The horrible, tragic death of George Floyd has sent a powerful message to our society that we must work harder to alleviate discrimination of any kind. The Torah teaches us that all humans are created in a Divine image. This obligates one to look beyond external differences and view each person as a G-dly creation and treat them with dignity and respect.
We must be sensitive to the pain in the African American community, and at the same time we cannot be silent about the numerous attacks on the Los Angeles Jewish community. As the LA Times reported, Westside LA was targeted by riots and destruction intentionally.
During that first week of violence, synagogues were vandalized, Jewish schools defaced, numerous Jewish-owned businesses—including the Ariel Market—were vandalized. Even the statue memorializing Holocaust hero Raul Wallenberg was desecrated. Synagogues were graffitied with words like “Free Palestine.” Friends and relatives have told me of numerous break-ins, home invasions, and threats to life and property. When the severity of the situation became apparent Jews organized, block by block, in the Jewish areas of Pico-Robertson and Beverly-Fairfax, using Whatsapp groups to instantly respond to threats. Thank G-d, Jewish security volunteers prevented many more attacks. That effort brought peace back to the Jewish community.
Let’s be clear: the vast majority of the protests were peaceful. But we cannot ignore the targeting of Jews by some.
Unfortunately, the alphabet soup of Jewish organizations that claim the mantle of leadership failed to speak up. They condemned the tragic death of Floyd, but when it came to the anti-Semitic attacks in Los Angeles, they were silent. One person involved in Jewish community relations confided, “I need a statement that will be well received by the Black leadership.” These groups were too concerned about sounding politically correct. If these attacks had occurred on any other week, these organizations would have been at the PR forefront. However in this case, they failed miserably in their mission to stand up for the Jewish community.
Some in the Jewish community have suggested supporting and reaching out to the organization Black Lives Matter. We need to seek partners in the Black community to work for the common goal of eliminating racism. At the same time we need to be very careful. Black Lives Matter, BLM is an openly anti-Semitic and anti-Israel organization. Its platform calls for boycotts of Israeli products and labels it an apartheid state. The Jewish community needs to find common ground with our fellow African American citizens in this difficult time. We must send a clear message that yes, we want to help, but we can’t partner with groups supporting anti-Semitism and hostile to Israel.
The failure to speak out, and the suggestion to partner with groups who have a history of anti-Semitism are a reflection of a deeper problem. As Jews, we struggle between our needs as a community and our responsibility to society at large—the balance between particularism and universalism. The unique blessing of America is that people of varied religious beliefs, political ideologies and ethnic groups share in that blessing by respecting those differences. We need to be there for others with true compassion and concern while preserving our unique way of life. When we treat others with respect and uphold our own values we can truly make a contribution to heal the wounds of society.
Rabbi David Eliezrie is senior rabbi at Chabad Beth Meir HaCohen. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org and a contributing writer to Jlife magazine.