February – Racial Justice


February – Racial Justice


Racial Justice and the Jewish People


Jews are taught in the Torah that we should accept people without bias or prejudice. Leviticus 19 states "You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart… You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen… Love your fellow as yourself”. In Talmud we also learn that we are all descendants of the same person – meaning no ancestor is greater than any other ancestor (Mishna Sanhedrin 4:5). Judaism teaches us that it is important to work together as a community for the common benefit of all. The advancement of racial justice has been an important part of Judaism, especially in the last century. There were Jewish founders and leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Jewish members of the Freedom Riders, and many other Jewish people and Rabbis that marched along the South during the Civil Rights Movement. This Black History Month, it’s important to uphold Judaism’s commitment and history of pursuing racial justice and equality for all.

Black and the Jewish Communities


The Black and Jewish communities have had a long and complicated relationship in America. Both groups have faced oppression and persecution throughout time and have felt bonded through their similar plights in America and across the world. Early in the twentieth century, “Jewish newspapers compared the black movement out of the South to the exodus from Egypt, noted that both blacks and Jews lived in ghettos, and described anti-black riots in the South as pogroms.” (My Jewish Learning). Jewish and Black relations have been impacted both by connection and conflict through the Civil Rights Movement, the entertainment industry, the labor and Black Power movements, and issues regarding Zionism. Regardless of the groups’ opinions of one another, American Jews have never felt the oppression that the Black community has faced in America, and Blacks have never had the economic success that the Jewish people have attained. In today’s America, it is important now more than ever that both groups come together, listen to one another, and remain in strong relations on issues involving racial justice. For more on the relationship between Blacks and the Jewish people, click here.

Social Justice Issues and the Black Community


Despite the accomplishments, gains, and strides won for social justice issues in the twentieth century, there are still countless civil liberties and inequalities that the Black community are advocating for today. According to the National Museum of African American History & Culture, African American communities continue “to face institutional racism, police violence, increased incarceration, and substandard education, housing, and health care. In an era when African Americans prominently influenced American cultural and political affairs, racial equity and social justice remained sought-after goals rather than accomplishments.” Schools that are predominantly students of color remain underfunded, the American criminal justice system imprisons and targets African Americans at a disproportionate rate (African Americans are 5 times more likely to be incarcerated than whites, NAACP), and the housing market remains blatantly segregated (American Civil Liberties Union). The dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. imagined, still lives on today.

Jews of Color


10 percent of Jewish people in the United States identify themselves as Jews of Color (Union for Reform Judaism, 2018).  A Jew of Color is a term for someone who identities as Jewish, whose is of African, Asian, or Latino/a decent. It is important that we, as a Jewish community, welcome and respect all Jewish people no matter their ethnic or racial background. One way we try to do this is by ensuring Temple Beth-El is a “safe space” for all. A “safe space” refers to places created for individuals who feel marginalized to come together to communicate regarding their experiences with marginalization (Wikipedia). For more information about Jews of Color, read this Audacious Hospitality Toolkit from the Union for Reform Judaism. Additonally, read Rabbi Yergin's sermon here.


