Speak Up for Althea Bernstein

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This tweet from Rabbi Jonah Pesner of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism sums up the story pretty well: a young Black Jewish woman was attacked and set afire by a group of men in a car in Madison, WI, on June 24, 2020.

From the Madison Police Department’s incident report:

The MPD is investigating an assault on an 18-year-old bi-racial woman as a hate crime after she was burned with lighter fluid early Wednesday morning.

     The victim believes she was driving on W. Gorham St. when she stopped for a red light at State St. Her driver’s side window was down and she heard someone yell out a racial epithet. She looked and saw four men, all white. She says one used a spray bottle to deploy a liquid on her face and neck, and then threw a flaming lighter at her, causing the liquid to ignite.

     She drove forward, patted out the flames, and eventually drove home. Her mother encouraged her to go to a hospital.

     Hospital staff believed the liquid was lighter fluid. She was treated for burns, and will need to make follow-up visits to access additional medical care.

      Investigators are looking at surveillance images to see if any of the assault was captured on camera.

https://www.cityofmadison.com/police/newsroom/incidentreports/incident.cfm?id=26640 accessed 6/29/2020.

While several “go fund me” funds have been set up, I have not been able to ascertain whether any of them will actually go to her (always, always check!). If any readers learn of a proper fund for her, please let us know in the Comments.

Change.org has a petition seeking justice for Ms. Bernstein, and you can sign it at this address.

Rachel Mankowitz on Jews of Color

I’ve got three or four half-finished attempts at an article about the situation of Jews of Color in the present time. Rachel Mankowitz says in this article what I wanted to say, and says it so much better!

Rachel Mankowitz is a writer and blogger and social worker in New York state. If you aren’t acquainted with her blog and her novel, “Yeshiva Girl” I recommend them both.

rachelmankowitz

            The world is exploding and I am angry and afraid, and maybe hopeful too. I know I can’t handle being part of the protests in person (because my health won’t allow it, because I’m still afraid of the coronavirus, and because the potential for violence scares the crap out of me, no matter who’s causing it), but I want to do something, or add something, or learn something. But…there is so much information available on racism in general, and police violence towards people of color in particular, and mass incarceration, and how racism impacts educational opportunities and the ability to accumulate wealth, and, and, and…I don’t have the bandwidth to take in all of the books and articles and podcasts and Facebook posts that are out there. So when the cantor at my synagogue took the time to offer a zoom-cast on Jews of color, and what they might…

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Vidui – Because #BlackLivesMatter

Image: Black Lives Matter mural. (Betty Martin / Pixabay)

vidui is a Jewish confession of sin. We tend to associate this form of prayer with Yom Kippur and with the prayers of the dying, although a short vidui is part of the traditional weekday liturgy. A communal vidui includes sins which I may not personally have committed, but which some in my community may have committed. By claiming them as my own sins, I underline that I am responsible not only for myself, but also for elements in our communal life which may have fostered the sin in our members. Some Jewish prayers include acrostics as a hidden message within the prayer. For a vidui, making an acrostic of the entire alphabet is a way of saying that our sins go from aleph to taf, or from A to Z – we confess to an entire library of sin. I offer this vidui for my sins and those of my communities.

For all our sins, may the Holy One who makes forgiveness possible forgive us, pardon us, and make atonement possible.

For the sin of Arrogance, that makes it difficult to see our own failings

For the sin of Brutality, that makes it possible for us to stand by and think, “He must have done something to deserve it”

For the sin of Credulity, in which we have believed “news” from unreliable sources

For the sin of Disregarding facts that were uncomfortable for us

For the sin of Executing those whose offenses did not merit their death, and for standing by as our civil servants carried out those acts

For the sin of allowing unreasoning Fear to dictate our behavior towards others

For the sin of Greed, underpaying for work or over-charging for services

For the sin of baseless Hatred, that demonizes entire groups of other human beings

May the Holy One forgive us, pardon us, and make atonement possible.

For the sin of willful Ignorance, not wanting to know things that are embarrassing to us

For the sin of Jailing massive numbers of people for nonviolent crimes, separated from opportunities to better themselves and their families,

For the sin of Killing the hope of young people who believe that their only futures lie in prison or the grave

For the sin of Laziness about speaking up when we hear racist language

For the sin of Minimizing the pain of others

For the sin of Non-Apologies that failed to take responsibility for harm we have done

For the sin of Omission, when we failed to act upon our principles

For the sin of Presuming on the basis of skin color

May the Holy One forgive us, pardon us, and make atonement possible.

For the sin of Quiescence in the face of the racist behavior of others

For the sin of Racism, in all its myriad forms

For the sin of Self-congratulation for acts of common decency

For the sin of Taking Offense when another points out that our words or actions were racist in effect, if not in intent

For the Unconscious acts which have injured others without our awareness

For the sin of Violence against other human beings

For the sin of using Words in ways that perpetuate racism in any way

For the sin of Xenophobia, fearing and hating those who seem foreign to us

May the Holy One forgive us, pardon us, and make atonement possible.

For the sin of Yakking when we should have been listening

For the sin of Zoning out when we assumed this list wasn’t about us

For all of the sins of commission and omission, all the sins we committed consciously and unconsciously, for those that were simply accidents and those for which we failed to make an apology:

May the Holy One forgive us, pardon us, and make atonement possible.

