Tag Archives: anti-racism

Tikkun Olam: Young Chasidic Jews in Brooklyn, Repairing the World

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 (!).


On a recent Sunday, about 200 young Hasidic women in long skirts and wigs and men with wide-brimmed black hats and free-flowing beards parked their baby strollers along the tree-lined boulevards of Crown Heights in Brooklyn.

They picked up their bullhorns and raised their homemade posters, some in Hebrew and Yiddish.

“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.


Gyo Fujikawa: Unsung Artist of Cheerful Children’s Books

Debbie says:

Laurie and I are trying to keep this blog relatively cheerful. We’re not in denial; we just know how rough things are, and we want to provide some distraction.

And it’s almost the end of Women’s History Month, so it’s time anyway to dive into a byway of women’s history. Neither of us had ever heard of Gyo Fujikawa before we found this article by Sarah Larson.

Fujikawa was born in Berkeley, California, in 1908, to … Japanese immigrants and grape-farm workers. … In the early twenties, the Fujikawas moved to Terminal Island, a fishing village near San Pedro, populated with many first- and second-generation Japanese-Americans. At mostly white schools on the mainland, Fujikawa struggled to fit in—late in life, she said that hers wasn’t “a particularly marvelous childhood”—but she excelled at art, and a high-school teacher helped her apply for a scholarship to the Chouinard Art Institute (now CalArts), where she thrived. After a year travelling in Japan, she returned to Los Angeles, where, in 1939, she was hired by Walt Disney Studios. She designed promotional materials for “Fantasia,” and in a piece in Glamour, published in the early nineteen-forties and titled “Girls at Work for Disney,” a caption identifies her as “Gyo, a Japanese artist.”

Larson goes on to talk about how Fujikawa was not seen as American. In the 1940s, she was working for Disney and was protected, but her parents were sent to internment camps, and she visited them there, which she found appropriately heartbreaking.

She took both political and economic radical positions regarding her career:

In 1957, she was commissioned to illustrate a new edition of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “A Child’s Garden of Verses.” She was paid a flat fee, as was standard; the book was a hit; and she turned down future work until the company agreed to pay her royalties. It did, and her career flourished, as did her creativity. She illustrated “The Night Before Christmas” (1961) and, in 1963, her first original book, “Babies.” She told the publisher that she wanted to show “an international set of babies—little black babies, Asian babies, all kinds of babies.” The publisher was reluctant, fearing that images of black babies would impair sales in the South. Fujikawa stood firm, “Babies” was published as she wanted, and the book became a best-seller.

And, as Sarah Larson points out in her article, the picture at the top of the blog has a sign saying “Members Only,” where most treehouses of the time were pictured as saying “No Girls Allowed.”



Many prominent illustrators still don’t get royalties today, and of course many women don’t advocate for our own economic advancement; Fujikawa blazed a trail I wish more people would follow. Similarly, emphasizing the importance of multiracial images in children’s books is popular now in much or even most of picture-book publishing, but in the late 1950s and early 1960s these books must have been outliers on the shelves of books about white children–and the fact that they sold so well is a testament not only to her skill but also to people’s hunger and need to see themselves.

Fujikawa died in 1998, and was remembered in obituaries at the time, but is largely forgotten now. At a moment when you need it, take a few minutes to browse the pictures of her work on Google images: they’ll likely bring you a smile or three.

Kids eating at a picnic tableFollow me on Twitter.