The CJJ Racial Justice Practice Group
By Peretz Cohn, CJJ/West Steering Committee Member
In the context of our heated and divisive regional and national politics, many communities in America feel increasingly threatened. As Jews, we witness with great trepidation the rise of antisemitism; our physical safety no longer taken for granted. Immigrants, people of color, Jews, Muslims, “ethnic Americans” from everywhere around the world, sense that we are living in perilous times.
There is much work to be done by the Jewish communities here in North Carolina, to speak out against antisemitism and all forms of social injustice. These times demand that we have the difficult conversations within our Jewish communities about antisemitism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, whiteness, and privilege within our own diverse — and often divided — Jewish communities as we continue to reach out to others who face even greater, and perhaps more immediate, external threats to their safety.
Our security lies in our diversity and solidarity with all communities impacted by racism, bigotry, oppression, and exclusion.
Often, as Jews of Whiteness, (as opposed to Jews of Color), we seek to be “good allies” to our neighbors and friends in the workplace and in our local underserved communities. As Dr. Kimberly Harden & Tai Harden-Moore write in a recent article in Diverse Education,
“When we think of the word ally, we think of someone who is supportive, someone who is on our side and has our back, but what does that really mean? Ally means to support (ally comes from the Latin word alligare, meaning “to bind to”). An ally is someone who supports those in which they have a common interest. [… ] The word accomplice has gotten a bad rap as it is often equated with wrongdoing. However, when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion, accomplices […] must be willing to do more than listen; they must be willing to stand with those who are being attacked, excluded or otherwise mistreated, even if that means suffering personal or professional backlash. Being an accomplice means being willing to act with and for oppressed peoples and accepting the potential fallout from doing so.”
As a co-founder and active member of the Asheville Racial Justice Coalition since 2014, Carolina Jews For Justice/West has been a committed partner and advocate for the rights of people of color with law enforcement through policy change, education, and relationship building. And we must do more. As a Jewish community, we must become allies/accomplices, willing to act alongside and following the guidance of people facing systemic oppression.
To that end, CJJ/West recently launched our first Racial Justice Practice Group — a cohort of 16 members of the local Jewish community who have committed to study together and explore the stories, narratives, truths, half-truths, misconceptions, and myths around Jewish identity, the Jewish experience, whiteness, and racial justice in America. As we examine the many deeply held beliefs and cultural practices/habits that both limit and encourage us, as Jews in pursuit of social equity, we do so with the intention to expand our leadership capacity within the Jewish community and more effectively work together with others — notably people of color here in WNC — and to build a framework for the kind of solidarity that may, one day, ensure our collective liberation.
As we move forward, evaluate, improve and expand the Racial Justice Practice Group, we intend to offer this opportunity on an on-going basis. To learn more about the CJJ Racial Justice Practice Group, please contact us at [email protected]