For it is through true acts of genuine repentance and a sincere desire to change that we will bring change to our nation: the rule of fairness, justice and peace. May our hearts grow, may all wounded souls be healed, and may we live to see the day when the scourge of racism is truly behind us.

Amen.


This is an updated version of a prayer I wrote and published on this blog a few years ago.

Blogs by Jews of Color

Image: Food historian and Jewish educator Michael Twitty reads from a Sefer Torah. Photo by Jasper Colt, copyright Jasper Colt.

In this part of my series, More Diverse Than You Think, I’d like to introduce you to the voices of Jews of color via some excellent blogs. I’m a regular reader of most of these, and I discovered some new ones in the process of researching this post. Some of these folks are well-known outside the blogosphere; most are not. All are well worth your click and your time reading.

If you are thinking, “Who is a Jew of color?” you aren’t the first person to ask that question. I recommend you check out Erika Davis’ post Who Is A Jew of Color?

This is not an exhaustive list. I’ve left off some people whose blogs seem to be dormant right now, and I am absolutely certain there are blogs that I’m yet to discover. If you are aware of a currently-active blog I’ve missed, I hope you will share it with a link in the comments.

Individual Bloggers:

black, gay, and jewish: a gay black woman’s discovery of her jewish self is a blog by Erika Davis, who also writes for the JMN blog. To learn more about her, check out the About page on her blog. I like reading her because she challenges my assumptions and makes me think.

Afroculinaria is the blog home for Michael Twitty, a food writer and culinary historian. He works to preserve the food heritage of the South, and to holding up the culinary contributions of Africans and African-Americans to the American menu.  He’s a feeder and a healer, and quite a writer, too.

Manishtana is one of the longest-running blogs in this group, at various addresses since 2009. It’s tag line is “100% Black, 100% Jewish, 0% Safe.” The blogger describes himself as “Born Jewish, Frum From Birth.” He’s an interesting man with a lot to say; be sure to check out the extensive archive.

Sandra Lawson blogs at My Musings. She bills herself as “Sociologist, Personal Trainer, Food Activist, Weight Lifter, Vegan, Writer, Public Speaker & I’m Queer.”   She’s also the first African-American student accepted into the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College Rabbinical Program. I had the pleasure of meeting Sandra at a retreat for LGBTQI Jewish clergy last winter and I can vouch for the fact that she has lots of interesting things to say.

PopChassid is the blogchild of Elad Nehorai, whose tweets I have admired for some time, although I only discovered his blog today. I learned about the blog reading Who Is A Jew of Color? on Black, Gay and Jewish. I am looking forward to reading his longer-form work, since I already enjoy what he writes in 140 characters. Elad describes himself as “wacky secular turned religious Jew who’s just trying to make the world a better place.”

Institutional Blogs:

The Jewish Multiracial Network sponsors the JMN Blog. It features a group of bloggers who are in themselves a diverse group, including a college student, a psychiatrist, adoptive parents, and a labor doula. They address a wide variety of topics.

Be’chol Lashon, the topic of yesterday’s post, also staffs Jewish&, an excellent blog on the My Jewish Learning website.  One thing I’ve noticed about Jewish& is its rich “Comments” sections – discussions there are remarkably civil and pertinent.

Check out these blogs and expand your Jewish world. I hope that readers who know of other blogs that should have been on this list will add them via the comments!

More Diverse Than You Think: Meet Be’chol Lashon

Be’chol Lashon is Hebrew for “In Every Tongue.” It’s also the name of an organization that fosters “an expanding Jewish community that embraces its differences.” They’re very serious about it, sponsoring research, community projects, grants, and not least a remarkable website full of resources for education about the wild variety of Jews in the world.

Here in the United States, we have a tendency to think that most Jews are of Ashkenazi descent. In fact, even here in the US roughly 20% of the Jewish population is something else: Sephardic, Persian, African-American, Asian, Mizrahi – and there I’m talking solely about born Jews.  There are also a lot of us who don’t look Ashkenazi because we converted to Judaism, and our ancestors are Irish, Dutch, German, or from somewhere else, like the Pacific Islands.

Be’chol Lashon seeks to stand on our common ground of Torah while celebrating the differences among Jews worldwide. It’s an ambitious project but one that I find inspiring.

Some critics may ask if this vision of Judaism is authentic: will such an embrace of diversity loosen our grip on Torah? Is this a fad? It’s a fair question. For an answer, I look to the stated goals of Be’chol Lashon:

  1. Build networks of global Jewish leaders
  2. Strengthen diverse Jewish communities around the world
  3. Educate Jews and the general public about Jewish diversity
  4. Increase the Jewish population by encouraging those who would like to be part of the Jewish people

It seems to me that these goals address a core value of Torah, the love of Am Yisrael, the Jewish People. They strive for an ingathering of the exiles, in this case, not a physical ingathering to the Land, but an ingathering of neshamot, of spirits. Too many Jews have been exiled from the larger Jewish community on account of superficial matters (“You don’t look Jewish!”) and in this generation after the Holocaust, it’s time we got over such trivial things.

If you are interested in expanding your own Jewish horizons, or if this dream of a larger, vibrant Jewish community speaks to you, check out their website, especially the educational resources.

The Jewish world is both larger and smaller than most of us imagine. It’s time we embraced our whole mishpocha [family.]