by Philissa Cramer
(JTA) — Jewish groups are expressing outrage over the death of George Floyd, a black man killed last week by a Minneapolis police officer who has subsequently been charged with second-degree murder, and solidarity with the sweeping national protests that have followed.
Here are excerpts from the statements we’ve seen so far. Know of something we’ve missed? Please send it our way.
Truah, a social justice organization of rabbis, issued a statement May 27, after the first night of protests in Minneapolis:
This week, the divine image is diminished as we mourn the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police. This is yet one more tragic example of the racist violence too often perpetuated by police officers, who are charged with protecting all of us–not only some of us. We again face the reality that people of color in our country live in fear that encounters with law enforcement will result in serious injury or death.
We say once again: Black Lives Matter. And we commit to creating a country that lives by this statement.
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an organization working with 130 local groups across the United States, tweeted an image of two dozen black men, women and, in one case, a child who have been killed by police officers:
JCPA condemns the killings of Black Americans by law enforcement. We stand in solidarity and will do everything in our power to see through systemic changes in law enforcement and in our criminal justice system. We agree with Rep Lewis that all protests should be nonviolent. pic.twitter.com/mkLJaw4mOy
— Jewish Council for Public Affairs (@theJCPA) May 31, 2020
We stand in solidarity with the Black community as they yet again are subject to pain and suffering at the hands of a racist and unjust system. While it is a necessary first step in the pathway towards justice that former Officer Derek Chauvin was taken into custody yesterday, it is simply not enough. Based on the horrifying cell phone footage that has rightfully outraged Americans across the country, it is clear that the three other former officers who participated in Mr. Floyd’s death need to be held responsible for their actions to the fullest extent of our legal system. The Hennepin County District Attorney and local investigators must do everything in their power to ensure the wheels of justice turn swiftly. As an organization committed to fighting all forms of hate, we know that this brutal death follows an explosion of racist murders and hate crimes across the U.S. As an agency that has stood for justice and fair treatment to all since our founding in 1913, we know that this has occurred at a time when communities of color have been reeling from the disproportionate health impacts and economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.
In short, systemic injustice and inequality calls for systemic change. Now.
Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, reiterated his group’s commitment to ongoing action:
The national rage expressed about the murder of Mr. Floyd reflects the depth of pain over the injustice that People of Color – and particularly Black men – have been subjected to throughout the generations. In recent months we have seen, yet again, too many devastating examples of persistent systemic racism, leading to the deaths not only of Mr. Floyd but of other precious souls, including Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.
We remember others before them: Eric Garner. Tamir Rice. Trayvon Martin. Sandra Bland. Oscar Grant. Philando Castile. Walter Scott. Terrence Crutcher. Samuel Dubose. Michael Brown. The list feels endless, and so too is our despair. But as we recite the Mourner’s Kaddish for them all, we say now, again: We will not sit idly by.
Our country simply cannot achieve the values of “justice for all” to which it aspires until we address ongoing racism in all sectors and at all levels of society. We remain in solidarity and action with the NAACP’s urgent #WeAreDoneDying campaign, whose policy demands cover areas of criminal justice, economic justice, health care, and voting, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disproportionately impact Black Americans.
Keshet, a group that advocates for LGBTQ Jews, expressed solidarity with black leaders:
For the past two days, the Jewish community observed Shavuot, a holiday rooted in learning and action that commemorates when the Jewish people were given the Torah. The Talmud teaches that anyone who destroys one life has destroyed an entire universe. The systemic racism that allows Black people to be murdered with impunity is destroying our world.
As we work to advance equality and justice for LGBTQ Jews, we take seriously the need to build a world in which people of all races and ethnicities can live in safety; a world in which the bodies of Black, Brown, Trans, and Queer people are treated with dignity and respect. Keshet stands in solidarity with Black leaders – in the Keshet community and beyond – whose wisdom and insights are instrumental to building a just and equitable future. We vow to voice our outrage and demand justice. #BlackLivesMatter
Sheila Katz, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women, said this:
We will not remain silent. As a national organization made up of over 100,000 advocates in communities around the country — including Minnesota — we are outraged and devastated by the murder of George Floyd. Mr. Floyd was murdered by multiple police officers who held him down with their knees, however, the underlying cause of his death is systemic racism. It is both unacceptable and exhausting that in 2020, we still need to insist over and over again: Black Lives Matter. …
Through legislative reform, local activism, and by educating NCJW advocates, we will make sure each individual we engage helps end the toxic culture of racism that permeates our country. For now, it is important to support Black and Brown communities and the leaders spearheading the peaceful, anti-racist responses unfolding. Together, we will make sure the memory of George Floyd will be for a blessing.
