Who will you be in 5781?
Racism is one of the most powerful social malignancies threatening our world today. Racism closes our hearts and afflicts our judgment based on irrational prejudices and fears. Antiracism challenges the ideas and policies that allow inequality to continue and thrive. As Jews, we have been given the mandate to fight injustices on all fronts. Each year during the High Holy Days Jews of every generation, race, and culture embark on a shared journey of reflection and repentance. During the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we reevaluate the way we are in this world, as individuals, and as a community through the practice of cheshbon ha’nefesh, an accounting of our souls. For ten days we contemplate who we want to be moving forward into a new spiritual year, and what parts of ourselves we wish to cast away.
This year in the spirit of T’shuvah we are asking the Temple Israel community to reflect on our world from an anti-racist perspective, with the goal of altering any negative practices, biases, and perceptions towards people of color. We offer you 10 Days of Awe/An Antiracist Journey in which each day you will find a collection of stories and creative actions presented from a Jewish Lens. We have collected a rich tapestry of honest, reflective, and personal stories from our community that uplift our voices as we strive together toward an antiracist future. We invite you to explore and engage as we embark on this transformative journey together as a community rooted in the concept of Tikkun Olam, and intergenerational t’shuvah.
At Temple Israel, “Living Judaism Together” means that we acknowledge, welcome, and honor each individual in our community. During these High Holy Days, we recognize that Temple Israel, like our society, has missed the mark. We are committed to an ongoing culture shift that better reflects our values in our actions. Honest reflection and internal struggle is an important part of the process toward being an antiracist community. As a Temple, we commit to listen, learn, act, and do better. Temple Israel’s Board of Trustees, clergy, staff, and lay-leaders are committed to change as we imagine a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive future.
Join our Facebook group or request an email to receive daily prompts, deep dive questions, and drawing opportunities and to interact with others on this journey. Questions? Email Temple Israel’s Assistant Director of Social Justice Engagement Tali Puterman.
Each day will include...
Day 1: 9/18/20
Maria Isabel Rosario's Story
Susan Michaels' Story
We all have our own reasons for joining a synagogue. In 1990, my interfaith family joined Temple Israel with a plan to raise our children Jewish. I – being Catholic at the time – could not know how important Temple Israel would become to me. As I spent time with Jewish mothers in the preschool, I felt a connection and decided to become Jewish. In the past 30 years, I’ve never once been made to feel “other” and have always experienced Tl as my home. As a white woman, I expected this to be the norm for everyone coming into the Jewish community.
One of the things that makes a place special are the people you meet. Our kids learned about making the world a better place from the clergy and teachers at Tl. I met people who showed me it’s important not just to read and speak about injustices, but to act to make change. In the fall of 2016 I became involved with hundreds of congregants at TI helping to resettle a Syrian refugee family in the Boston area. For decades, I saw my Jewish community as a leader for social change. It’s only more recently that I’ve discovered we have so much more work to do, particularly in liberal spaces, to counteract issues of racism and accept that well meaning white people have implicit biases and perpetuate unwelcoming and unjust environments.
In August of last year, the Tl community was seeking temporary housing for a young, homeless, asylum seeker. This was not something my family and I had planned to do, but we knew other people at Tl, including one of my close friends, who had opened their homes. Their actions showed me that this was something we could do too. Welcoming this young person into our home has profoundly changed me. I never worried when my white son was out in the neighborhood or alone at night. I had never talked to my white son about the dangers of police. Now, with a young man of color in my home, I fear what might happen if someone sees him and assumes he doesn’t belong because of the color of his skin. Even in our progressive community we have seen acts of racism. I told all our neighbors about him so that they would not be surprised to see a man of color in a predominantly white neighborhood. I have never felt like I had to report to my neighbors about visitors to my home until now.
These realizations about the dangers my white community could impose on this young man living in my home have led me to look inward at my own biases. I was asked to serve on the TI nominating committee for Board and Leadership Council members. We were tasked to seek a talented and diverse group based on age and gender, but it never occurred to me to say, “do we have diversity based on race?” We need representation of color to ensure we’re a safe, inclusive, and welcoming place for all. And we need to listen to Jews of color at TI when they share their insights and experiences. Temple Israel is a community of people with a mission to repair the world, but even here we have much work to do.
After hearing these stories, can you think of some challenges to tackling antiracism in predominantly white liberal spaces? What might be some solutions to these challenges?
The stories highlight that some communities (even the same community) can be welcoming to some and dangerous to others. Think about the communities of which you’re a part. Do you ever feel unsafe? What makes you feel that way? Do you feel safe? What makes you feel that way?
