Beth Jacob strives to be a welcoming, egalitarian, Conservative synagogue where all Jews, including Jews of Color, feel they belong. The Minnesota Rabbinical Association calls on us to be a place of comfort and refuge, as well as a place to learn together and work towards justice. In order to become that kind of shul, Beth Jacob Congregation will need to take responsibility, particularly in light of recent events, to eliminate systemic racism within our own community and to become anti-racist—the practice of identifying, challenging, and changing the values, structures and behaviors that perpetuate systemic racism.
The Jewish imperative to not sit idly by when we see injustice before us compels us to act, listen, and speak out. Among the many aspects of justice we want to fight for, fighting against racism is central. Through the research of participants in this antiracism working group (many helpful resources are available in separate appendices) and our discussions, we are recommending actions by the Beth Jacob Board and congregation as a whole, as the starting point for what must be a generations-long effort. Overall, we propose that we begin with deep listening and learning in order to increase understanding, while also implementing policies, as part of both an immediate and a long-term action plan to ensure equity within our religious and secular communities.
For the coming year, the Task Force proposes that the Congregation begin the work with heshbon hanefesh (accounting of the soul) to understand our current standing, deepen our learning, and strengthen commitments to both short-term and long-term action as progress towards becoming an anti-racist community. Upon adoption of this document by the BJC Board of Directors, work should begin on identifying and implementing specific action steps, including plans for how we will organize and assess our activities.
Specifically, in our own community, our goal for this year is: Develop strategies and timelines (extending beyond one year) to make Beth Jacob a community that is welcoming and inclusive of people of color (POC) in general, and Jews of Color (JOC) in particular. These strategies include: actively addressing bias and racism, building empathy, and working to prevent JOC from experiencing “perpetual stranger status.” The population of JOC in the Twin Cities is much larger than is reflected in our membership. For this work, it is important for white Board members and congregants to take on the discomfort and responsibility to perform teshuvah and lead the change. This process must both prioritize JOC voices, and not place responsibilities on JOC for guiding antiracist change.
Also, in the greater community: We recognize that Beth Jacob is already active in many social justice efforts, and also that over the long term we aspire to do more. We need to develop strategies and timelines for Beth Jacob to actively commit to working toward racial justice in the greater community, following the commandment of tzedek, tzedek tirdof (justice, justice, shall you pursue). We need to listen to and learn from the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) who are advocating for change.
Although we will not be able to solve either of these challenges immediately, as Rabbi Tarfon said in Pirkei Avot, “Lo alecha hamelacha ligmor, v’lo atah ben horin l’hibatel mimenna” (You are not obligated to complete the task, neither are you free to desist.) While we cannot solve a 400-year-old problem immediately, we as a Jewish community also accept our responsibility to implement immediate plans and long-term processes that will help us become anti-racist from now through the future.