By Rachel Bergstein, Yona Gorelick, Jaffa Batya Weiss and Annie Kaufman
On Tisha B’Av, 10 friends, Jewish residents of Baltimore City, met to discuss the recently published Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) policy platform. On the day we mourn the destruction of our Temple, the exile of the shekhinah (divine presence), the ruthlessness of empire and the dispersal of our people into centuries of diaspora, we also attuned ourselves to the familiar cries of Eicha (“How?!”) rising from our city, whether in mourning for Freddie Gray, Tyrone West and Korryn Gaines or in righteous anger over the systemic police racism and sexism confirmed by the recent Department of Justice report.
Several of us belong to organizations advocating for racial and economic justice here in Baltimore or to organizations involved in pursuing justice in Israel/Palestine. Some of us belong to shuls and other Jewish communal organizations. However, we gathered not as affiliated individuals with an agenda, but to simply read and consider the platform on its own terms. We encourage others in the Baltimore Jewish community to read the platform independently and in community. It is an astounding project, both visionary and practical, which lays out a clear, comprehensive and transformative vision for racial and economic justice. As white Jews and as residents of Baltimore and the United States, we feel inspired and eager to participate in the movement in our various ways.
We are pained by many responses of the institutional Jewish community to this platform, both here in Baltimore and throughout the United States. We are saddened that many white Jews in our communities have chosen to center ourselves and our anxieties in our public responses to the M4BL platform rather than centering the experiences and demands of black people and communities.
In particular, we are disappointed that much of our community’s public discourse surrounding the M4BL platform has focused on Israel. We understand that our community’s hypervigilance to criticism against the State of Israel is born from centuries of persecution. We acknowledge that in our collective conscious, the Nazis or Cossacks (or Inquisition or Crusades or …) are always around the corner, and so, for many, the existence of a strong and militarized Jewish state seems to be the only assurance of safety in a perilously anti-Semitic world. For many, physical or political threats against the State of Israel feel like direct threats to our existential safety as Jews.
We do not deny the existence of anti-Semitism nor do we wish to minimize its impact. At the same time, we recognize the mechanisms and lasting impact of trauma. Trauma limits our capacity to discern the difference between real and perceived threats and to respond accordingly. When all we have is a post-traumatic hammer, everything feels like an anti-Semitic nail. Therefore, it is understandable that some would elevate concerns about Israel rather than express outrage over systemic police brutality or residential redlining or any of the dozens of other policies that perpetuate racial apartheid here in the United States. But this is a knee-jerk, post-traumatic response. It inappropriately redirects emotional attention and material resources away from marginalized communities that have asked for our support. This response puts us on the wrong side of justice.
So, too, does calling the M4BL platform “odious” and “dishonest,” saying its authors “just [don’t] get it” and threatening “consequences,” which the Baltimore Jewish Times did in its recent editorial (“Black Lives Matter, and So Does Israel,” Aug 10). Statements like these have denigrated the Movement for Black Lives and called on us to sever ties to it. This approach divides Jewish and black communities, prevents us from finding common calling in our overlapping and distinctive histories of violence and trauma and keeps us from building relationships of mutual understanding and solidarity against all forms of oppression.
We have the responsibility to face our inherited trauma, to understand how it informs our present and to do the work of healing, both for own sake and in order to participate fully in the work of racial justice.
Rachel Bergstein, Yona Gorelick, Jaffa Batya Weiss and Annie Kaufman are Baltimore City residents and social justice organizers.