Look at this comic “Reading about Anti-racism” by Brian Herrick. The stories and the comic illustrate that just reading about something is not enough. As you participate in this journey, how will you hold yourself accountable to acting on being an antiracist?
Day 2: 9/19/20
Rachel Alexander's Story
Turns out that publicly writing about one’s flaws and strengths is harder than I anticipated. After being asked to write a story to frame tashlich this year, I immediately started reflecting. What do I want to let go of? Who do I want to be? Even though I’ve practiced tashlich almost every year, this deep dive into my past year felt different and more uncomfortable. I’m used to keeping my personal reflections in my head (and was very content with that). This year, not only was I putting my thoughts into writing, but also I was asked to share with others.
It’s fair to say that I was well outside of my comfort zone. I think it’s necessary to be uncomfortable sometimes, so, though it felt weird, I continued reflecting, writing, and editing. I recalled moments of antiracism in the world around me. I was constantly asking those closest to me for their thoughts: bringing my ideas to the dinner table, FaceTiming my college friends, and journaling by myself. One day, I started to discuss what was on my mind with a close childhood friend. We went back and forth sharing perspectives, leading to a fairly long and in-depth conversation.
I wanted to self-reflect further. I came home from that conversation, satisfied, but feeling uneasy about sharing a public narrative (yet here I am). Over the past few weeks I’ve been working with Tali, Temple Israel’s Assistant Director of Social Justice Engagement. We had been talking about what tashlich means and how we are going to reframe the experience through an antiracist lens in a meaningful way. I was thinking, rethinking, editing, reediting, and trying to figure out what it meant to reframe tashlich.
I then realized that it’s about this process and journey. Shouldn’t self-reflection include taking your thoughts out of your head and bringing them into conversation? I had engaged in vulnerable discussions, thought critically about who I want to be, and asked those close to me for their guidance. These traits of listening, being self aware, reflecting, and holding myself accountable are what I hope to take into the new year. It’s not possible to completely throw away our missteps, but we always have the opportunity to learn from them. This year when I throw day-old challah into the Charles River, these are the concepts that I won’t just be thinking about but that I’ll be talking about. This reframing of tashlich allows us to turn our words into actions at a time when social action is more important than ever. How can I shape my future and “grow away” from my missteps? Through reflection. Through community. Through conversation.
What are some missteps relating to antiracism that you hope to “grow away” from this year?
How will you plan to step out of your comfort zone as you act toward being an antiracist?
Participate in this alternative tashlich this year. Instead of throwing away our missteps, move forward toward antiracism by talking with an accountability partner about what you hope to “grow away” from. Consider participating in TI’s tashlich service, listening to Cantor Stillman’s tashlich medley and adding this poem.
All are invited to join Temple Israel tonight at 8:00 p.m. for Havdalah led by multiracial and multiethnic Jews in the TI community. We will draw on a diverse array of Jewish traditions and we hope to see you there. Come prepared with turmeric, coriander, and cumin so that we can experience this South Asian scent together.
Connecting to your sense of smell through drawing and creating a simple spice box for Havdalah. Smell and connect to a variety of spices and draw the experience of smelling these different aromas.
Day 3: 9/20/20
How can Temple Israel (or the communities in which you’re a part) reinforce the changes that need to be made to ensure Jews of Color (and people of color) are treated equitably and with respect?
What can you do to support the advancement of an equitable environment for people of color in your communities?
Who in your orbit is not opting in to this #10Days10Ways experience but really needs to hear these stories? Have a courageous conversation with that person and invite them to participate with you. See here for Guidelines for Authentic Conversations About Race by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Day 4: 9/21/20
Alison Freedman's Story
During the protests after George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s murders, my husband and I decided to take our children to a silent vigil in Roslindale. I reached out to an African American friend who also lives in Roslindale to see if she might be going. We first texted about pandemic life and then I asked if I might see her there. She replied, “No. We won’t be there.”
That conversation abruptly ended there. We said our goodbyes and my mind started racing. Had I offended her? Was it racist for me to ask her if she was going? Should I not assume that because she’s Black, she’d go to a Black Lives Matter event?
This exchange exemplifies the confusion and insecurity I feel as I strive to be anti-racist. I consider myself an open person willing to engage in conversation about most topics, yet I was afraid to ask a follow-up question to my friend about how she felt about the vigil. There were any number of reasons that she wouldn’t go to the event—other plans, a raging pandemic, etc. Yet, I didn’t ask. I left it alone because I feared her short response was embedded with underlying emotion that I wouldn’t know how to address.
