Our Response to Racism – In Light of George Floyd

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Friday, June 5, 2020

Dear Friend of Yad HaChazakah,

Yad HaChazakah’s mission entails ending prejudice and removing physical, communication, attitudinal, and systemic barriers that prevent people with disabilities from engaging in Jewish community life and Torah learning. In light of the callous murder of George Floyd by police officers, we feel it to be important to affirm our positions against conscious and unconscious bigotry against Black, Brown and Indigenous people and for peacefully protesting and constructively remedying prejudices that have led to centuries of enslavement, inequity, indignity, harm, and murder.

Though we have come a very long way in bridging racial divides, the tentacles of racial prejudice still run through our veins. Black men and women are still treated with suspicion when they shop in high-end stores, when they park their cars in spaces designated for government officials and VIPs, or when they just drive while black. Black and brown parents have to train their children how to speak and behave when their children are pulled over by police and they repeatedly reinforce the training. White families don’t need to consider this. The tentacles of bigotry can be destroyed only through continual and conscientious reflection, dialogue, and changes in our speech and behavior.

Our efforts to improve society always begin with improving ourselves. Each of us wants to believe that we are good, fair and just. However, paraphrasing Hillel from Pirke Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, we should not be sure of ourselves until the day of our death, which very few of us know.

Every one of us has been influenced by positive and negative prejudices and biases that seep through our societies and cultures, causing us to occasionally speak and act in accordance with unconscious and semiconscious presumptions. Depending on the presumption and what we say or do based upon it, we can either help or harm a relationship, reputation, or a person’s very well-being or life. Therefore while reading the below statement, please reflect upon your own internal and behavioral responses to people who are different from you and one thing you can do towards removing the tentacles of racism.

Yad HaChazakah’s Statement on Racial Prejudice and Bigotry

Whereas Yad HaChazakah-The Jewish Disability Empowerment Center:

  1.    Strongly condemns ALL prejudice and bigotry from whatever source and towards any racial group, as strongly as it does bigotry against people with obvious or hidden disabilities, in accordance with the Torah, which teaches that all humanity was created by G-d in G-d’s Image and is loved by G-d (Cf Bereishit, Genesis 1:27, 5:1 and Malachi 2:10); also in accordance with Mishna Sanhedrin 4:5, which teaches that G-d created humans as one being in order to show that no one person can say they have superior origins and that G-d demonstrates G-d’s Greatness through the diverse and unique natures of G-d’s creatures.
  2.     Recognizes that, as Jews of all ethnic backgrounds and skin tones, we come from persecution and slavery, and as people with disabilities, we experience discrimination, violence and bigotry. Therefore we feel solidarity with the Black, Brown, Indigenous, and Asian communities, both their disabled and non-disabled members.
  3.    Acknowledges that we learn to respond to injustice from Moshe Rabeinu, our teacher. In two instances, he protested the beating of another human being, though he could have easily chosen to stay safe and comfortable by minding his own business. (Cf. Shemot,  Exodus 2: 11-14)

Therefore Yad HaChazakah:

  1.    Supports the right to peacefully protest as granted by the US Constitution in its First Amendment in the face of racism, especially in its deadliest form.
  2.    Calls upon parents, Rabbeim, community leaders, teachers, and all other adult role models to teach children about the history of racial prejudice in America. Make sure to heavily involve people who have experienced prejudice based on being Black, Brown, Indigenous or Asian when teaching children.
  3.    Calls upon everyone to stop using outdated derogatory terms or dismissive tones to refer to any group of people or member thereof and to stop making disparaging categorical statements about any race. “My girl”, referring to a housekeeper, is an example of a derogatory term.
  4.    Encourages everyone to call out and fight all forms of bigotry and prejudice in any peaceful way they can and encourage youths to do so as well.
  5.    Encourages everyone to seek out and take opportunities to work on projects for the common good together with people you perceive are not like you.

Thank you to our board secretary Debra Baker for composing the initial draft of this statement.

Sharon Shapiro-Lacks and the Yad HaChazakah team.

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