Janice Hochstat-Greenberg


When you look at me what do you see?

A woman? A short, plump person? Someone with a slight limp? With crossed eyes? A senior citizen?

If you saw me in my work environment in a library what would you think? “She must be smart to work in a library.” “She probably knows all of the answers.”

When you see a person of color at your synagogue, what is your first reaction? Do you welcome him/her/they or are you wary of people who might not be white? If he/she/they were dressed informally would you assume that they worked for the synagogue in a non-clergical capacity?

A year ago I was privileged to attend the rabbinical ordination of Rabbi Sandra Lawson. Rabbi Sandra co-wrote an excellent article with Donna Cephas “Racism in the Jewish Community” [].

Two very important statements for me from this essay are:

1) “Rabbis and community leaders would do well to educate their communities about how to interact with Jews who are racially and ethnically diverse, and to create a more inclusive community for all.”

2) “There is insufficient recognition of racism within the Jewish community and what we in the Jewish community need to do to change our culture so that “we Jews” refers to “all” Jews and each of us feels included in and integral to our Jewish community.”

In order for me to live each day as a Jewish woman of integrity I want to become one of those community leaders who works to change our culture and create an all-inclusive Jewish community; to teach others in the Jewish community how to “interact with Jews who are racially and ethnically diverse”; and to recognize and speak out against racism in the Jewish community.

On January 14, 1963, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel z”l delivered a speech at the National Conference of Christians and Jews on Religion and Race []

His words are still very relevant, vital and urgent for us as Jews today.

He concludes with the following:

“[86] Let us not forget the story of the sons of Jacob. Joseph, the dreamer of dreams, was sold into slavery by his own brothers. But at the end it was Joseph who rose to be the savior of those who had sold him into captivity.

[87] Mankind lies groaning, afflicted by fear, frustration, and despair. Perhaps it is the will of God that among the Josephs of the future there will be many who have once been slaves and whose skin is dark. The great spiritual resources of the Negroes, their capacity for joy, their quiet nobility, their attachment to the Bible, their power of worship and enthusiasm, may prove a blessing to all mankind.

[88] In the words of the prophet Amos (5:24):
Let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like a mighty stream.

[89] A mighty stream, expressive of the vehemence of a never ending, surging, fighting movement -as if obstacles had to be washed away for justice to be done. No rock is so hard that water cannot pierce it. “But the mountain falls and crumbles away, and the rock is removed from its place; the waters wear away the stones” (Job 14:18 f.). Justice is not a mere norm, but a fighting challenge, a restless drive.

[90] Righteousness as a mere tributary, feeding the immense stream of human interests, is easily exhausted and more easily abused. But righteousness is not a trickle; it is God’s power in the world, a torrent, an impetuous drive, full of grandeur and majesty. The surge is choked, the sweep is blocked. Yet the mighty stream will break all dikes.

[91] Justice, people seem to agree, is a principle, a norm, an ideal of the highest importance. We all insist that it ought to be -but it may not be. In the eyes of the prophets, justice is more than an idea or a norm: justice is charged with the omnipotence of God. What ought to be, shall be!”

As many of our friends and family march in solidarity against antisemitism tomorrow in New York City and as we pledge to participate in the #JewishandProud Day initiative this Monday let us take into our hearts and souls as well as our minds the observations and wise words of Donna Cephas and Rabbis Sandra Lawson and Abraham Joshua Heschel. Let us most importantly act to erase our own misconceptions and preconceptions. We will then set the moral standard for other Jews.

Shavua Tov.

About the Author
I am a librarian, folklorist and author living in New Jersey. I was brought up in both Orthodox & Conservative shuls. As a married woman I have been very active in both Conservative & Reform shuls.
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