When it comes to issues of race, I often find myself avoiding the issue because I’m not sure what’s okay and what’s not. Even when I started writing this, I struggled with whether I should write African American or Black or Person of Color to describe my friend. I googled whether or not I should capitalize Black.
This type of confusion happens more often than I like to admit. The other day I was recommending a television show called “I May Destroy You” to a friend. I told her it was about African American millennials in London. As soon as I said it, I tried to correct myself. The characters aren’t African American at all. They are Black and British. I realized I wasn’t sure how to respectfully refer to Black people in England. This also got me wondering if it was racist that race was central to my description of the characters.
This stumbling and fumbling around racial questions results in avoidance of issues which leads to unintended, but not insignificant, consequences about how I raise my children. How can I raise anti-racist children if I’m afraid to engage in discussions about race and white privilege?
I’m a white liberal Jew with lots of privilege. My children attend Jewish Day School, which, while wonderful on many levels, does not expose them to much racial or socioeconomic diversity. And even though we live in Roslindale, a relatively diverse part of Boston, our neighborhood is mostly white.
I share my perspective for a few reasons. I’ve come to realize that it’s not always about having the answers, but continuing to ask the questions, courageously, even when they make me uncomfortable. Maybe there are other people at Temple Israel who have grappled with the same questions and insecurities that I do and can relate to this? Maybe we can work together to become more comfortable acknowledging and addressing these insecurities and addressing them? There is much work to do, and I know I can’t do it alone. I hope others will join me in this discomfort as we strive to ask questions, to grow, and to learn in 5781.
How comfortable are you with talking about race and racism? How might you become more comfortable? Why do you think these conversations can be challenging?
If you have children or loved ones who are children, what are some ways you will plan to bring conversations about race and racism into your conversations to help foster growth toward antiracism?
Write down and name some topics about racism you’re uncomfortable discussing openly. Naming our discomfort is a good start to addressing it. Once you’ve created your list, begin to practice speaking about these topics out loud (either to yourself or with your accountability partner). Read “How One District Learned to Talk About Race” by Jennifer Gonzalez for inspiration and support.
Day 5: 9/22/20
Malcolm Freeman's Story
Grocery shopping in a pandemic is a stressful experience for most, and you might imagine even more so for me, a Black man with pre-existing health conditions. But I love grocery shopping!
Recently, after a shopping trip at Whole Foods, I returned to my street in the South End where I have lived since 1986 and began to scout for a parking space. All of a sudden a woman shouts from the steps of her building “Is that my Whole Foods delivery?!”, and moves quickly toward my car. I looked at her and told her, “no”. After a brief pause, I followed with “What you said was racist”, to which she responded,” Oh no I grew up in the south I’m not like that!” I was a little shaken, but continued to park my car as she walked away.
What bothered me the most about this incident, was the response I received from a White peer when I relayed my experience. After listening to my story, he said, “I’m going to need more evidence to be convinced she was racist.” I explained to him that I wasn’t suggesting that she was a racist, but rather her action in that moment, and what she said, was racist. He couldn’t accept my honest account of my experience, which disturbed me and made me realize the impacts of implicit racial bias. Needless to say, the conversation did not end well.
Twice, I was faced with the choice: do I say something? A part of me wanted to ignore the White woman approaching my car. A part of me wanted to let my friend’s comments slide. But I couldn’t. I was driven by a teaching from the Babylonian Talmud Taanit 11a, ‘At a time when the community is suffering no one should say, “I will go home, eat, drink, and be at peace with myself.’ My community is suffering. People of Color are dying at the hands of racism. It is imperative that I say something. It is imperative that you say something. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “When we accept hatred for a group as a legitimate discourse, Pharaoh is alive and well inside ourselves.” Let us not be Pharoah. Let’s commit to speaking up and choosing not to stay silent.
Tony Tauber's Story
“Be careful of travelling in the downtown area [due to protests]” came the email from my co-worker’s manager. I worked for a different manager so hadn’t seen that communication.
My friend who works in the same small office as I do shared her upset with that message and its focus on the small potential of risk and discomfort posed by the protests and lack of mention of sympathy for the circumstances that led to the paroxysms of rage and anguish.
She is a young Asian-American woman, a year out from her undergraduate studies, working as a programmer for a large technology company. I am a middle-aged white man having worked for that company and in the field for well over a decade. She was troubled and asking for someone to hear her out. I can’t remember if she was necessarily asking for my help, but of course I felt moved to help.
