We have spent this summer at JCRC – between crises – mapping out our goals for the coming year. Among our priorities, is a commitment to engaging young adults in our work, not only as participants in our programs, but as stakeholders in our mission, and ultimately as future leaders of our organization. To inform our efforts, we’ve turned to our own young staff members to share their perspectives. This week’s post comes from one member of this cohort; Rachie Lewis, Senior Synagogue Organizer. She reflects on the experience and aspirations of her peer group, through the lens of this past week’s turbulent events.
As a young, white Jew who grew up in a time, place, and economic class that allowed me to feel comfortable in my own skin, the violence in Charlottesville and the resurgence of blatant white-Supremacy and anti-Semitism – including two desecrations of the New England Holocaust Memorial in six weeks – are jarring. While we as a Jewish people have seen this before, I have not, and neither have the majority of my peers.
Last weekend, we were all faced with hard decisions about how to respond to a rally here in Boston that many worried would mirror the hate and vitriol in Charlottesville. Some of us chose to attend the “Free Speech” rally in counter-protest – some marched with other faith and social justice communities, and some made our way there on our own. Some of us chose to attend a powerful interfaith service at Temple Israel on Friday evening, which JCRC helped organize, and some of us prayed for peace in our own synagogues on Saturday morning. And, some of us chose to stay home, concerned about wading into these troubled waters.
I chose to go to the counter-protest. Amidst the tens of thousands of protesters, I was struck by how many young Jews I knew – Jews, otherwise separated by institutional, religious, and cultural divides–who decided to show up on Saturday amidst all the confusion and uncertainty.
As we – Jewish, young adults – make these decisions, many of us are grappling with complex questions.
- How do we understand the resurgence of anti-Semitism, which we know is a deep part of our ancestral narrative, yet has not been a lived experience for so many of us? How do we understand anti-Semitism as it relates to other prevalent forms of oppression, such as racism and xenophobia, which position communities of color differently?
- What does it mean to be a Jew doing justice work in deep and respectful partnership with marginalized communities? How do we hold onto these relationships and this work in the face of discord?
- How do we simultaneously recognize and affirm the diversity of the Jewish community, which is not all white, not all economically privileged, and not all descended from Eastern-Europe?
- What can we learn from older generations? And, what new tools and approaches are needed in this era?
Amidst all these questions, as we recognize both our vulnerability and privilege, young Jews are making decisions about how and when to show up, and we’re developing tools and networks to gather on our own. We are programmed to act in the face of injustice. Engaging in social justice work is something we do out of a sense of urgency and chiyuv – obligation. If we, or people we love, are in danger of getting kicked off healthcare plans, Medicaid or disability benefits; if we, or our family and friends of color, feel more threatened because of the deepening racial rifts and racially motivated violence in our country, and; yes, if Nazi flags are once again being flown in public, we will act. Fighting for justice is a part of life for our generation, and thanks to the hard choices made by our parents and grandparents, many of us now feel safe to take the risks that this struggle asks of us.
This week, we welcomed the new month of Elul, the last month of the Jewish calendar, which encourages us to reflect on the passing year and prepare for the new one. Elul asks us to take a deep accounting of our actions: What have we done well? How have we grown? Where have we fallen short? What have we learned? How will we set ourselves up to be stronger and better versions of ourselves in the year ahead?
These questions feel especially crucial as we all make our way through the chaos. And, I hope that, in the coming year, younger Jews, older Jews, community leaders, and those on the periphery, can engage with one another in addressing the questions at the heart of these struggles, both in our country and in our Jewish community.
Senior Synagogue Organizer