Following in the Footsteps of Giants

July 21, 2020
By Avi Rose

This past weekend, we lost two towering figures of the U.S. civil rights movement, Reverend C.T. Vivian and Congressmember John Lewis. We grieve with their loved ones and with all whom they touched. We honor their courage, strength, moral and political leadership, and decades of unflagging persistence. And we commit ourselves to carrying forward their mission, advancing Black civil rights and defeating white supremacy in this country.

JFCS East Bay has been in existence since 1877, the era after slavery in which Jim Crow laws cruelly and violently suppressed the rights and lives of Black people. Our agency has been here through 143 years of brave struggle and vicious repression. During much of that time, we provided services specifically within the Jewish community; in the past three decades, the agency expanded to reflect and serve our larger East Bay community. Our Jewish community has grown more visibly diverse (previous diversity was present, but often unacknowledged), and our East Bay community is among the most racially and ethnically diverse in the country.

Now, in this powerful moment of reckoning in our country, our agency calls on our foundational values—Tikkun Olam (bringing healing and repair to the world), Pursuing Justice, Upholding the Sanctity of Every Human Being—to unequivocally affirm that Black Lives Matter. We are proud to have joined more than 600 Jewish organizations in signing onto a letter that states, “The Black Lives Matter movement is the current day Civil Rights movement in this country, and it is our best chance at equity and justice. By supporting this movement, we can build a country that fulfills the promise of freedom, unity, and safety for all of us, no exceptions.  

We are horrified by the recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and far too many others. We understand that this level of violence is not new, and that white supremacist ideology is deeply entrenched in U.S. politics and culture. We recognize that the struggle to advance racial justice is incumbent on all of us. We further recognize that it is not sufficient to issue a statement; action is essential.

We at JFCS East Bay have work to do. We need to achieve greater racial awareness and equity within our own agency, including among our staff and our board. We need to deeply examine policies and practices to ensure that people of all races and ethnicities are being served with respect and accountability. And we need to relay our experience to our collaborative partners, supporters, and community stakeholders, encouraging you to take action to challenge racism.

We are in a historic moment of public awareness and possible transformation. But the history of racism is long and its tentacles are tenacious. And too frequently, a moment passes, and too many people wish to move on to the next issue. Those of us who are people of color will not have the luxury of “moving on.” Those of us who are white will be tested, seeing whether we have the staying power to remain committed over the long haul.

We need to have the strength and persistence of C.T. Vivian and John Lewis. May it be so.