She had gotten notification of a session arranged by the company with a leading historian who had written multiple volumes on racial dynamics. I hadn’t gotten the same notification and she guessed that it may have been that she was a member of an Asian Employee Resource Group in the company.
I asked what she thought should
What would I do? I wrote an email to the manager and Human Resources representative laying out the concerns and my agreement with all the points raised. I knew that with my seniority and other privilege, I could assert my expectation that these things be addressed given that the company had a stated culture of inclusiveness and commitment to increasing diversity in our field. I didn’t feel I was risking much besides perhaps ruffling feathers, though I chose my words to try and come across without blaming; just expressing expectations and suggestions.
In the other internal communication channels I was part of, I posted similar.
Within a week or so, the President of our Technology Division had sent an email to all recommending the scholar’s talk, launching five weeks of eight times per week listening sessions, etc. I can’t take credit for this turn of events but am happy that I lent my voice.
Given all that I have in terms of privilege; it’s the least I can do to help others and try to lead by example.
When have you had moments when you wanted to speak up against racism but haven’t? What stopped you from speaking up? Have there been times you have stepped up as an ally for a cause? What motivated you to step up?
Have you ever questioned the personal experiences expressed by others? If yes, what do you think led you to do so? How might you respond differently next time?
Have you ever been accused of making a racist statement? If yes, how did you respond? Would you consider responding differently next time?
Many of us stay silent in the face of racist actions and speech. Today, commit to speak up! Assuming your physical safety is not at risk, it’s never okay to be silent when you witness or experience racism, because the lives of people of color are at risk when we allow racism to go unchecked. Practice non-blaming conversations on your own or with your accountability partner and commit to speak up in the face of racism, even when it’s uncomfortable.
How can you practice having courage and speaking up? Print out the front and back of this card or make a Mussar card where you can see it everyday and ask yourself to be brave in small and big ways every day.
Day 6: 9/23/20
Naomi Gordon's Story
Although my profession required a lot of writing, I never enjoyed the challenge. Now, as a 90 year old, writing, unlike reading, is an unwelcome chore. This makes me wonder, why am I totally enjoying the task of writing and rewriting “Your vote is your voice and your power” on the Reclaim Our Vote postcards to mostly Black voters in southern states? Maybe because a lifetime of learning has taught me that the vital work of being an antiracist is not close to being done.
My quest for knowledge starts as early as I can remember, probably inspired by my immigrant Jewish parents’ efforts to assimilate in America. My parents believed that my educational achievements and attending college would prove that they had truly become “Americanized.” Inspired by my radical revolutionary uncles, my own lifelong commitment to education became intertwined with my quest for justice. These uncles were part of the formation of labor unions and they helped me understand the workers’ needs and importance of the establishment of strong unions. One wrote bad plays about evil bosses, the other gave me books to read, reread, and discuss. Much of my social justice engagement has been through reading and self-reflection starting in the mid-sixties when I read and gained a startling awareness of the reality of racism from The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin and poverty from The Other America by Michael Harrington. Much more recently, after reading White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo I began to realize just how deeply embedded racism is in our culture still. The complicity of our government shown in Ibram Kendi’s How to be an Antiracist further energized me to continue to play my part in the struggle. I want my great grandchildren to see how my understanding has grown and that I’ve stayed with this cause for all this time, as it’s going to be up to them to confront the continuing challenge of racism.
I have had a long and blessed life. I’ve never had to worry about where my next meal would come from and if I have a safe place to sleep at night. My life has been full with family, friendships, a remarkable 65 year marriage, and I am overwhelmed by the wonder of my latest blessing: 3 great grandchildren. Although I’ve always felt blessed, I did not realize just how much until last year when my cousin embarked on a genealogy project. Unbeknownst to me, one of my mother’s brothers who my family thought had long ago died during their time as refugees, had not in fact passed. Rather he had joined the Russian Revolution, fought for political and social freedom in Russia and had been imprisoned for sending his writing to Europe for publication. Knowing this about my first cousin prompts me to act while I still can. I am most fortunate to see the world from the perspective of my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. I want them to know that I wish I had done more. I wish I hadn’t been so shy in my earlier years. I may be old, but it’s incumbent on me to do as much as I can.
I see it as a privilege to take part in the Reclaim Our Vote campaign to combat voter suppression. Disappointed that I find it physically risky to go to protest marches, I can stretch myself out of my comfort zone and write postcards and phone bank-which I dread- for this important cause. I hope others will join me in this ongoing effort. It takes us all of us.
Naomi’s family plays a large role in her ongoing efforts to fight against injustice. What drives you to make change? Who has inspired you to act?
