Last month I received this email. So much of what I saw written here, I have heard many times. With consent I am publishing my the original email and my reply here in the hopes that it will serve others.
I’m looking forward to this upcoming webinar. In advance of the meeting, I’d like to ask you to consider an issue I’ve dealt with several times now.
We have the We Believe sign at the front of our [Jewish organization’s building] and I’ve had several people express concerns because they see it as an endorsement of the BLM movement which they believe is anti Israel and antisemitic.
I’ve had a particularly challenging time recently with a significant donor. I made my case verbally and in writing numerous times that this is about creating a safe and welcoming space for our African American staff, members, and guests. I’ve mentioned our participation briefly in [the series you’re leading for Jewish organizations]. I sent guidance from [our national advisory organization] which made the distinction between BLM and M4BL. He still wanted me to change the language on the sign to “Black Lives are Important” (which we aren’t doing) and his final response is “I surrender. You know how I feel.”
If there is time, I’d love to hear from you on this. I have been part of several discussions in the [community relations] world about this, but curious to hear if there are additional ways to respond if this comes up in the future.
[Jewish Community Leader]
[Jewish Community Leader],
Needless to say we could do a whole series on Black lives mattering….
Yesterday as I left my daughter’s school at 6p rushing home to get dinner in her, there was an incident. My daughter (8yo) and I were accompanied by the family of her best friend. The mom is a child welfare attorney with the City and the children are 7yo and 4yo. As we entered the subway, there was a person who presented as white, male, and unwell (mentally/substance-wise) who was shouting (brace yourself): “All you n*gger b*tches can suck my ___. You mf-ing hoes.” In the moment, I had the role of providing a context for my daughter that reduced her racial terror, uplifted her humanity and did not denigrate the man who continued to shout for many minutes as we moved through the turnstiles.
I share this story because (1) it’s fresh and because (2) there is no escape into intellectualism–not for me, not for my daughter. In this context mattering and being important is a dream within our world and the difference between these two statements is negligible. It certainly was a terrible and traumatic event, but not singular or unique, not special, not special in any way. We are held captive in a world that wants to remind us of our place–under the boot and under the lash.
The assertion that Black Lives Matter or that Black lives matter or that black lives matter or that black lives are important is challenging for most people on a cellular/visceral level in this country. What is woven throughout the lines of your request is the shadow side of the M4BL platform, the line about genocide and what that brings up for Jews (especially white Jews). IMHO, this is the conversation that needs to be exposed to the light and addressed with an anti-racist, pro-Jewish analysis. Why? Because I can imagine (and I’m happy to be wrong) that your major donor feels, upon seeing BLM what I felt yesterday evening–subjugation, marginalization, isolation, and fear of extermination. And given their designation as “a major donor” I can imagine the insult to injury is that even the accumulation of wealth cannot insulate him from that somatic experience.
This is the conversation that will help move us all forward…together.
While I don’t imagine we will be able to take this on in the session, I hope that this proves helpful.
See you soon,