The Black community has existed in societies where their historic and structural suffering is at best, ignored, and at worst, celebrated as a white victory. Black history is an essential and inseparable part of our history. As a community, I believe that we ought to support initiatives to learn about Black history, led by the Black community.
A few weeks ago, Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence hosted an event with Jacob Rees-Mogg. Rabbi Lawrence posed an important question on remembrance. The question was thought provoking and timely, asking whether the Leader of the Commons would support the idea of a memorial commemorating the victims of the slave trade.
At what point do we stop the memorials? That’s the question Jacob Rees- Mogg posed to an audience at Kinloss Shul on the eve of Black History Month. The answer from the Jewish Community should be that history should never be forgotten.
It’s terrifying to think that our trauma might have an expiration date. As Jews, we know all too well that history must be remembered and learned from. We have seen the growth of Holocaust denial and actively fought against it, precisely for that reason. We still fast on Tisha B’Av precisely because there is no expiry date on mourning. Therefore, the importance Black History Month will resonate with many of us.
In recent years, a debate emerged in Israel and the diaspora community around the untold histories and suffering of Mizrachi Jews who experienced persecution, violence and exile at the hand of their former home countries, including my own in Yemen.
So, we added a new date to our calendars – November 30th, now the Day to Mark the Departure and Expulsion of Jews from the Arab Countries and Iran.
This day did not replace, weaken or take away from Holocaust Memorial Day or Yom HaShoah.
New perspectives do not erase or override our own. For a rich understanding of history, and to comprehend how it affects modern reality, we have to understand its complexities.
Self-reflection might be painful. If so much of what we see around us – statues, victories, street names – is built on the backs of those Black people who suffered, what does that say about us?
So we have two choices – ignore the history we have been ignoring and carry on, or, pause, learn and reflect. Acknowledge that sometimes that what we don’t know, might not be hurting us, but it is certainly hurting others.
The Jewish community, with the helping hand of others, has been immensely successful in ensuring that teaching the lessons of the Holocaust and remembering its atrocities has become embedded into our education curriculum. We should be proud to have ensured children learn about the horrors that our grandparents experienced firsthand, atrocities whose impact is still very much real today. For that reason, we ought to be supportive of the simple concept of remembering history.
This isn’t about making comparisons between atrocities; we are not in competition. Just as we have searched for allies in the fight to have our voices heard, I feel we have a role to play in uplifting the voices which often go unheard from other minority communities and from diverse voices within Jewish communities.
- Danielle Bett wrote this in a personal capacity