Naomi’s uncle influenced her by sharing and discussing books about social justice. What ways do you see yourself influencing the views of others in your family, friend circle, and community?
Learning about her uncle imprisoned in Russia for his political beliefs reminded Naomi of her privilege and obligation to act. In what ways are you privileged? How can you use that privilege responsively in the fight against racism?
In the year 5781, how can you “stretch yourself” to grow as an antiracist?
Join Temple Israel’s Reclaim Our Vote Campaign. Sign up to participate here, and order your postcards here. Not part of the TI community? Sign up directly with The Center for Common Ground’s Reclaim Our Vote Campaign. Want to learn more about voter suppression? Watch the short film Suppressed: The Fight to Vote or hear from Wanda Mosley of Black Voters Matter here.
Day 7: 9/24/20
Dan Marion's Story
In 2017, I created “MITZVOTERS” with 14 of my interfaith friends from college. Every month—42 months running—we each donate $75, collectively pooling more than $1,000. And then we give it away. So far, we’ve disbursed nearly $30,000 to nonprofit organizations, people with medical expenses, restaurants during COVID, schools, scholarships, and entrepreneurs.
When I reflect on why I wanted to start MITZVOTERS, I think back to when I was in a train station in India. Before boarding the platform, I was repeatedly advised: there will be begging children—do NOT give them money. I learned that these children—who were, effectively, owned—would be maimed to elicit more donations from tourists. If I gave them money, I’d be enabling the violence. I’ll never forget one kid whose legs were so badly mutilated that he had to drag his lower body across the concrete. I watched him as he slowly, disappointedly, made his way through the people waiting for the train. I knew I couldn’t give him money, so I opted for some food I had. I figured he’d eat it—after all, what would the adult oppressor do with an apple? So I gave it to him. He put it in his pocket.
In that train station, I saw inequality, abject poverty, injustice, and violence against youth—and it seemed like nothing could be done. I felt helpless. And that helplessness manifested as anger. I imagine that feeling is something many of us experience. In today’s globalized, connected world, we see suffering every day, whether it’s an explosion in Lebanon; fires burning across California; or the murder of Black individuals in broad daylight, while they’re sleeping, or via the pressure of an officer’s knee. Right now, it feels like we can barely tackle the challenges in our own lives, or in our own communities, let alone our state, country, or the world. It can be overwhelming, and we’re not sure how to help, so we often turn away to not be burdened by its weight.
MITZVOTERS was a response to that helplessness. It was a way to do something and drive toward solutions as a community. It was a way to live the famous words from the Pirkei Avot: “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.”
After the murder of George Floyd, we commited to donating $400/month to organizations fighting for racial justice, such as The Movement for Black Lives and Fair Fight. Some of us committed 1% of our salaries to local organizations like the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts, Teen Empowerment, Ujima Project, Vida Urbana, Fenway High School, the MassUndocuFund, and more.
I’m not so naive as to believe that MITZVOTERS is changing the world (someone’s world, perhaps, but not the world). That requires systemic change. It requires following the leadership of Black individuals in our communities. It requires voting. It requires that powerful entities acknowledge and actively fight against white supremacy. With collective giving, we can use our money and power to help fuel those efforts, bending the arc of our time in history toward justice for all.
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the injustices you see in your community, the country, the world? What actions have you taken, or could you take, to begin to tackle those injustices?
What are the most impactful things you think you can do with your resources (for example, time and money)?
How does Judaism and the concept of tzedakah play into your decisions of how much, where, and when to donate?
We invite you to assess how you spend and invest your money and make some changes to better align your dollars with your values. You can do this in a number of ways. To learn more about MITZVOTERS, please join a 1 hour Zoom session on 10/1 to learn more. During that conversation, you will have the opportunity to collectively donate, recommend recipients, and vote, helping to fuel racial justice work in the community. If you would like to participate, please sign up using this form. You can learn more about Temple Israel’s Tzedakah Row here, and you can learn more about our efforts to support Black-owned businesses here and here.
Day 8: 9/25/20
Jessica Puterman's Story
Emilia Diamant's Story
My college essay was about crying on the floor in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, as I felt my ancestors in that moment. I went there as part of my high school semester long program in Israel. Every day, we would spend four hours learning about Jewish history. “Four thousand years of Jewish history in four mouths, four hours a day,” was the boastful cry of the recruiters. When we got to the part of Jewish history leading up to the Holocaust, we boarded a plane to Prague. We saw beautiful synagogues and vibrant Jewish history in the Czech Republic, and started to hear about the anti-Semitism peeking out from the margins as it made its way into the mainstream. Then, we went to Terezin, and learned about the transport trains to the death camps. AND THEN WE GOT ON TRAINS TO POLAND. And we visited Auschwitz and Birkenau. And it was intense, and powerful, and I saw pictures of girls with my name spelled the same way which I had never seen before and I saw my last name and I saw people who looked just like me and I wondered if they were my relatives but we just didn’t know because everything had been lost.
