working for

criminal justice reform in the country. Consider them for donations or get involved with them

as students and activists!

Finally, in order to help fortify yourself for the vast amount of work remaining ahead,

have a listen to these revolutionary Yiddish songs from the past.

Jonathan Schorsch

Founder and Director


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