- Posted by Guest Author
- On June 17, 2021
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This year hasn’t been ideal for me, no doubt, but it has, also, clearly been much harder for others. My plans were paused because of COVID-19, but some people lost their lives or lost their loved ones. I worried about my finances because of so much uncertainty, but some were laid off and couldn’t afford basic needs like food or housing. I watched in horror and disgust as innocent Black folks were murdered by police officers, but some watched and thought, “That could’ve been me or my family.” Such inequality of experiences challenged me to think how I, personally, and how we, collectively, can help balance the scales.
The reason I support the Boston Ujima Project is because its goal is to achieve self-determination for historically marginalized communities. Many charities help those who are struggling, and that is compassionate and necessary, but Ujima is trying to solve issues before people suffer, looking upstream for solutions. They are pioneering a whole economy and community that returns power to working class Black and Brown people in Boston and that functions outside of the stock market and traditional financial institutions who have systematically and consistently not supported—or excluded—them. If we were to design the world in the most equitable way possible, I imagine it would look like what Ujima is already creating.
Equally important, an investment in Ujima’s funds or a donation to their organization lets People of Color determine what is best for their own communities. As Segun Idowu said in what has become my favorite Shabbat Tzedek speech at Temple Israel: “We need laborers who are willing to dig, but not direct. Very often those who are willing to help and to give feel that doing so purchases a pass for input. But I’m here to offer a new idea. People of Color know the way out. People of Color understand the challenges facing us and so know, too, the solutions for defeating them. All we need—all we’ve ever needed—are not only people who are willing to listen, but desperate to follow. We need skilled and devoted hands who will help with the dig.
For White people like me—in the absence of wide-scale policies aimed at equity—achieving justice will most likely require individual sacrifice. I often draw inspiration from movies and books and I recently watched Jojo Rabbit. Scarlett Johansson’s character is a Jewish empathizer in WWII Germany who hides a Jewish girl in her attic and secretly hands out pamphlets to organize against the Nazis. She is killed. Although it’s just a movie, her story is nonfiction for so many others—people have risked their lives or livelihoods to protect Jews during the Holocaust, or to help Blacks escape from the South, or to purchase oxygen tanks so that those with Covid could breathe. So I think the question we have to grapple with is: are we, too, willing to sacrifice? How much of our comfort and security are we willing to risk so that others don’t have to constantly face injustice?
The word I kept circling over and over this year was fear. We live in a country with so few safety nets that any doctor’s appointment, or car accident, or natural disaster, or tuition payment could take away all that we’ve saved, destroying our dreams. Many of us guard our resources just in case. As Jews, perhaps centuries of trauma has instilled that feeling into our collective consciousness. But if we give into our fears, and protect the power, privilege, and wealth that we feel we may need in the future, will anything change in the present?
Last night, I stumbled across the movie Oslo, which tells the story of the back-channel negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization in 1993. At one point, when both sides are about to abandon negotiations, Mona Juul, an official in the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affair who helped organize the discussions, says: “No one else is coming to help you. This is up to you.” I feel that way now. Ending systemic racism and income inequality is up to us. Will it be easy? No. But I like the wisdom from All the Light We Cannot See: When Madame Manec is asked “How do you fight a system?” she responds: “You try.”
I know people are busy, and I know it’s tough to give your energy and, possibly, money, but I think it is one of the moral duties of our time. Rabbi Jonathan Kligler wrote: “The intention of giving tzedakah is to help manifest a basic Jewish goal: to enable every person to live with dignity, because every person has been created in the image of God. If you can give out of love, all the better, says Jewish law; but you give, first of all, because it is the right thing to do.” Together, we can move the needle. In the absence of wide scale policy solutions, we, together—and only together—can help our communities get closer to achieving justice.