An Anti-Racism Shavuot Message


The term “adath Yisrael”- the congregation of Israel – was first used in the book of Exodus (chapter 12, verse 3) when we became a community of a religious entity.  As it is stated in B’midbar, that community in the desert consisted of twelve tribes, and although each tribe had its own flag or banner and each had a specific place in the camp, they constituted one people – whose common centre was the Tent of Meeting, “the place where G-d will meet with you”.  We also know that a census was to be taken of the community, that it was important to be counted as an individual, and that each person had a responsibility to the community.

Over thousands of years, we have grown from those twelve tribes into a global Jewish community, but we are still one peoplehood.  Today, we are Jews who came from European origins, and we are Jews whose families were born in India, Morocco, South Africa, Jamaica, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Guyana, Israel, Ethiopia, as well as many other countries.  We are Jews of many traditions.  We are all Jews whether by birth, by adoption, or by choice.  We are Jews of many hues.

In 2018 the Jews of Colour Initiative’s Executive Director, Ilana Kaufman, also found it important to take a type of census.  She commissioned a survey of Jews of Colour in the United States called “Count us In” so that Jews of Colour will feel seen, reflected, affirmed and validated.  The report from this survey, called “Beyond the Count”, showed that 80% of respondents said that they have faced discrimination or experienced other negative feelings in Jewish settings, particularly in congregational environments.  These sentiments were even reflected in the sermons given by Black or Asian Rabbis.

Unfortunately, Jews of all hues in Jewish communities outside of the U.S. have also expressed similar experiences.  It is obvious that synagogues need to do something to change these painful situations.

With the hope to truly change the dynamic of Jews of all hues sharing their negative experiences in Jewish settings, we begin by “starting with our own house” – the synagogue.

  1. As Ms. Kaufman has said, “An organization is ready for change when the leadership of that organization is ready for change.” So, for an organization or synagogue to change, its Board of Governors needs to adopt an anti-racism policy statement.


  1. The leadership would then be required to participate in anti-racism training given by a professional, followed by the participation of the congregation.


  1. The anti-racism policy statement is then posted on the shul’s website.


  1. Create opportunities to recognize and appreciate the members of our community for their dedicated leadership and involvement who have helped to create a culture of belonging for every Jew. It is with gratitude for their efforts that they can be honoured in a Shavuot or Shabbat service by inviting them to participate in a variety of our regular synagogue rituals.


  1. Encourage Jews of all hues to continue their involvement in boardrooms, leadership teams, programming, and in those groups whose explicit aim is to engage in the work of justice.


  1. Lastly, these efforts will serve as an example for other synagogues and organizations to be welcoming of all who come to the services and programs.

As the prayer in our siddur says, G-d is ‘The Champion of All Just Struggles’: “When we struggle to promote justice for all, the God of justice strengthens our resolve.”.

As we celebrate Shavuot and the giving of the Torah, we are once again reminded that we are a peoplehood in time – in the past, present, and future – since the Torah was given to those at Mt. Sinai and also to all future generations of Jews.  Therefore, each of us as individuals must echo the words said at Mt. Sinai: “We will do and we will listen”.  May we all go forward together, as a united Jewish community, and be counted in our efforts to repair the world.  Amen.

Linda Friedman

Member, USCJ Racial Justice Sub-Committee

Member of the Anti-Racism Committee at Beth David B’nai Israel Beth Am in Toronto, Canada

Member of the Social Justice Commission‘s Racial Justice Working Group

Linda can be contacted at [email protected].


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