June 17, 2020

Racial injustice is a problem deserving of everyone’s time and concern

By Rachael Wortzel, JSS Program Assistant and UW MSW Graduate Student

The mission of Jewish Social Services is to work “across generations and cultures to build community”. We continue to identify ways to succeed in this for our entire community. Why now is this our focus? Because we see how the killing of George Floyd was caused by a broken system that allows for violent actions specifically targeting the African American community. These actions go against building community. We stand with individuals from every US state who have demonstrated outrage over George Floyd’s murder as well as many others, and we are re-emphasizing that social justice, including racial justice must be part of our focus.

An internet search for African American and Jewish relations will quickly reveal that tension between African Americans and white Jews has existed for decades. At the same time, Jewish organizations all over the country continue to be allies and are building alliances with African American communities. Studies such as the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families Race to Equity have shown Madison to be a city needing a radical amount of reform and social change before there can be racial justice and equity. I believe JSS can be part of this change, while in pursuit of our mission.

While the Jewish community in Madison is small, each of us can be significant in reforming the attitude we take toward other peoples’ oppression. Changes need to happen in the public sector, including government, health care, public education, higher education, and police departments, as well as within each of us as we struggle to understand our role in the travesty of white dominance and abuses of power, and the opportunity we have to change that narrative.

And so, our objective is two-fold; to impact change in the community and to change ourselves in order to impact the community. As JSS’ mission also states “with a strong commitment to the Jewish community and Jewish values,” and given Jewish history and values, how can we sit by and watch African Americans suffer hardships that most white Jews wouldn’t fathom being part of their daily lives? Jews have a history of enduring persecution and a religious tradition that calls us to stand up for those who are oppressed. Yes, it is difficult for us to face, but millions of black Americans are living under terrible conditions. And it is time for us to take action.

JSS is proud that we provide support to Jews as well as anyone who needs our help, whether it is for housing assistance or spiritual support. The JSS team is always working toward our vision: A community of people living with dignity and hope. This vision includes everyone. The killing of George Floyd highlights the devastating impacts of racism, hatred and discrimination that African Americans suffer from every day. It is time for whites to stand up against this oppression. At JSS I am grateful that we are actively making this part of our work, starting now.

I hope that you will also consider the impact that you could have. Please reach out to me if you want to volunteer to be a part of this important work.