Steps towards solidarity in the aftermath of Charleston

In America, Jews come from all racial and ethnic backgrounds, and have a shared memory of oppression and violence throughout history.

That’s why, after the June 17 shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church that left nine dead in Charleston, S.C., several rabbis from across denominations came together and determined they had to do something to support the black community.

“It couldn’t just be a press release,” said Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt of Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Rockville, Md. “It had to filter down to the … Jewish community.”

The resulting Shabbat of Solidarity was pulled together in less than two weeks, and saw participation from congregations of all denominations, from Reform to Orthodox.

The organizers included Weinblatt; Rabbi Steven Wernick, CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism; and Rabbi Denise Eger, head rabbi at Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood.

On June 26 and 27, Jewish communities across the country invited African Methodist Episcopal Church members to their temples for Shabbat. On Sunday morning, they all attended services at AME churches.

Temples from Los Angeles to Long Island participated in the event, which was sponsored by 18 national organizations, including the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Hillel, and the American Jewish Committee.

“I had heard from rabbi[s] all across country,” Weinblatt said. “There was a great deal done in terms of outreach.”

Weinblatt spent the weekend at a Baptist church in Silver Spring, Md. There were over 600 people in attendance.

Chelsea Yarborough, Guilford College ’15, said real solidarity is more than just social media activism.

“Standing in true solidarity with one another is more than a hashtag or a repost,” Yarborough said. “Standing in true solidarity looks like unlearning our privileges [and] funding each other’s work.

“We may all grow from different branches, but the roots of our oppression are connected.”

Amelia Grabber-Lipperman, a junior at Boston University, echoed this idea.

“Tragedy brings people together,” she said. “If you want people to hear you, you need as many voices as possible saying the same thing.

“Two groups of historically oppressed people standing together is going to make people listen.”

Her hope is that the weekend formed new connections and friendships.

“Even if what you share on the most superficial level with another group of people is a history that is really marred by violence and acts of injustice, at least you have that connection, and the empathy is really real and genuine,” Grabber-Lipperman said.

Hannah Roach, a junior at Mount Holyoke, said although many Jews experience white privilege in America, the experience of anti-Semitism leads to this solidarity.

“Many [Jews] are white and therefore come from a place of relative privilege, but we also understand how it feels to be marginalized, belittled, and subject to acts of violence,” Roach said.

Now, people are thinking about how to move forward.

“Let black folks lead,” Yarborough said. “The church is more than a church, it’s a pillar of the community, a sacred place, a safe place.

“Support community organizers/community organizations in their efforts. Go to a meeting. Ask them what they need.”

 

Nicole Zelniker is a student at Guilford College.

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