Community Blog Hebrew College Launches Racial Justice Initiative

By Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld
Sharon Cohen Anisfeld

Dear Hebrew College community,

I hope this finds you and your loved ones well. I am writing today because I want you all to know about a significant area of work that we are undertaking as a College community.

This summer, we are launching a college-wide racial justice working group including faculty, staff, students, alumni, and board members. The group’s mandate is to begin to look at how Hebrew College can engage in anti-racist work in a more serious and sustained way in the coming year, and beyond.

As I said in my graduation remarks this year, it feels like we are in a moment of reckoning around race and racism in this country—in a way that is different from any time I can remember. I hope and pray that we do not retreat from this reckoning, even when it means that we have to look at things in ourselves, in our communities, and in our society as a whole that are painful, shameful, and heartbreaking.

As part of this effort, I am signing Hebrew College onto a public letter that has already been signed by an impressive array of more than 600 institutions and organizations in the Jewish community—from across the religious and political spectrum—saying unequivocally in this moment that Black Lives Matter. Here is a link to the letter and to the organizations that have already signed on.

I want to acknowledge the legitimate concerns that some of us feel about the association between elements within the broad-based Black Lives Matter movement and BDS (the movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel). I take those concerns seriously, and as we move forward in this work, whenever necessary, I will personally continue to speak out publicly against BDS and against antisemitism on both the left and the right.

That said, in this moment, I believe we have a moral and religious obligation to lend our full-throated support to the statement that Black Lives Matter. After all we have witnessed, I feel strongly that those words simply can’t be followed by the word, “but.”

While it is important to me to sign this statement of public support as an institution, I want to emphasize that it is far more important to me that we undertake a process that challenges us to “walk the walk”, and to stay with the work of fighting racism in all its forms, not just in this moment, but for the long haul.

On a personal note, I am humbled by how far we have to go in our work against racism—in our country, in the Jewish community, and even in our own institution. I’m also ashamed by how little I personally have done until now. But the only antidote I know to shame is teshuva. I know that real teshuvah is serious, longterm work. I hope we will all commit to getting and staying in this work, and I look forward to learning and growing together.

The Hebrew College racial justice working group will be co-chaired by:

Rabbi Laura Bellows, Director of Teen Learning
(lbellows@hebrewcollege.edu)

Rabbi Daniel Klein, Dean of Students
(dklein@hebrewcollege.edu)

Tom Reid, Associate Director, Miller Center for Interreligious Learning and Leadership (treid@hebrewcollege.edu)

Please do not hesitate to reach out to any of them, or to me, if you have questions, concerns, suggestions, or would like to volunteer to be involved in these efforts.

With prayers for wisdom and courage for all of us,

 

 

Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld
President, Hebrew College

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