Philadelphia Jewish Leaders Display Support for Black Community


In response to the recent deaths of black males in Missouri, New York and Ohio, Jewish leaders sent a letter to the local African American community expressing support for efforts to correct racial injustice.

In response to the recent deaths of black males in Missouri, New York and Ohio, Jewish leaders sent a letter Wednesday to black clergy and other leaders in the Philadelphia African American community expressing their support for efforts to correct racial injustice.

The recent deaths "and the events surrounding them," the letter from the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia states, "have illuminated anew longstanding social and racial divides in the United States — divides fueled by profound mistrust and misunderstanding. While we have made much progress in the area of race relations since the days of slavery, there is clearly much more work that all of us must do to achieve racial justice and the reality of full and equal protection for all."

The letter makes reference to the upcoming Chanukah holiday, when different parts of the Jewish community have a number of events planned to "bring light" onto the inequality that exists in our society.

"In the spirit of the holiday, we as a Jewish community, and as part of a nation of many distinct peoples, must rededicate ourselves to live up to the principles of our Constitution until the day that they apply fully, equally and justly to all Americans."

On Dec. 16, the first night of Chanukah, members of Beth Am Israel, a Conservative congregation in Penn Valley, will light candles at Zion Baptist Church in Ardmore in a show of solidarity to "end discrimination, intolerance and foster greater understanding and brotherhood," according to a news release.

The Reconstructionist synagogue Kol Tzedek, which shares space with other religious communities at a Methodist church in West Philadelphia, is also hosting a menorah lighting with other Jewish groups the first night of Chanukah. It is scheduled before a townhall meeting on the events in Ferguson, Mo., and the related "police brutality and the racist government policies," according to a Facebook group. The townhall meeting is at the church but not organized by the congregation.

The community menorah lighting "is important because there are a lot of people who are already involved in this issue and care deeply, and I want to make sure that we create sacred ritual space that lets them feel part of a community that cares about justice, and it's also to say that the Jewish community cares about every human life," said Kol Tzedek Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann.

Grabelle Herrmann, the clergy coordinator for a coalition of religious leaders called Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild, also participated in a protest Sunday after the Philadelphia Eagles football game in which clergy laid down at a busy intersection near the stadium in a show of solidarity for Mike Brown, who was killed in Ferguson, and Eric Garner, who was killed in Staten Island, N.Y.

The key for Jewish activists, the rabbi said, is to not necessarily take the lead role in efforts to help the black community. 

"I think it's important that it be a movement" in which the Jewish community "doesn't come in and try to solve all the problems; we come in and listen to people and hear what would be helpful for them," she said. It's "important to acknowledge that there are also Jews of color who are affected by this as well, so letting people who are affected lead us and tell us what is most helpful for them."



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