A national conversation on reparations is long overdue

The activism for repairs in the Pioneer Valley is continuous and passionate, as evidenced by, among other things, a number of articles in...



The activism for repairs in the Pioneer Valley is continuous and passionate, as evidenced by, among other things, a number of articles in the Gazette in recent months.

Numerous articles have described the tremendous efforts of Michele Miller and Matthew Andrews who last year initiated Repairs for Amherst. They continue to work tirelessly with City of Amherst officials, stakeholders and Black leaders, to bring the idea of ​​repairs from words and promises to meaningful reality. Other articles described repair work carried out elsewhere in the valley.

We wanted to recognize the work of a group of activists from the Jewish Community of Amherst (JCA), which, since last June, has also approached the issue of reparations with a lot of attention and energy. The JCA (which is a Reconstructionist congregation, the largest such synagogue in New England) responded to George Floyd’s death with the creation of a multi-faceted effort called Tzedek: A Racial Justice Initiative. (Tzedek means “Justice”.)

Several committees have formed and continue to work on various aspects of racial justice, including the committee that we co-chair, the Reparations Committee.

Our committee’s efforts have largely focused on education, both within our own community and possibly beyond. We began by engaging in months of study and discussion within our 16-member committee, reading mostly African American thought leaders on reparations, US history, post history. -Holocaust and contemporary Jewish moral philosophy.

What many of us have painfully discovered is that even though we thought we were well educated, we were woefully poorly educated when it came to understanding the true history of this country, especially the centuries of racism. and white supremacist. To quote Clint Smith in his new book, “How the Word is Transmitted,” “It is a sense of ignorance discovered.”

Our continuing education process also included various community presentations and open forums with the entire JCA community on the topic of reparations. Our rabbi, Benjamin Weiner, has skillfully helped build consensus within the community. We also created and sponsored an educational series called “The Stolen Beam series,” a five-week class exploring reparations, in which some 60 participants from the JCA and Congregation B’nai Israel participated.

The Stolen Beam series has been so successful that other congregations and community institutions, Jewish and non-Jewish, have expressed interest in reproducing it or are planning to do so. Two courses will be offered in the fall, in Northampton and Longmeadow, and we welcome interest from any other civic or religious organization that may wish to engage in this series. We are also writing a comprehensive facilitation manual to accompany the series for those looking to use it in their communities.

In June 2021, the JCA board of directors unanimously approved a resolution from its national affiliate, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association. This resolution supports reparations for Indigenous slavery and genocide, the need to work “in solidarity with local African Americans and Indigenous-led groups to repair the damage that has been done, and the need to actively support the HR 40, the reparations bill introduced in the United States. House of Representatives, and any related legislation brought before the United States Senate to explore and advance the cause of reparations. ”

We are proud of these decisions and hope that these actions described above could be a model for other religious and civic communities.

The concept of reparation is not about individual guilt. It is a society recognizing the wrongs it has committed and engaging in what Jewish spiritual tradition calls Teshuvah: a sustained, sincere and meaningful effort to recognize and tangibly repair the wrongs caused, with the resolution to stop committing such damages.

Opponents of reparations often argue that slavery was abolished a long time ago and therefore has nothing to do with the present. We disagree with such attempts to continue to ignore all the ways in which slavery and its legacy – including lynching and leasing of convicts, Jim Crow / legal discrimination in housing, education, banking, voting rights and incarceration – continue to shape the world we live in. today.

Despite the historic civil rights legislation of 1964-1965, a huge racial wealth gap looms in this country, with the median net worth of black families being around one-tenth of white families. Centuries of anti-black racism have left their devastating mark. Many black families and communities continue to face real and deep structural inequalities and poverty.

Our country and our community have a deep need for education in reparations, for dialogue and for concrete action. There are a number of educational and religious institutions that are engaged in this restorative justice work. The city of Evanston, Illinois has taken leadership in repair work, inspiring other places, such as Asheville, North Carolina, and Providence, Rhode Island and the State of California.

Our own town of Amherst has now successfully established a reparations fund and is in the process of establishing a committee to oversee this fund, the purpose of which is to provide reparations to those who have been victims of anti-black racism in Amherst.

What else can we do? We hope all residents of Amherst will support the local repair effort. And, as we heard from black and white leaders at Amherst last year, and as affirmed by the JCA community, we can raise awareness and become strong advocates for the adoption of HR40.

This bill, introduced over 30 years ago by Representative John Conyers and more recently by Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, seeks to establish a national commission to study the effects of slavery and its consequences and make repair recommendations. HR40 deserves our support. A national conversation is long overdue.

We also strongly believe that religious and civic organizations should engage in their own study of reparations. Lest we continue to procrastinate, we would do well to heed the wise advice of Rabbi Tarfon who taught centuries ago: “It is not your responsibility to complete the job, but you are not. no longer free to neglect it.

Devorah Jacobson and Jeff Gold are co-chairs of the JCA Reparations Committee. Inquiries about the Stolen Beam Educational Series can be directed to stealbeam@gmail.com



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Newsrust - US Top News: A national conversation on reparations is long overdue
A national conversation on reparations is long overdue
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