Mazon, a group dedicated to combatting hunger, tweeted a four-part statement:
So, today, we recommit to justice, to community, and to peace. Please stay safe and well, and take care of each other. 4/4
— MAZON (@MAZONusa) May 31, 2020
The Rabbinical Assembly, the international association of Conservative and Masorti rabbis, called for sweeping changes to policing in America:
We join in the collective call for peace and reflection during civil unrest, but understand that to achieve this end we must act. For these reasons, the Rabbinical Assembly calls on legislators at the national, state, and local levels to fundamentally change their approach to law enforcement and the justice system so that they serve and protect all Americans, regardless of race nor ethnicity. We encourage our own members to reach out to other communities, to Jews of Color, as well as to local law enforcement to help lead and shape these endeavors within the community.
United in purpose, we will dismantle the systemic racism all too embedded still within American law enforcement and its justice system. The firing and we hope prosecution of the four Minneapolis police officers involved in this one egregious murder is a necessary step, but it cannot be the only action against structural injustices that have plagued generations and continue to this day. We must forever strive for a free and just society for all people.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Cleveland asked its constituents to take specific actions:
The Jewish Federation of Cleveland has been in regular contact with leaders of Cleveland’s black community and will work in concert with them to help bring about a change that is long overdue. It won’t be easy, but we must take action towards dismantling the systems of oppression that threaten the lives of all people of color every day in our country. We need your help:
- Put pressure on [Minneapolis] District Attorney Mike Freeman to charge and arrest the officers responsible by calling 612-348-5550
- Protest peacefully – violence and vandalism cannot be allowed to distract from the important message that must be sent
- Challenge your own conscious and unconscious biases on racial equity and inclusion by reading more, asking more questions, and listening more closely to ensure you’re being the best ally you can as part of the collective journey our society must take
Our Jewish traditions and values compel us to stand up for the rights of all people without prejudice or bias. If we do not speak out, if we do not take action, we are part of the problem.
Other local Jewish organizations have also weighed in. From Baltimore, which experienced its own recent protests after a man died in police custody there, the Baltimore Jewish Council said:
The Baltimore Jewish Council joins Jewish communities across the nation in expressing our grief over the death of George Floyd. Our country has experienced too many incidents of police brutality, including the detention and death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. We stand in solidarity with our friends in the Black community, united as an ally in the fight for equality and the right of all people, regardless of the color of their skin, to live without fear of our government.
We must stand together against hatred and bigotry in any form and uphold the core American values of justice and equality. We commit to taking concrete action to improve relations and enhance understanding between communities here in Baltimore, and between minority groups and law enforcement officials. Because the function of law enforcement is so vital to society, and the because the majority of law enforcement officials are dedicated public servants, it is incumbent upon us to quickly and effectively address violations and violators in a manner that preserves public trust and achieves justice and equality for all.
Robert Bank, CEO of the American Jewish World Service, connected racism in the United States to inequities that his group contends with abroad:
The focus of our work is on supporting communities of color in the developing world in their fights against oppression and for human rights and democracy. In the United States, too, we must affirm that black lives matter and speak out against ongoing institutionalized racism and its deadly consequences, as made crystal clear in the case of George Floyd.
The murder of George Floyd, recorded for all to see, comes in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is magnifying the structural racism in our society, as the virus disproportionately infects and kills people of color. The racist underpinnings of our society, rooted in colonial-era slavery, have plagued this country since its founding and affect communities of color — particularly black communities — every day. Today, we are all witnessing institutionalized racism manifest itself through violent and illegal actions by the police, and some in our diverse AJWS community, including Jews of color, are experiencing it directly.
Our mission at AJWS is inspired by the lessons of Jewish history and the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for all people. We know that to live our values, actualize historical lessons of oppression and resistance, and realize human rights, we must support the deepest level of structural change possible to achieve equality and democracy in every society, including our own.
