Laurie and Debbie say:
If you were reading the news in 1991, you may remember the vicious clash between the ultra-orthodox Chasidic Jewish community and the Black and Brown community of Crown Heights in Brooklyn. This four-day riot began when two African immigrant children were accidentally hit by the motorcade of the rabbi who led the Crown Heights orthodox community at the time. The callousness of the Chasidic leaders following the death of one of the children enraged their neighbors of color. Violence ensued, several people were injured, and one young Jewish man died.
Although efforts were made to heal the breach, tensions have remained high between the Chasidic Jews and the people of color, especially in that neighborhood, but also wherever the two groups live side by side.
In the uprising following the murder of George Floyd, neither of us would have predicted that the younger orthodox Jews of Crown Heights would host a large, loud, and supportive Black Lives Matter protest (!).
“The opposite of love is not hate. It’s indifference,” one sign read, quoting Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace laureate Elie Wiesel. The young families chanted “Black lives matter!” and “Jews for justice!” as they marched through the diverse neighborhood …
The protest was both more widely based than is immediately obvious, and more controversial than the organizers hoped:
As they organized the demonstration, they welcomed openly gay former members who had been shunned by the community, and asked rabbis to speak about how standing up to injustice and racism is at the heart of Hasidic Jewish values. But their plans proved divisive, unleashing tense and emotional discussions within the community…
Some of the religious leaders said the event was too political. Others feared that the Black Lives Matter movement was anti-Semitic and argued that “Jewish lives matter” should be a slogan, too, given the recent spate of attacks on synagogues and Jewish people in New York City.
We know, of course, that the anti-Semitic attacks come from the white supremacists, not from people of color, and certainly not from Black Lives Matter. And the message of the Jewish protesters got through:
Geoffrey Davis, a black community activist and founder of an anti-violence group that launched after the riots, joined in the protesters’ chants for black lives as they marched past his house last week. He called the demonstration “bold.” “This was a message to young African Americans, who had never seen this sort of thing before, that some Hasidic Jews do care about their lives,” he said. “Now, that’s powerful.”
Tikkun Olam is the Hebrew phrase for “heal the world,” which Jews are required to work on as part of the religion. For the two of us, mostly-secular Jews and vehement believers in the fight for Black lives, seeing our ultra-religious distant cousins taking such a public stand is extremely moving.