An open letter from Black Jews, non-Black Jews of colour and our allies to Jewish congregations, federations, foundations, organizations, nonprofits and initiatives, dated June 30, 2020.
We write this letter as proud members of the Canadian Jewish community. We are Black Jews and non-Black Jews of colour. We are Jewish community board members, educators and leaders. We write from a place of love for our Jewish identities and community, while also grappling with the cultural erasure, exclusion and structural racism that we experience in Jewish spaces. Nevertheless, we are compelled to be in Jewish community because it is who we are.
Over the past month, we have witnessed a racial reckoning within Canadian institutions. Police violence against Black and Indigenous people has continued unabated, with numerous deaths, including that of D’Andre Campbell, Eishia Hudson, Jason Collins, Regis Korchinski Paquet, Everett Patrick, Chantel Moore, Rodney Levi, Ejaz Ahmed Choudry and countless others. In the United States, the tragic murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, Sean Reed, George Floyd, David McAtee and Rayshard Brooks have gripped the collective consciousness and have been the catalyst for a global call to action. We have witnessed and participated in protests and in conversations for structural change across all sectors and our Jewish community is not exempt from this dialogue.
No Silence on Race is born out of the necessity for inclusivity and racial equity in Jewish spaces. We acknowledge and are grateful for the longstanding work that Jews of colour and Jewish allies in Canada and the United States have dedicated themselves to in addressing structural racism within the Jewish community.
In this letter, we call on our Jewish community to uphold the tenets of justice and equality and to commit to the creation of a truly anti-racist, inclusive and equitable Jewish community.
The work that needs to be done to achieve this vision must happen collectively and systematically. To guide its implementation, we have devised nine pillars outlined below. These pillars are intended to support Jewish congregations, federations, foundations, organizations, nonprofits and initiatives in their transformation towards greater inclusivity and equity.
If you are aligned with the creation of an anti-racist, inclusive and equitable Jewish community, we ask that you sign this letter in support [at nosilenceonrace.ca]. If you are an organization, we ask that, in addition to signing your name, you write a public statement expressing your commitment to achieving this vision.
The nine pillars are:
1) Allyship: creating anti-racist, inclusive and equitable Jewish spaces begins with each individual. We call on everyone within their organizations to make a personal pledge to the work of allyship and to devise a personal plan of 10-15 comprehensive ways they will work towards becoming strong allies and leaders in the creation of more inclusive and equitable Jewish spaces.
2) Education: engage external facilitators for organization-wide anti-racism and anti-oppression education and training led by Black Jews, Jews of colour or people of colour consultants or consulting organizations.
3) Indigenous education and relationship building: engage in education about Indigenous peoples in Canada and cultural competency training. Build meaningful relationships with local Indigenous communities.
4) Equity consultancy: work with an equity consultant with a specialization in anti-racist work to formulate a multi-year strategic plan for your organization to create a roadmap towards inclusion, equity and anti-racist practices. This includes implementing non-discrimination policies, equitable hiring policies, anti-racist frameworks for organizational decision-making and a procedure to report and investigate any breaches of this policy.
5) Employment and recruitment: implement strategies to ensure equitable representation in your staffing, as well as development and retention planning to ensure these practices are adequately conducted.
6) Equity, inclusion, anti-racism advisory: accountability is essential. Create an advisory group to ensure that the equity-and-inclusion policy and strategies implemented are upheld at all levels of the organization. Create metrics to track ongoing anti-racism work.
7) Jews of colour leadership strategy: invest in a leadership strategy to ensure that Jews of colour are poised to be adequately represented in leadership roles in the community. This can include mentorships, educational scholarships and project grants.
8) Programming/events/partnerships: commit to more programming and partnerships with cultural institutions, with the goal of engaging in and elevating a diverse range of Jewish diasporas and histories.
9) Amplify the voices of Jews of colour in Canada: demonstrate explicit support for Jews of colour community groups and active initiatives. Engage in substantial outreach efforts.
We acknowledge that change takes time and recommend Jewish organizations create their own timelines for achieving the nine proposed pillars. We have designed these pillars as a guideline and we encourage all organizations to be intentional and creative in their implementation. While organizational priorities may have shifted amidst the realities of COVID-19, it is imperative that our community does not remain silent about how racial inequity plagues Jewish spaces. We look to the entire Jewish community in Canada to challenge ourselves to do more and to envision the path forward.
Jewish scholars as far back as Rabbeinu Bachya ben Asher, a significant rabbi and scholar from 13th-century Spain, call us to seek “Justice whether to your profit or loss, whether in word or action, whether to Jew or non-Jew.” So, we set our sights on July 9, which this year mark[ed] the fast of the 17th of Tammuz, where we begin the three-week period of mourning leading up to Tisha b’Av.
Tisha b’Av commemorates the destruction of the Temple. It is a time where we reflect on the divisions within our community. But, more importantly, it is a time to reflect on the cost of allowing those divisions to persist. During this holiday, we recognize the importance of taking a more active role in challenging each other and of doing more to make amends. It is in this spirit that we invite Jewish organizations across the country to engage in listening, introspection and action.
Creating anti-racist, inclusive and equitable Jewish spaces will require deep self-reflection, difficult conversations and an ongoing commitment to reimagining what the Jewish community can look like. Above all, it must be guided by the celebration of Jewish culture and a love for one another.
For individuals and organizations who believe in this movement, we invite you to join us in action by adding your name to this letter. We call on organizations to sign their name with the intention to issue a public statement by July 29, outlining your commitment to the vision of creating a more inclusive Jewish community.
The ground is shifting beneath us in ways that are undeniable and it is incumbent on each of us to play a role in shaping our collective future. When we honour our commitment to each other as Jews, our communities will reflect the beauty and diversity that truly exists within our culture.
Sara Yacobi-Harris, Akilah Allen-Silverstein and Daisy Moriyama