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Racial Justice

Friday, June 19, 2020 / 27 Sivan 5780

On behalf of the Fort Tryon Jewish Center, we mark the observance of Juneteenth by declaring: Black Lives Matter. As a religious Jewish community, our congregation is committed to anti-racist learning and practice to advance racial justice, including efforts to make our congregation a more affirming community for Jews of Color.

These are extraordinary times. Under different circumstances we might have had a community conversation on race and policing, to learn about and explore our diverse viewpoints and experiences, and then issued a statement. In this case, because of the urgency of the moment, we are acting first, with the intention of beginning deeper conversations at FTJC during the summer. 

We act now for the sake of our beloved community members who are Jews of Color, including adults and children, as well as for our neighbors. We do so for the sake of ourselves, to publicly live out our obligations as Torah-observant Jews who uphold pikuach nefesh (preserving of life), tzedek umisphat (the fair administration of civil and criminal justice), and klal yisrael (the collective whole of the Jewish People).

To that end, we have signed our congregation’s name to two current, urgent initiatives:

  • The NYC Budget Justice Campaign (also referred to as “defund the police”), which aims to redistribute $1B in the 2020-21 city budget to other city agencies that may be better able to serve functions needed by people of color, minorities, and low-income residents. At a time when human service agencies are facing disastrous budget cuts due to the pandemic, this is the number one current priority of our city’s advocates for rethinking the role of policing in the safety and thriving of our communities. We add our voice now in hopes of impacting the debate over the city’s budget, which concludes June 30. In normal times, we would first hold some discussions on an issue, share our diverse experiences, and build understanding through panels, films, living room conversations, etc. 
  •  Not Free to Desist : An open letter from Black Jews, Non-Black Jews of Color, and our allies to Jewish Federations, Foundations, Organizations, and Initiatives.” As explained in the initiative’s FAQ, signing this statement means that we support putting anti-racism on the Jewish communal agenda and making Jewish communities more affirming places to be for Jews of Color. 

    Organizational Plan:
    While the specific benchmarks and targets in the open letter may or may not  be right for FTJC, in signing this letter we commit ourselves to developing our own organizational plan with measurable targets and timeframes. We have asked an emerging racial justice working group within the congregation to begin soliciting community input and to draft such a plan, which we hope to be able to approve by the end of this summer. That group currently includes board members, the chairs of our Social Action-Social Justice Committee, and Jews of Color: Rena Allen, Zach Cohen, Karen Greene, Ray Levi, Jessie Pressman, Nissa Mai-Rose, and Jessi Thompson, as well as Mira Kessler and Rabbi Guy. If you would like to be part of this team, please email sasj@ftjc.org.


Finally, we note that Rabbi Guy, for his part, has added his name to this Declaration from White Clergy , put forward by Faith in Action , the national network of local affiliates including Faith in New York , an interfaith coalition of congregations of which FTJC is a member.

We know that our community is a work in progress, and that we must be sure to truly hear voices whose urgency many of us have not previously recognized. This letter and the endorsements described represent initial steps in recognizing our obligations to listen, learn, teach, safeguard, and act with urgency as we attempt to more fully live the values of our faith.  

Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees

Sat, December 5 2020 19 Kislev 5781