Fighting Racism Through Judaism

The fight against racism in Israel is often couched in the language of the modern American civil-rights movement, but support can come from more traditional Jewish sources as well. Writing in 1920, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, a key thinker in Religious Zionism, argued that “the love of Israel requires the love of all mankind”. This statement, together with a range of other Jewish texts and teachings, formed the basis of the curriculum for Shatil’s course on racism and Judaism, which recently graduated its second cohort.

Held in partnership with Neve Schechter – The Legacy Heritage Center for Jewish Culture, the course brought together individuals united by their desire to use traditional Jewish teachings in the fight against racism. Some participants came from organizations already involved in combating racism, but many hoped to expand their existing work to include an anti-racism component.

By focusing on Jewish texts, the course not only provided a self-reflective experience for its participants, but also equipped them with tools to motivate other people who are more engaged by Jewish discourse than by human rights language. In this vein, course participants were encouraged to develop their own projects at the end of the course, which they will carry out with support and guidance from Shatil.

Boaz Ahad Ha’am, project manager for Access Israel, plans to produce a series of online lectures in sign language about the phenomenon of racism and how to fight it. While language barriers can often exacerbate racism, sign language is exactly the same for Hebrew and Arabic speakers, allowing it to be a unique point of intersection.

“I intend to make accessible the ideas of racism and tolerance to the deaf community,” said Boaz. He decided to participate in the course because he was looking to explore “alternative views of Judaism that allow for tolerance and non-chauvinistic or non-jingoistic views.” In addition to providing him with a wealth of materials for future action, the course gave Boaz the impetus to take action and begin preparing this lecture series.

Course participants came from various organizations, including Reshet HaYeruka, an environmental education group; Tmura – the Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism; and Women Wage Peace. Their planned projects include introducing anti-racism concepts into a women’s leadership course at WIZO and a video of women singing lullabies in many languages that will be used to raise awareness about a variety of issues.

“Shatil is a wonderful arena for activism,” commented Boaz, adding that its strength comes from the way it “infuses both theory and practice so that it won’t be either too theoretical or merely field work.”

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August 2015