  • Film:
    • The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross (2013)
      • “Presented and written by Henry Louis Gates Jr., this six-hour series guides viewers through more than just Black history, it explores Black identity and what it means to be an African American in the U.S. today.”
    • Teach Us All (2017)
      • “This documentary takes a look at how school segregation didn’t truly end with Brown vs. Board of Education, and how that sparked a social justice movement to bring equal access to quality education to all students in America.”
    • When They See Us (2019)
      • "Created, written and directed by Ava DuVernay, this series exposes the breakdown of the U.S. criminal justice system during the Central Park Five case."
    • 13th (2016)
      • “An eye-opening look at how a long legacy of discrimination and racial injustice built the modern American prison system, which incarcerates Black males at an alarmingly disproportionate rate.”
    • Black-ish (2014-)
      • “The single-camera comedy centers on an upper-middle-class African-American family.”
    • I Am Not Your Negro (2016)
      • “Whatever you think about the past and future of what used to be called “race relations” this movie will make you think again and may even change your mind.”
    • A Walk On The River (2017)
      • “A documentary highlighting the history and contributions of African Americans in San Antonio, Texas.”
    • Slavery By Any Other Name (2012)
      • “A 90-minute documentary that challenges one of Americans' most cherished assumptions: the belief that slavery in this country ended with the Emancipation Proclamation.”
    • Dear White People (2014)
      • “A campus culture war between blacks and whites at a predominantly white school comes to a head when the staff of a humor magazine stages an offensive Halloween party.”
    • Eyes on the Prize (1987-1990)
      • “This landmark, award-winning series documents the history of the civil rights movement in America.”
  • ELITalks: (Allows individuals and organizations to cultivate, transmit, and curate Jewish ideas and thoughts through digital conversations.)
  • TED Talks:
  • Books:
    • “Moral Resistance and Spiritual Authority” by Rabbi Seth M. Limmer & Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner
      • “This foundational new book reminds us of our ancient obligation to bring justice to the world. The essays in this collection explore the spiritual underpinnings of our Jewish commitment to justice.”
    • “Black Like Me” by John Howard Griffin
      • “A nonfiction book by white journalist John Howard Griffin recounting his journey in the Deep South of the United States, at a time when African-Americans lived under racial segregation.”
    • “Inside Separate Worlds: Life Stories of Young Blacks, Jews, & Latinos Edited by David Schoem
      • “Fourteen young Black, Jewish, and Latino authors provide a provocatively open and honest look into their lives. Their stories represent what have been secret worlds for those from other groups, and much of what they say is often unspoken even among their peers.”
    • "Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race" by Debby Irving
      • "Author Debby Irving's recollections of her own experiences of being an American white woman and coming to terms with the complexity of race in the United States."
    • “No More!”, “Free at Last!”, and “Nobody Gonna Turn Me ‘Round” by Doreen Rappaport
      • “A trilogy focused on the struggle and triumph of the African American community from slavery to emancipation to the Civil Rights Movement.”
    • “African Americans & Jewish Americans” by Hedda Garza
      • “Beginning with the colonial period in North America, the author traces the history of both groups to the present and reveals a wealth of cooperation between Jews and African Americans: in the support for New Deal social legislation, the antifascist struggle, and the Civil Rights movement, to name a few.”
    • “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker
      • “Taking place mostly in rural Georgia the story focuses on the life of African-American women in the Southern United States in the 1930s, addressing numerous issues including their exceedingly low position in American social culture.” See the film.
    • “Our Black Year” by Maggie Anderson
      • “Maggie and John Anderson were successful African American professionals raising two daughters in a tony suburb of Chicago. But they felt uneasy over their good fortune. On January 1, 2009 the Andersons embarked on a year-long public pledge to ‘buy black.’”
    • “If Beale Street Could Talk” by James Baldwin
      • Fonny and Tish are in love, and this protects them from their respective families and the outside world until Fonny is falsely accused of rape. He is jailed and held before trial. Tish finds out she is pregnant and her family, while concerned that she is quite young, gives her support for the coming baby. They help her find a lawyer to defend Fonny, hoping to find evidence to free him before the baby is born.See the film.  
    • "Across the Alley" by Richard Michelson
      • "Abe and Willie are next door neighbors. During the day they don’t play together, because Abe is Jewish and Willie is black. But at night, when nobody is watching, they’re best friends."
    • “Troubling Waters: Black-Jewish Relations in the American Century
      • “Was there ever really a black-Jewish alliance in twentieth-century America? And if there was, what happened to it? This book answers these questions more definitively than they have ever been answered before, drawing the richest portrait yet of what was less an alliance than a tumultuous political engagement--but one that energized the civil rights revolution, shaped the agenda of liberalism, and affected the course of American politics as a whole.”
    • “Thursday Night Lights” by Michael Hurd
      • At a time when "Friday night lights" shone only on white high school football games, African American teams across Texas burned up the gridiron on Wednesday and Thursday nights. Tells the inspiring, largely unknown story of African American high school football in Texas.
    •  “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas
      • The Hate U Give is an important and timely novel that reflects the world today’s teens inhabit. Starr’s struggles create a complex character, and Thomas boldly tackles topics like racism, gangs, police violence, and interracial dating. This topical, necessary story is highly recommended for all libraries.” See the film.
    • For more books on Jews of Color, check out the "9 writers who perfectly capture what it's like for Jews of Color".
  • Locally:
  • At home:

    • Host your very own Soul Food Shabbat
    • Use your buying power to support black-owned businesses and restaurants. Help strengthen communities, create jobs, and grow local economies.
Stay Informed: