Op-Ed: As Reform Jews, We Must Consider Reparations for American Slavery

Inside Leadership

Op-Ed: As Reform Jews, We Must Consider Reparations for American Slavery

  Photo by Andre Chungfor The Washington Post of TaNehisi Coates who wrote The Case for Reparations

Americans in general and faith groups in particular increasingly find ourselves reckoning with our nation’s bigoted history and struggling with how to dismantle the racist systems and structures that persist to this day. As the largest Jewish denomination in the United States, it’s time for the Reform movement to join this conversation. It’s time for us to talk reparations.

When I first read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ groundbreaking article "The Case for Reparations," I thought of a blessing that I, like many Jews, have said so many times throughout my life, including to my own children: the Birkat Kohanim, or the priestly blessing, which begins with the line, “May God bless you and keep you.” Its simplicity is eloquent and profound, and while it is about protection, the reference to “bless you” in the biblical text particularly refers to abundance and prosperity. 

African slaves and their descendants had their freedom, self-determination, bodies, communities, ability to inherit and pass down wealth to their loved ones, possessions and, most important, their humanity, systematically stolen from them; reparations are an attempt to offer a restoration of their rightful blessings.

This week, thousands of Reform Jews will come together at the Union for Reform Judaism Biennial in Chicago to make decisions directing the social justice work of our movement and, we hope, the nation. We will consider a resolution that would make it our policy to support the exploration of reparations for American slavery. To reach that goal, Reform Jews and our institutions must start participating in the dialogue around what a just reparations system looks like and calling on our elected officials to do the same.

Read the entire op-ed in the Chicago Tribune, then join the conversation on Facebook.

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Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner represents the Reform Movement to Congress and the administration as the director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. He also serves as the senior vice president of the Union for Reform Judaism. Named one of the most influential rabbis in America, he has been an inspirational leader, creative entrepreneur, and tireless advocate for social justice.

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner

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