I was 15.
It’s no wonder, then, that I was deeply imbued with a sense that anti-Semitism was deeply dangerous, and needed to be discussed in all conversations of hate and bias. That somehow, it was my duty to bring up hatred of Jews and the Holocaust any time we were talking about racism. It wasn’t just this moment, either. It was years of Hebrew school subliminal messages about the world being against us. It was being told that without the state of Israel, I would be lost in a sea of hatred.
Now, I look back and feel betrayed by these formative experiences. I feel like I was being programmed.
As an educator and a social worker now, I know what’s happening here. I can see the picture pretty clearly. Much of American Jewish identity has been historically shaped around reliving the collective trauma of the Holocaust. This isn’t an abstract, either. My grandparents were survivors, and that intergenerational stress was absolutely passed down to me. But it wasn’t just something that came through my family; the existential threat that was felt two generations ago was passed to their children, and continues to get handed down in synagogues, in books, in youth groups, at camps.
We are proud people, yes, but we are also scared people. This is not to say that anti-Semitism doesn’t exist, we know it does. We’ve seen it in our backyards. The historical trauma, though, doesn’t allow us to see past our own experiences and to the larger picture of what’s happening around us. When someone brings up racism, so often we (or 15 year old me) says “But what about anti-Semitism?! We have to talk about Jew hatred.”
Well, yes, if we want to talk about defeating white supremacy, we absolutely have to talk about the intersections of anti-Black racism and anti Semitism, but usually that’s not what we’re talking about.
Our trauma can’t blind us. Our narrow focus on anti-Semitism, our inability to have conversations that don’t center on the oppression of Jews, is preventing us from engaging in meaningful liberation work.
So what do we do? We process our trauma. We go to therapy on our own. We talk about it with our parents. We break the patterns in our religious schools. We find affinity groups for processing. We lean into discomfort.
The programming can stop, and it will, but not unless we do it consciously. So, what are we going to do about it this year?
Are there issues that you have a narrowed focus on because of your lived experiences? How might you move beyond your narrowed focus to engage in meaningful liberation work?
Some people argue that racism will go away if we stop talking about race. What do you think are the impacts of minimizing your biases? How can you bravely identify and grapple with the implicit biases you hold?
Do you think the roles for white people and people of color are different when engaging in the practice of antiracism? How do you see your place in this journey based on your racial identity?
Talk to a friend or family member who is not currently supportive or involved with the Black Lives Matter movement. Share with them your values and why this cause matters to you. Think about how you can publicly and meaningfully support the Black Lives Matter movement, perhaps by displaying a banner, showing up to protests, or donating to the cause.
Say this Kaddish for Black Lives that was written by the Jewish Mutiracial Network.
Day 9: 9/26/20
These stories indicate opportunities for action in the face of inaction, or opportunities to act differently, without bias. What are some ways you plan to act differently in 5781 and beyond to break down barriers for people of color?
How have policies in the United States contributed to the false perception of people of color as violent and more likely to commit criminal acts? How might these policies impact individual acts of racism?
How does your cultural background impact the way you see and treat people with different cultural standards? How can you practice treating people from all cultural backgrounds equitably?
Take a Shabbat stroll around your neighborhood. What do you notice about the racial diversity of your neighborhood? What do you notice about the stores, schools, and businesses near you? About the parks and access to open space? Take note and then consider the impact systemic racism has had in your neighborhood over the years. Look up information about redlining and other systems that may impact the way your neighborhood is shaped.
All are invited to join Temple Israel tonight for a Havdalah led by multiracial and multiethnic Jews in the TI community. We will draw on a diverse array of Jewish traditions and we hope to see you there at 8:00 p.m.
Day 10: 9/27/20
Hava Meyers' Story
I don’t usually pay attention to my race that much: my skin is white, just like the 76.5% rest of the U.S.* Before I realized I was immersed in an unfair world (with racism) I never considered myself lucky to be white. It just felt “normal.” Earlier this summer I took part in an Internship for 5-7th Graders at Temple Israel called “How to be an Antiracist”. After watching a video with the internship about how all white people are racist, I first felt a little offended. I’ve never done anything racist (or at least never tried to)! But something dawned on me. I’d never had that many black friends before: always white. Now, I realize that I made the assumption that all black people weren’t as smart, and weren’t as “cool.” Thinking back on this, I was a racist. As I go into middle school, I hope to make friends with someone racially different than myself.
