7.3.20 CEO Letter

By Jenn Ross

My last column focused on a vision of our community’s Jewish future.  As we celebrate our nation’s independence, I’m reflecting on the freedom which doesn’t truly exist for our friends, family, and neighbors who are African Americans. Leaders and activists tirelessly participate in marches and protests while others enjoy attending community and holiday parades. 

As Jews, we are very familiar with the frustration and fear of particularly institutional racism.  A large focus of my own work is ensuring the safety and well-being of participants at the J and sharing guidance with all of our agencies and synagogues.  My husband and I watched the recent PBS documentary Viral: Anti-Semitism in Four Parts.  Michael told me the next day how troubled his sleep was after viewing this powerful program and I understood completely because reading about hazards against and hatred toward Jews day after day through Secure Community Network’s daily messages and numerous other sources impacts my ability to sleep soundly most evenings.

That being said, I recognize a significant distinction between my daily life and individuals whose skin is darker than mine. Unless I am at a Jewish institution, representing the Jewish community in public, or wearing a Jewish symbol, I never fear for my safety because of my religion as it is not apparent to a potential bigot.

Oprah Winfrey has a powerful two-part discussion on her network OWN, Where Do We Go From Here.  I have been encouraging people to watch this program and suggest you also watch Viral to see the parallels between the tropes and lies that are created about Jews and African Americans.  During the Civil Rights Movement, the Jewish Community did in fact work as strong allies and many Jewish Community Relations Councils and other Jewish groups are trying to recreate that. In my opinion, it is time for a second, permanent Civil Rights Movement so African Americans can enjoy all of the civil liberties that white Americans do instead of reliving the continual degradation and trauma of the past four centuries.

Included in this edition is a sermon from Rabbi Peter Kessler which I requested to reprint. Though it was written four years ago, it could have been the D’var last Shabbat.  My prayers are that true reform will occur making this message a thing of the past. I do not have the answers yet on how this can be achieved, but I am seeking them from national and local leaders.

As we reopen, I’m still primarily working remotely, so the best way to reach me is still by email at j.ross@jewishfedhbg.org. If you would like to be part of the solution, please let me know. I look forward to hearing from you soon.