The Germantown Jewish Centre hosted a vigil on June 10 in response to the vandalization of a “Black Lives Matter” sign on its campus, visible from Lincoln Drive.
GJC co-organizer Rabbi Adam Zeff said that on May 28, a community member noticed that the “Black” in the “Black Lives Matter” sign had been crossed out, and “Jewish” was instead written in its place.
The GJC mailbox and a lamp post were graffitied with spray paint to read “Jewish Lives Matter.”
“It was somebody trying to make a statement that being Jewish means being anti-Black,” said Jared Jackson, founder and executive director of Jews in All Hues, an advocacy organization for Jews of color. “It’s also erasure of Jews like myself, who are Black and Jewish.”
Though there had been other incidents in Mt. Airy of “Black Lives Matter” signs being vandalized and discarded in people’s yards, the large sign at the GJC remained unaltered for nearly a year, according
The vigil, organized by members of GJC’s Committee for Community Transformation and the greater Mt. Airy Jewish community (though not affiliated with the GJC itself), was a means of standing in solidarity with Black Jewish community members, and Black community members more broadly.
“We want to say very clearly that Black lives matter, and that we will not allow that to be a statement that is diluted in any way,” said Linda Holtzman, one of the event’s organizers and speakers.
For Andrea Jacobs, a member of both the GJC and the CTC, countering racism and supporting Jewish communities are not mutually exclusive.
“We stand in solidarity, because we’re really clear as white Jews, and as Jews were broadly, that our liberation and confronting the machinery of antisemitism is 100% in alignment with and contingent upon confronting and dismantling the machinery of anti-Black racism.”
The rally, which took place at the GJC’s “Black Lives Matter” sign, had more than 50 attendees, many holding their own “Black Lives Matter” signs.
As cars passed the rally, many drivers on Lincoln Drive honked in support.
Danetta Purnell, a GJC community member, was one of 12 speakers or musical performers.
“Here I am: a Black, lesbian, Jew-by-choice, and my life matters,” she said.
To Purnell, the phrase “Jewish Lives Matter” is similar to “All Lives Matter:” a statement she believes, but one that detracts from what the movement is trying to articulate.
“I do believe that all life matters. It’s just that some life is more endangered than others; that’s the difference,” she said. “You don’t have to say this life matters, so this life doesn’t. This life matters because this one does, because we are all one.”
Zeff was unsure about the identity of the perpetrator or motive behind the vandalism.
The vandalism followed an increase in antisemitic incidents nationwide, including the vandalism of the Horwitz-Wasserman Holocaust Memorial Plaza in May.
“So many Jews are scared right now,” Greenfield said. “And I know that this is not isolated from that.”
Moving forward, the GJC wants to continue to discuss racism and make internal changes to “become an anti-racist community,” according to Jacobs.
“To put up the sign and say “Black Lives Matter” is to say, ‘we commit to engage in the work’ … of eradicating racism in our hearts, eradicating racism in our community and eradicating racism in the world,” Zeff said.
Jacob said that in addition to forming the CTC a few years ago as a response to an anti-Black incident within the synagogue, the GJC has hired and contracted consultants to run audits on the organization to identify areas of inequity.
The GJC will continue holding programming and opportunities for community members to learn about race and racism.
While Zeff hopes to eliminate racism in his community, he believes that right now, the GJC’s focus should be on handling discrimination when it inevitably occurs.
“What we need to do is not hope that they don’t [happen], or cover them up when they do, but have a way of dealing with them,” he said.
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