The Orthodox Union‘s extensive statement appealed to Jewish belief and experience in calling for a more just society:
Racism is not a thing of the past or simply a political issue. It is a real and present danger that must be met head on. As religious Jews, we believe the most important starting point for the national discourse that must take place is the recognition that all people are created in the image of G-d and that each human life is of infinite value. Indeed, the United States of America was founded upon this principle and, at its best, persistently strives to make it manifest in America’s laws and policies. …
In 2019, the American Jewish community experienced its most deadly, violent and disturbing outbreak of anti-Semitism. Thus, we are acutely sensitive to the essential imperative to foster tolerance and respect in this highly diverse society in which we live.
We call on all Americans to unite in the pursuit of justice and brotherly love and respect, regardless of race, creed or color. In this encounter, let us all seek greater understanding amongst our fellow men and women – all of whom are created in the image of God. Let us work in partnership toward eradicating all forms of bigotry and racism and making the United States the “more perfect union” we all pray for it to be.
Reconstructing Judaism and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association included comments from multiple students of color from the Reconstructionist movement’s rabbinical school:
We must dismantle white supremacy now if we are to have any chance at building a more just and equitable world for all people. For all people – because we are committed to the core Jewish value that all people are created betzelem elokim — in the image of the divine — and are therefore equally deserving of full human dignity and safety. But also specifically for our people — the Jews of Color within the Reconstructionist movement and beyond who face the oppression, pain, and fear of living under white supremacy every day. We must redouble our efforts to ensure that our Jewish communities provide a safe, supportive, loving and empowering haven for all of us, most especially Jews of Color. We lift up these words from RRC rabbinical student May Ye, with the kavanah (intention) of re-dedicating ourselves to the well-being of Jews of Color and all People of Color in our communities:
“To my black and brown siblings, your lives matter. You deserve to breathe – to breathe air that is not flooded with tear gas in a time when poor and working class, black and brown, elderly and incarcerated people are being hit the worst by a respiratory virus. You deserve to breathe clean air. You deserve to breathe in safety and in peace. Breath is a human right, it is a right of existence. Breath is not something that anyone should need to deserve. Your life and your breath matters and I will do everything in my power, engage my people and my elected officials to do everything in our power, to affirm that your lives and your breaths matter and make sure that that is a reality. We cannot only begin to know and say their names when their breath is taken from them.”
The Jewish Federations of North America pledged to work against racism while also condemning violence at rallies:
We pledge to our brothers and sisters in the black community – and all communities of color – to work together to reverse the systemic racism embedded within our country’s institutions and society in general. “Our work won’t be easy,” revered civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis reminded us this week, “nothing worth having ever is.”
In the strongest terms, we also condemn those who are taking advantage of the anguish over George Floyd’s death by hijacking what would be peaceful rallies across the country for their own violent and destructive agenda. These acts threaten our Jewish communities as well as our democracy as a whole. We commit to partnering with community leaders to ensure the safety of all who are risk.
The American Jewish Congress reflected on its own history:
Since its inception more than one hundred years ago, our organization has been at the forefront of the battle for justice and equality. During the civil rights movement, the American Jewish Congress marched alongside representatives of the African-American community and other communities to advocate for civil rights, economic equality, and an end to racism. It is painful to see that, while we have come a long way, some of those basic requests still remain unfulfilled.
We must recommit today to fighting hate, eradicating injustice, and elevating us all into the moral and just society that all Americans, regardless of race, ethnicity or religion, deserve.
Agudath Israel of America, a haredi Orthodox organization, put out a “Statement on These Trying Times“:
Like all decent Americans, we are horrified by the senseless and ruthless killing of George Floyd, and we join in solidarity with the outpouring of hurt, anger and frustration expressed by responsible citizens protesting peacefully.
We are also greatly saddened by the frightening scenes of innocent bystanders and store owners under siege, threatened by violence and mayhem, and facing the prospect of lost livelihoods and uncertain futures. We are deeply distressed, as well, by the looting and vandalism that included assaults and provocations against citizens and law enforcement officers sworn to keep the peace and ensure the safety of our citizens.
So, it is at this very moment that we remember our Torah’s admonition that it is precisely by extending compassion, empathy, and understanding to the strangers, friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens in our midst – regardless of our racial or ethnic backgrounds – that we will be shepherded safely through these troubled times, and at all times. … Let us commit ourselves to that.