Jews and People of Color can build a resilient social justice movement together.
The following essay was written by Bianca Sierra Wolff, a lawyer and Strategic Partnerships Director at California ChangeLawyers.
Living in this country as the daughter of Mexican immigrants, I’ve had countless conversations with my fellow Brown and Black Americans about the struggle of living as a person of color in a country with such a profound race problem.
People of color in America from all walks of life, particularly those with immigrant backgrounds, understand the struggle for social justice. We understand what it feels like to be told we don’t belong. We understand what it feels like to be treated as if we’ve done something wrong just because of where you were born or what you look like.
But for the past several years, I’ve also had similar conversations with a group of people I never expected: my husband and his Jewish family. What I’ve discovered when I married into a Jewish family is that Jews have a lot in common with Brown and Black Americans.
Like people of color, Jews have been made to feel like “others” in their our own country. Since 2017, anti-Semitic incidents have risen by 57%, the largest single-year increase ever recorded. The rampage at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh is just the latest and most tragic example in the long history of violence against Jews.
Which is why many Jews have a viscerally, instinctual understanding of the struggle for social justice. It’s also why Jews have been on the frontlines of the social justice movement.
American Rabbis have been fearless critics of this Administration’s immigration policies. Just a few months ago, head Rabbi of the Tree of Life synagogue Jeffrey Myers forcefully came out against family separations.
Jewish lawyers in particular have been vigilant defenders of refugees. The Hebrew Sheltering and Immigration Aid Society (HIAS) has provided free legal representation to refugees from all over the world since the 19th century. In fact, the reason the Pittsburg shooter went on a rampage at a synagogue was because he heard of HIAS’ work on behalf of the Central American refugee caravan, the very same caravan of children and families that the Trump Administration has referred to as an “invasion.” The Tree of Life shooter Robert D. Bowers decided to stop this refugee “invasion” by murdering the Jewish lawyers who dared to fight for immigrants’ rights.
The tragedy at Tree of Life should serve as a call for radical inclusion. A call to build a social justice movement that brings together Black, Brown, Queer, Undocumented, Muslim, Jewish, and White Americans together to reject intolerance and demand that this country live up to its original value: justice for all.
The seeds for this kind of radically inclusive movement have already been planted. Our Muslim allies have raised nearly $200,000 in support of Tree of Life victims. Jewish lawyers at HIAS are still defending Central American immigrants, free of charge.
In the wake of this tragedy, we need to be resilient in the face of hate. And a radically inclusive social justice movement is a resilient social justice movement.