After being in a very racially diverse school, I started to notice a few patterns. For one thing, everyone who identified as a white or caucasian person had higher grades, and were held to higher standards and expectations. If I’m grouping a large group of people here… this is just something I’ve noticed throughout my school year(s), and I apologize. Anyways, the rest of the class had different thoughts and opinions about school, and they would always refer to the white kids in our class as the “smarty pants group.” Or the “white kids.” This made me feel sad. I had never really thought about my race in school. I thought it was perhaps a coincidence that all of my friends were white, and not black. I felt sad that they weren’t held to the same standards, that the teachers didn’t pay attention to them as much. And that’s when I realized that I was very lucky to be white. It should not be this way!
In order to ensure a racially diverse future of thriving scholars, we must make change now. It’s not fair for black and brown people to be treated as less. After listening to a podcast, I found out that a study had shown that black men did things to act non-threatening. For example, while running, black men would whistle happy tunes while passing people. They would always wave, smile, and say hello to neighbors. It was mandatory for them to have an ID on them at all times. The fact that they had to make all these extra accommodations, just so that they wouldn’t get their lives taken away from them, is heartbreaking. I had never thought about all of the extra things black people have to do, in order to be safe.
Racism has been going on for a while, and a video shouldn’t have to bring white people to act. I’ve learned that it’s my job to help make change in my community. It’s my job to educate myself on racism, and how to be an antiracist. I’m being relied on to help black and brown communities, but I can’t do it alone. Everyone needs to help out, pitch in, in any way they can. We all need to listen to black and brown voices who call on the white community for support. As I look toward my future, I hope that we can all actively participate in being an antiracist. I believe that everyone should be valued.
Chris Palmer's Story
On Rosh Hashanah, we greet each other with the words shanah tovah u’metukah, may you have a good and sweet year. Upon hearing this for the first time, I wondered why we wished each other a good and sweet year—does having a good year not also imply having a sweet year? Is saying both not redundant? The events of 2020 have proven that, among all of the bitter moments, goodness and bitterness are not mutually exclusive; in bitter moments, goodness can still exist. From the sourness of the COVID-19 pandemic that has disproportionately harmed people of color, to the bitterness of racism and police brutality that has taken countless Black lives, it is clear that this year has had more than its fair share of bitterness. What goodness possibly exists in all of that? The hope of building an antiracist tomorrow is the answer.
While it is very sad that it has taken the death of George Floyd (among countless other Black people at the hands of police) to spark this conversation about antiracism, the call for racial justice has never been louder than it is today; more people have joined the conversation than ever before. As Jews, it is upon us to answer this call and work on creating a more antiracist world, which starts with first creating a more antiracist synagogue. It is difficult to describe what exactly an antiracist Temple Israel looks, but I’d like to share some of my own stories that, as a Jew of Color, I feel illustrate what antiracism at Temple Israel does not look like:
It was oneg after a Shabbat service at TI and I was having a conversation with someone who also happened to be a Jew of Color from the Temple Israel community. A third congregant approached us and asked if we were related. This happened on two separate occasions and I got the question from two different congregants. Of course, two Jews-of-Color who sit together from time to time in synagogue must be related, right?
I attended a Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO) event in which all of the faith organizations gathered in a church in Dorchester to discuss the progress we had all made on issues we had been working on. Each church or temple had a designated pew for its congregants to sit in. Naturally, I made my way towards the pew for TI congregants, and was pleasantly greeted with “This is the TI pew,” as if I had gone in there by mistake. Where does it look like I should go? The Black church?
I am fortunate enough to also be a Jew by choice; I was not born into Judaism but I discovered it on life’s journey. I chose to become Jewish at Temple Israel with TI clergy primarily because of the great reputation TI had on the social justice front. In all the research I had done on temples around Boston, TI stood out for its dedication to the pursuit of justice. Imagine my surprise when I walked into what seemed to be a very liberal and progressive synagogue and was then slapped in the face with racial microaggressions. It soon became clear, although the TI community has done great work in other areas combating issues like health care inequality and LGBTQ+ rights, racial inequality is an area where TI has missed the mark. The hardest part about becoming Jewish was not learning the prayers, or the Hebrew, or even the bris; the hardest part was dealing with people at TI who consistently made me feel as though I was an outsider who did not belong. It is for this reason that it is so important that we continue to work on intentionally creating an antiracist synagogue space, one in which all feel welcomed, regardless of skin color.
