Jewish Students Join the March For Racial Justice

What do you do the day after a fast? (Sleep? Reflect? Make up for a day of missed meals by eating like a hobbit?)

For hundreds of Jewish activists, the answer was march across the Brooklyn Bridge.

AMUJS students marching in New York City. | Photo by Sara Weissman

When the Washington D.C. March for Racial Justice was organized on Yom Kippur, Jews gathered for solidarity marches the following day. Among the groups participating, the American Union of Jewish Students (AMUJS) marched in New York City and sent a delegation to Providence, Rhode Island in partnership with Brown RISD Hillel. At least ten schools were represented.

AMUJS students described feeling a historic tie to racial justice activism as Jewish students – coupled with a pressing need to respond to racism today.

An activist in Providence, Rhode Island. | Photo by Ariel Goldner

“Especially now, it’s a really important time to practice corporeal politics,” said Yosef Kessler, a third year at Hunter College, “Like getting out on the street, showing with your body and with your actions what you stand for.”

For Kessler, Yom Kippur 2017 seemed like the perfect time for an anti-racist march. The holiday adds “a spiritual element,” and so far this year, “America’s not on the up,” he added, referring to the current U.S. administration.

As a Cornell University student, third year Yinnon Sanders said this was the quintessential moment to march because of racist incidents on campus. Just last month, a black Cornell student said he was assaulted by white students, resulting in a shut down fraternity, The Cornell Daily Sun reported. Working off-campus this semester, Sanders is far from the action as fellow students push for reform. “It’s at least nice to come here and show up for something,” he said.

According to Aliza Lifshitz, a second year at Barnard College, AMUJS was created for events like the March for Racial Justice. It’s goal as a group is to organize students around social justice issues beyond campus Israel politics. Many students feel like Israel advocacy is their only avenue for Jewish activism on campus, she said, even though their concerns are so much more diverse in this political climate.

“AMUJS is trying to respond to this resurgence in general student activism across the country and mold a coherent Jewish student voice – especially at a time when the Jewish community is being torn apart internally by politics,” Lifshitz added.

Several students emphasized that their efforts are nothing new; current government aside, Jewish college students have always been deeply invested in social justice organizing –and marching for racial justice this week was a continuation of that legacy.

“We’re here to provide an outlet for Jewish students in the current moment of student activism,” said Lifshitz. But Jewish student leadership “has a long history in the Jewish community.”

Sara Weissman is the editor in chief of New Voices. Kvetch or kvell to her at editor@newvoices.org.

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