We Stand with the African American Community

I must begin by pointing out two things you may have missed this week amid the overwhelming quantity and intensity of news:

1. Our Federation message posted on social media on Sunday right after Shavuot and Shabbat:

We are heartbroken by the senseless and unnecessary death of George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement in Minneapolis several days ago. We stand with the African American community and all communities of color in mourning the deaths of Mr. Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others who have lost their lives simply because of the color of their skin. We commend Pittsburgh Chief of Police Scott Schubert for speaking out against this atrocity and for taking steps to use it as a teachable moment at the Pittsburgh Police Academy.

We recognize that the riots in downtown Pittsburgh yesterday were sparked largely by those who are not part of any community of color and who are seeking to widen the racial divide throughout the region. Unfortunately, the Jewish community is all too familiar with how it feels to be targeted simply because we are different while simultaneously being scapegoated by the perpetrators of violence. We look forward to continuing to collaborate with, listen to and learn from our partners in the African American community and law enforcement to make Pittsburgh a more equitable, safe and inclusive place for all who live here.

2. A Piece in The Forward

This article was penned by several Jewish Community Relations Council Directors across the country, including our own Josh Sayles. I suggest you read the entire piece at the link provided but want to point out what I think may be the most important lesson from these expert professionals: “Follow the lead of Black organizers. Just as our Jewish community gets to determine how we understand anti-Semitism and how we want our partners to respond, so too those who are most impacted by these policies must have our support in defining the response.”

I applaud these two public expressions made by our Federation in the wake of the horrific killing of George Floyd that launched a social movement to create change in our society. However, I always prefer actions over words.  The Federation has been working with other great partners to launch the 412 Black Jewish Collaborative and this week, the Collaborative took major steps moving forward. The background of this initiative is:

A little over a year ago, a handful of Black and Jewish Pittsburghers traveled to Georgia and Alabama to participate together in a Civil Rights Mission to the South. Our goal, beyond learning about the history of Black people in America in a tangible, meaningful way, was simple: to get proximate. The term speaks to the idea of being close, of stepping beyond comfort levels to foster new relationships, to familiarize oneself with history, and to get involved in the present day to forge solutions.

Out of our proximity with and fondness for one another, we launched the 412 Black Jewish Collaborative (412BJC) in the summer of 2019 and invited a few of our trusted friends and colleagues into the group. Our plan was to grow slowly and create strong relationships rooted in friendship before opening up the Collaborative to the broader Pittsburgh community.

In 2020, we intended to hold our first public programs: a happy hour to bring together young Black and Jewish leaders from across the city, followed by a second Civil Rights Mission to the South shortly thereafter. We had plans for a Freedom Seder around Passover, a conversation around Juneteenth, and a conference at the end of the year. With the COVID-19 pandemic, we decided to postpone our programming. But after the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd, on top of so many other names we do not know, we can’t afford to wait any longer.

Stay connected to the work of the 412 Black Jewish Collaborative by going to their Facebook page and clicking “Like.” Then, you will learn ways to be involved in some of the most important issues of our time as a member of our Pittsburgh Jewish community and as a citizen of Western Pennsylvania. 

Shabbat Shalom.

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