On a BBYO weekly Zoom call, discussing what we can do to elevate recruitment and create meaningful Jewish programming, we found our conversation turning to the profound social change surrounding racial justice.
As members of a Jewish youth group that prides itself on Jewish values and community engagement, we are pleased to see our organization spreading words of support for the Black community in this monumental time, and want to fulfill our role as leaders in spreading that important message to our Jewish community.
We continue to brainstorm ways to stand alongside our Black neighbors and prioritize our community service and advocacy efforts around this movement. But none of us in leadership are people of color.
We can’t talk about how white Jews can stand up for people of color — without standing up for Jews of color first.
Jews of color are severely underrepresented and marginalized in our communal spaces. The preconceived notion that all Jews are white ostracizes Jews of color and prevents them from engaging in many organizations that white Jews participate in and benefit from. Jews of color must be included in our communities, and deserve to be uplifted as valued members.
To mobilize our regional community to do our part in amplifying the marginalized voices from within the Jewish community, we brought together Jewish teens from our youth group community — spanning Arizona, Utah, and Nevada — to hear from Jewish activists Eddie Chavez Calderon from AZ Jews for Justice, Jordan Daniels from the Leichtag Foundation and Brent Whiting from Tomorrow We Vote.
Jordan and Eddie shared their experiences of what it meant to be Jews of color in traditionally white Jewish spaces, touching on how their race intersects with their other identities, and how they feel marginalized in spaces where they should feel like they belong. Brent reminded us of the power we have as teens to lead the discussion and make systemic change in society at large.
The Jewish people have always been a people of action in moments when we see injustice in our world, and it is especially important if that injustice comes from within our community. As teen leaders in BBYO and in our different communities, we understand our role in ensuring our actions promote a positive vision of the world. The Jewish youth is ready to combat injustice and hatred in all forms — let’s join together and make it a reality.
We’re calling upon Jewish institutions, organizations and community members to fight for racial justice by first recognizing discriminatory issues in our community. We need to be actively including and promoting the voices of Jews of color in our Jewish spaces, activism, and leadership. It is no coincidence that there were no Jews of color alongside us in our initial conversation — the notion that all Jews are white has kept our Jewish spaces white.
Tackling this issue requires us to understand that white Jews are not immune to white privilege nor possessing racist beliefs. It requires understanding that, though we as white Jews experience oppression due to our Judaism, this is an entirely separate model of historic subjugation that we often benefit from: No one form of oppression is comparable to another.
Once we have recognized our level of privilege, it is time to sit down and uplift the voices of marginalized Jews, hear their stories and genuinely listen to the changes that they feel are necessary. If we really want Jewish spaces to be completely Jewish and inclusive, we need to recognize the role we play in ensuring that our spaces are welcoming for all Jews.
We understand what it means to need change, and it is time that we reflect on how we can promote justice and righteousness for all people — starting within the Jewish community. As we know all too well, silence is never neutral, it is oppressive.
The Jewish youth are ready to combat injustice and hatred in all forms. We’re counting on you to join us and do the same. JN
Gabe Friedman and Ellie Sims are the regional presidents of Mountain Region BBYO, leading teens across Arizona, Utah and Nevada.