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Talking race at the High Holidays

This time of spiritual reckoning offers a chance for communities to affirm that Jewish Black Lives Matter too

Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen so many Facebook posts from rabbi friends asking the same question: what should I talk about in my Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur sermon?

My suggestion? Let’s talk about race. And racial justice. Not just in America, but in our own Jewish community.

I can’t claim the idea. To be honest, I’m late to the game. Folks like MaNishtana, The Hebrew Mamita, and the teams at Jews in All Hues and Bechol Lashon have been addressing the challenges and opportunities around the experiences of ethnically and racially diverse Jews for years. It’s not my idea, but I can help amplify it.

The rise of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and general consciousness-raising around the reality of racism in America is bringing the issue to the fore. And while many White Jews may be vocal allies for Black communities in that struggle, we also need to bring the conversation home to the American Jewish community. Ilana Kaufman explains why:

(Many thanks to the Haas Fund, who partnered with ELI Talks on the production of this talk.)

Jews of Color are neither being counted, nor properly represented, in the institutional Jewish community. And, as with the “course correction” taken in her biblical example of the Daughters of Zelophchad, it’s time to repair that hurtful, counterproductive trend. Not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it sets us up for a stronger Jewish future. The reality is that the face of the Jewish community is changing, becoming more racially and ethnically diverse. It’s a huge opportunity, if we recognize that and prepare for it today.

I recently had a follow-up video chat with Ilana to dig deeper into the ideas she presented in her talk:

The High Holy Days are a time of spiritual accounting. We account for our good deeds and missteps alike, our kindnesses and evils. God sees us and counts us. We are each addressed, as individuals. The sad reality is that, while this may be happening in the supernal heights, it doesn’t happen down here on earth, among fellow Jews. But if it did, can you imagine the strength and creativity and sense of kehilah? Can you imagine the Jewish community we could create?

So this season of repentance, let’s talk about that.

About the Author
Miriam Brosseau is Principal of Tiny Windows Consulting, half of the "biblegum pop" duo Stereo Sinai, and a co-host of the podcast Throwing Sheyd.
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