Several Jewish groups are planning to participate in New York’s sister March for Racial Justice on Oct. 1, the day after Yom Kippur, including the American Union of Jewish Students (AMUJS); Truah, a rabbinical human-rights group; and other grassroots groups organized on Facebook.
The march rallies in Brooklyn at 1 p.m. at Brooklyn Plaza at Jay Street. The march’s declared mission is to “harness the national unrest and dissatisfaction with racial injustice” and strengthen local and national efforts to achieve racial justice. Local issues highlighted by the march on its official Facebook page include housing and gentrification, broken-windows policing, and mass incarceration and, specifically, conditions on Rikers Island.
The national March for Racial Justice in Washington, D.C., will take place on Saturday, Sept. 30, which is Yom Kippur. The announced scheduling was controversial because the event bills itself as an intersectional action—mobilizing a coalition of gender, class, sexuality, ability, religion and immigration status to fight white supremacy—and yet effectively excludes Jewish participation.
In August, Ben Faulding, a biracial Jew of color, published a post entitled “Black, Jewish, and Left Out of the March for Racial Justice” on his blog writerideordie.com expressing his disappointment at being left out. “It wouldn’t have been my first foray into demonstration. My Jewish Leftist mother and my Black union-member father had me attending events before I could walk. My childhood was filled with Union and Civil Rights era hymns and folk songs, learned both at my Brooklyn daycare center and my Yiddish leftist summer camp. I spent many weekends on buses down to Washington attending peace and human rights rallies that I mostly didn’t understand.”
Faulding also described why the March is important: “Most oppressions toil in obscurity churning out millions of ruined lives with untold wasted potential. This is what I feared; not mass executions or re-enslavement, but a pernicious slide into mediocrity and destitution; all accelerated by the neglect and abuse of a malicious executive.”
Following the outrage that erupted, the organizers of the March for Justice released a statement apologizing for the scheduling conflict and calling it “a grave and hurtful oversight.” While they will go forward with the march in D.C. as scheduled on Yom Kippur, sister marches around the country, including New York City, are organized for the next day, Sunday, Oct. 1, so that Jewish people can be included.
The committee also commented, “We are marching in solidarity with our Jewish brothers and sisters, who are observing the holiest of days on the Jewish calendar. Holding fast to Jewish tradition is also an act of resistance in the face of growing anti-Semitism.
We recognize and lift up the intersection of anti-Semitism and racism perpetrated by white supremacists, whether they wave Confederate flags, don swastikas, beat and kill people on the streets in Charlottesville, deface Holocaust memorials, or threaten and harass members of our communities and our religious and community spaces.
And we recognize the need for all of us to work together in the face of an administration that condones widespread oppression of all those most vulnerable among us.”
Many of the Jewish groups participating in the March for Racial Justice in New York reference the themes of Yom Kippur. “Torah Trumps Hate” began as a secret Facebook group in November 2016 for Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews upset about Trump’s election, and has grown to comprise close to 2,000 members.
Because of the sensitivity of the positions of some of the people in the group, the group has a strict policy of confidentiality. Its Facebook event page declares it to be “a coalition of Torah-focused Jews who see the current administration as an anathema to Torah values and corrosive to not only the United States but to the Jewish community. Our spiritual mesorah [the transmission of Jewish religious tradition or the tradition itself] together with our ancient as well as recent history as a people demand that we stand up to injustice, racism, corruption and fascism whenever we see it.” Citing Proverbs 8:20, “I walk in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the path of justice,” the page concludes, “The day after Yom Kippur, let’s take our kavanah [intention] from the shul and into the streets and fight for a more just world!”
In an op-ed, Misha Vilenchuk, chairman of American Union of Jewish Students, references the history of American Jewish activism in the labor movements and civil rights movements, as well as the Yom Kippur Haftorah from Isaiah, calling for justice and overcoming oppression:
“In part, the justice we seek is for ourselves. Multiple millennia of anti-Semitism—political and often violent attacks on Jews wherever they lived, including on my parents as they grew up in the Soviet Union—have shown us that racism never disappeared, simply molding into a new form. The anti-Semitic defacement of fraternity houses, graffiti attacks on synagogues, the mass toppling of matzevot (gravestones) tell us there is no room for silence. White supremacists and Nazis still march in the streets.”
Vilenchuk continues, “Likewise, we echo our Jewish value of kavod habriyot (respect for others)….Policy rollbacks are terrorizing marginalized Americans, often people of color, and gerrymandering reinforces power in the hands of a handful of decision-makers. Racial and religious groups are being singled out by our government. The radical, hate-filled ideology that brought so much darkness to the 20th century that led to the death of so many of my relatives emerges in a different form.”
T’ruah—a network of 1,800 rabbis and cantors—and their communities trained and mobilized to advance human rights are also participating.
“As we approach Yom Kippur, I’m thinking about collective atonement for racism,” said Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. “While I’m in shul, I’ll be praying for those taking part in the March for Racial Justice in Washington, D.C., which commemorates the largest lynching in U.S. history. And then, on Sunday, I’ll be joining the rest of the T’ruah group in the New York City March for Racial Justice. If we really want to root out racism, we have to seek it at the core, and acknowledge the ways in which it is built into the key institutions of this country. And, like teshuvah [repentance], fighting racism has to be an ongoing process. During these High Holidays, T’ruah rabbis and their communities are standing up against racism and other collective sins.”