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.
Founder and Director