Juneteenth and Jewish Community Reflection, Action

Donald H. Harrison
June 19, 2020

Click here to read this article as published in San Diego Jewish World.

SAN DIEGO — It is six days shy of a full month between the killing of George Floyd on May 25 by a Minneapolis police officer and today’s ‘Juneteenth’ celebration.  It has been a time of daily marches and national protests for racial justice, and a time for deep reflection throughout America.  Many communities, including our fellow Jews, have been reflecting on such questions as “in what ways can we help to bridge gaps and create understanding and unity in our country?”  “How can Jewish tradition and values guide us in our search for societal harmony?” and “In what manner do we best start?”

Here in our county, the Encinitas-based Leichtag Foundation  has been involved in numerous projects intended to benefit the general community, among them providing a safe parking lot and services for homeless people forced to live in their cars, and distributing “pay what you can” fruits and vegetables grown at the Coastal Roots garden.  Yet, this remarkable organization, led by Jim Farley and Charlene Seidle — is far from self-satisfied.

In a memorandum titled “Our Commitment to Building an Anti-Racist Community,” the Leichtag Foundation writes.  “Black lives matter.  We’re taking a hard look to change our internal practices that may run counter to this declaration, to advance our role in the community to reflect and actualize this value, and at how we steward our resources to clearly convey it through our actions in additions to our words.”

In the spirit of Juneteenth, the memorandum continued: “We commit to building an anti-racist Leichtag Foundation.  We commit to building an anti-racist Jewish community.

“We recognize that pathways like ours with wealth, power and privilege to demonstrate allyship with communities of color result in deeply needed empathy.  But expressing our empathy and lending our voice isn’t enough.  Embarking on an intentional path of work only starts there.  We commit to better understanding what is required of us to advocate for Black and non-Black people of color and dismantle the structures that oppress them.”

The Leichtag Foundation is but one Jewish organization moved by the racial justice movement.  In a news release, Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, quoted Abby J. Leibman, its president and CEO, as saying:

“Amid this moment of celebration, it is important to confront the fact that the evil of slavery has had long lasting impacts on American society. The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on African Americans and other communities of color is the latest evidence that pervasive and systemic racism exacerbates the challenges faced by African Americans and other people of color in America.

“Now, more than ever, we need policymakers who lead with wisdom and compassion, to acknowledge and confront longstanding and shameful issues of racial and economic injustice while taking action to address the growing rates of hunger and hardship.

“Grounded by our Jewish values and ideals, we recommit to fighting for all those facing hunger, inequity, bias, and discrimination.”

Meanwhile, a coalition of California Democratic Clubs that focus on Jewish and pro-Israel issues announced they were contributing a total of $1,000 to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Color of Change.  The San Diego-based Democrats for Peace in the Middle East will coordinate the contributions.

“Democrats for Peace in the Middle East was founded to build bridges, and that means more than words, it means showing up for communities experiencing discrimination.  Here in San Diego, we have seen these horrific practices continue by law enforcement and we stand with communities of color that are organizing to seek a reorienting of the police toward community-oriented public safety instead of racial profiling,” said Democrats for Peace in the Middle East President Sheri Sachs.