These 10 days of awe are coming to an end, but the conversation and the work must continue. Just as the Israelites crossed the Sea of Reeds to escape Mitzrayim, Egypt, we, too, must now cross from a place of narrowness to a place of freedom and antiracism. As we form a line and walk through the parted sea, waters raging on both sides, it is important to remember where we stand. Some of us are privileged to be at the front of the line, where the end is in sight and no obstacles are in our way. Others among us lack such privileges and are at the back of the line, with uncertainty and the constant fear that the walls of water on our sides will come crashing down on us. It is upon the people in the front of the line to reassure and support those in the back that we will all one day make it out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.
Carol Targum's Story
Actions speak louder than words, the saying goes, and that is what happened around our kitchen table.
My grandchildren, after quarantining, spent two weeks with Steve and me, and like many grandparents we thought about how we could make this a wonderful visit, especially in these challenging times. It was delightful to hug our grandchildren again, and our days together were joyously filled with hiking, kayaking, biking, and board games. We were living in a white privileged bubble, but turbulent times were just beyond our little paradise.
As a grandparent I have intentionally wanted to create memories and instill Jewish values, and this visit provided the perfect opportunity. George Floyd’s murder, the protests, the upcoming election and the political climate formed a confluence of events in which I knew I wanted to be a role model for my grandchildren. One evening after dinner, I told them about Reclaim Our Vote and the urgent need to make sure people were registered voters so they could participate on election day. I explained voter suppression in language a 12 and 9 year old could understand. And then I told my grandchildren they could participate in this important initiative by writing postcards. To the 9 year old, I assigned the task of putting stamps on the cards and showing him where highlighting was needed. The 12 year old addressed the cards writing out the script as had been prescribed.
And so, there around the kitchen table the four of us sat, each working diligently. The chit-chat of a team working together sometimes filled the room, sometimes the 12 year old asked questions, and sometimes we spoke about how we were engaging in important work for our democracy. Values being enacted, a sense of common purpose floating through the air, and family love binding us together toward a greater good.
Now, a few weeks later, I know the family shared a lived experience of working toward social justice. And during the hours around my kitchen table my grandchildren reached beyond their wonderful but sheltered world, participated in democracy, and felt proud and empowered by doing so. And, I knew I had created a memory in which I had imparted both Jewish and democratic values which they would always take with them.
These stories encourage Temple Israel to continue to work on intentionally creating an antiracist synagogue space. Think about the spaces you belong to (home, work, school, place of worship), what can you do to intentionally create antiracist spaces, one in which all feel welcomed, regardless of skin color?
Chris Palmer asks those of us who are privileged to be at the front of the line to reassure and support those in the back. There are probably times when you have been at the front of the line, the back of the line, or someplace in the middle depending on the situation. Think about times you have been privileged to be in front of others whether at your home, work, school, place of worship, or walking down the street, what can you do to reassure and support others?
These stories paint a picture of “past, present, and future” and illustrate how communities can work together across generations to make change. How can you work with others who are different from you to make change? Why is that important in the work of being an antiracist?
Now that the 10 Days of Awe 5781 Antiracist Journey is coming to an end and your new journey is just beginning, use an antiracist lens to reevaluate how you interact in the world. What changes will you make? Whether you are deciding:
- What books and activities to do with your children or grandchildren
- Who gets hired or promoted
- Which patients or clients get your full attention
- To support housing policies that will change your neighborhood or community
- Where your money goes
- Who to say hi to when you are walking down the street
How can you disrupt and dismantle racism? Make a plan. Try to be very specific. And most importantly, stay committed – even when you forget or make mistakes.
Although the Ten Days of Awe have come to an end, the work of being an antiracist is not over. Use the suggested personal commitment card with a section for personal, interpersonal, and institutional change. Write down at least one action in each section and commit to these actions for the Jewish New Year.
This is the 4th year Temple Israel has done 10 Days of Awe, and we would like your feedback. Please share with us any advice, thoughts or questions you have so that we can begin working on 10 Days of Awe 5782. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org with feedback.
Do you have a personal story that reflects your journey as an antiracist? We invite you to share your story with us. These stories make up collective reckoning with our biases, personal achievements and growth, pain we’ve experiences at the hands of racism, and commitments to do better in the future. Please tell us your story.
Make yourself a personal commitment card it can be a visual reminder with text and images. Create a section for personal, interpersonal, and institutional change. Write down at least one action in each section and commit to these actions for the Jewish New Year. Or, print out this one.