“Renouncing Racism” Resources

Essays, sermons and study guides from the RRA around racial justice.

Many of us still cite what we learned from Dr. Ali Michael and Rabbi Josh Lesser about how identity development unfolds differently among racial majorities and minorities at the plenary session of March 2017 RRA Convention in Portland, Ore. Then, in November 2017, the RRA held a two-day gathering that explored “Racial Injustice and the Rabbinic Role.”

One of a handful of central themes of the RRA’s 2018 Evolve initiative is racial justice. R. Sandra Lawson and Donna Cephas wrote the opening essay, “Racism in the Jewish Community,” which importantly reminds us of the “impertinent questioning and intrusive commenting” (and worse) too often faced by Jews of Color—a painful reality around which all leaders must sensitive themselves and their communities. R. Joshua Lesser’s insights on “Preparing our Communities for Conversations about Race,” including his community’s five guidelines (practice respect, avoid assumptions or comments about others, etc.), should not be missed.  

All these Evolve resources are worth consulting: Jews and White Privilege (R. Jessica Rosenberg and Mackenzie Reynolds); Heschel on Religion and Race (Sarah Barasch-Hagans); a Systematic Study Guide on Race (R. Bob Gluck); Antisemitism and Racism (R. Mordechai Liebling); R. Toba Spitzer’s “Slavery and its Atonement” (studied today as “Priestly Concepts & Racism”); and a score more useful resources and links (some are liturgical or holiday-oriented [Yom Kippur, Hanukah, Pesah, Sefirat Ha-Omer, Juneteenth] for direct application in our communities).

Many sermons given by our hevrah include important and broadly applicable perspectives and texts, such as:

Removing the Stumbling Block:  Talking About Race (R. Toba Spitzer, 2015)

Slavery and Its Atonements (R. Toba Spitzer, 2017)

To Be a Jew in the 21st Century … We Cannot be Invisible Allies (R. Barbara Penzner, 2017, two-thirds down page)

Racial Justice, White Fragility, and Tshuvah (R. Fred Scherlinder Dobb, 2015)

Jewish Particularism and Race (R. Malka Binah Klein, 2009)

Numerous NGOs are important partners in doing this work. From legacy organizations (NAACP, LCCR, UNCF, etc.) to newer ones (Movement for Black Lives, Repairers of the Breach, Equal Justice Initiative, etc.), we should learn about, get involved with and support these groups representing a broad swath of the African-American community, along with their equivalents in the Latinx-American and other communities. It’s also important to know of the work being done within the Jewish community, by groups such as:

Bend the Arc (national policy advocacy, local organizing consultation and more)

Truah (a powerful transdenominational Jewish clergy voice for learning, sharing and activism)

JFREJ (New York’s local group offering numerous published resources and thought-leadership)

JCPA (see especially their 2017 Criminal Justice resource guide)

B’chol Lashon, Jewish Multi-Racial Network and Jews in All Hues (diversity and diverse leadership, within)

RAC (justice advocacy) and URJ (especially the “Audacious Hospitality” efforts led by April/Aviva Baskin)

Jewish Social Justice Roundtable (all its many groups, including our movement, united for tikkun olam)

Intersectionality is a key reality for all of us; Dr. Marla Brettschneider has written compellingly on this from a Jewish (and feminist/queer) lens. Many of us have learned much in particular from womanist theologians and leaders, including Rev. Dr. Wilda Gafney (Womanist Midrash, 2017) and Rev. Dr. Kelly Douglass Brown (Stand Your Ground, 2016).  And, of course, race and religion are themselves intersectional; SPLC’s Dr. Eric Ward has written the definitive study on the intertwined roots and consequences of racism and anti-Semitism, “Skin in the Game.”  Many more resources, recommended a year ago in Atlanta by many of us, will soon be annotated and posted.

From R. Abraham Joshua Heschel (cited in Mordechai Liebling’s 2015 HUC address):  “Racism is worse than idolatry. Racism is Satanism, unmitigated evil. Few of us seem to realize how insidious, how radical, how universal an evil racism is. Few of us realize that racism is humanity’s gravest threat to humanity, the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason, the maximum of cruelty for a minimum of thinking.”

Books and guides:

John A. Powell, Racing to Justice (recommended by Toba Spitzer and Mordechai Liebling, among others) (See Bob Gluck’s study guide to this book on Evolve http://evolve.reconstructingjudaism.org/race-must-be-addressed-systemically-a-study-guide.)

Out of the Spiritual Closet” by Movement Strategy Center

Root Shock by Mindy Thompson Fullilove (re: gentrification and redlining)

Stamped from the Beginning: the Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

Emergent Strategy by Adrienne Maree Brown (a newly influential framework for all our social-change work)

The Legend of the Black Mecca: Politics and Class in the Making of Modern Atlanta, by Dr. Maurice Hobson

Videos and podcasts:

Race: The Power of an Illusion, including “The House We Live In” (three parts)

Cracking the Codes” by World Trust

Anna DuVernay’s “13th” (available on Netflix)

On Being” with Ta Nehasi Coates, Patrisse Cullors, et al (May 2017), and with Coates (Nov 2017)

Organizations and other resources:

Racial Equity Institute (for trainings on racial justice in communities and organizations)

Understanding Anti-Semitism: an Offering to Our Movement (JFREJ)

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