Racism: Our Response, Our Choice

August 18, 2017Rabbi Josh Weinberg

It is no secret that racism exists, and despite the tremendous progress made in recent decades, racism will probably always find pockets of support. This week, we were painfully reminded of how much it exists in the United States by the events in Charlottesville, VA. As if a mob of torch- and weapon-wielding white supremacists shouting “Jews will not replace us” wasn’t enough, the president of the United States was unwilling to specifically condemn the likes of the KKK and neo-Nazis.

To state the obvious, racism is an ugly and evil ideology that tears at the very fabric of society. Racism, however, is a choice. No one is born racist, although many are raised and brainwashed.
 
Although this week the spotlight was on America, many people in Israel are raised in racist environments, too. As Zionists who support progressive values in the State of Israel, we work to combat racist sentiments with every fiber of our beings. We work to realize the promises of Israel’s Declaration of Independence:

“WE EXTEND our hand to all neighbouring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighbourliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land.”

Zionism is not perfect, and neither are the State of Israel or the United States of America. There is much work to be done and many lessons to be learned. The Reform Movement has invested in institutional support to combat racism and achieve our goals. As one of the main institutional supporters of the Reform Movement in Israel, ARZA is proud to announce that the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) opened a Racism Crisis Center this week.

The center will provide support in cases of discrimination, hate speech, and hate crimes against minority populations, and collect data on the growing phenomenon of racism. They are ready with the infrastructure and the team is in place. This has been a long road, but we are ready.

IRAC is also launching a public awareness campaign today. This will include press outreach in both Hebrew and Arabic, plus billboards in northern Israel, broadcasts on the Voice of Israel in Arabic, and ads on many of the main Arabic news sites. If you’re wondering how you can support these noble efforts, we ask that you please help spread the word and repost any of the materials or videos on the center’s Facebook page.

In this week’s parashah, we read one of the most famous lines of the Torah, incredibly apt as we view the challenges that lie ahead:

רְאֵ֨ה נָתַ֤תִּי לְפָנֶ֙יךָ֙ הַיּ֔וֹם אֶת־הַֽחַיִּ֖ים וְאֶת־הַטּ֑וֹב וְאֶת־הַמָּ֖וֶת וְאֶת־הָרָֽע׃

See, I have set before you this day life and good, and death and evil...(v.19, 'choose life'). (Deuteronomy  30:15,19)

The text goes on to share the double blessings of coming into the Land of Israel, and we are told that we will inherit the Land through the valley of blessings and curses. 
 
Free will is given into the hands of each human being. S/he can chose evil and death or life and good. We all have choices. We choose stand up and fight. We choose to teach our children that we were all created in the image of God and that we all should be judged, as Dr. King put it, by the content of our character. From the US to Israel and beyond we know that racism is evil and we choose the opposite, the good.
 
We choose to #bethelightforjustice.
 
Wishing you light, clarity and strength as you choose the righteous path forward.

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