INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The fight for equality and equity continues across the country. And when looking at the history and current state of the Jewish community, parallels can be found.
Pursuing racial justice across the board is a commitment 22 groups within the Indiana Jewish community are making by adopting its “Principles on Racial Justice and Equity.”
Lindsey Mintz, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, said the principles in part will provide support to the Black community while helping amplify their voices. But will also require Jewish community members to educate themselves on racial inequities, while petitioning elected officials to address a variety of disparities.
For a community that’s faced its own injustices and atrocities, this work needs to continue.
LINDSEY MINTZ: There’s been a really long and storied history of cooperation between the Jewish community and Black community in the United States. And the height of that cooperation was during the civil rights movement. But even at the turn of the last century, members of the Jewish community were active in founding the leadership conference and founding the NAACP. The Civil Rights Act was signed in the basement of the religious action center, which is the movement for Reform Jews. So there’s this long history. It has not always been, you know, the Jewish community and Black community have an always been in lockstep. But Jews certainly have a sense of pride for being among the largest group of supporters during the Freedom Riders, during the bus boycott and marching alongside Martin Luther King.
WINFREY: So it’s just natural to kind of become involved in or get involved in things as they stand now?
MINTZ: Our scripture, we share the same founding text. We are commanded to pursue justice, but we’re also commanded to remember what it’s like to be a slave. And what that journey is to freedom. And that resonates. It resonated with Jewish leaders over thousands of years and it certainly resonated with our leaders today and Black leaders today. There is this core recognition of what we are sort of commanded to do: to plead for the widow, to clothe the naked and to advocate for the orphan. All of those things — that’s the social justice. But there’s also an understanding that if there is not justice for all then, there’s justice for no one.
WINFREY: Now watching everything unfold with George Floyd and all the protests across the country, what’s your thought process on just the magnitude of it all?
MINTZ: We watch very closely. And we’ve been partnering with local leaders in the Black community for 30 or 40 years. The JCRC was at the table at the founding of the Race Leadership Network. In the ’80s, there was a group of Jewish and Black women that met in the ’80s and ’90s called Dialogue Today. So we’ve had these relationships among leaders. And the JCRC, you know the murder of George Floyd was not the first and will not be the last. And when you look through the statements that we’ve issued over the last 15 or 20 years, we have taken the time several times to decry and call out this kind of injustice. This moment is big and it’s going to be more than a moment. It needs to be a sustained movement.
WINFREY: Is it shocking to see it though on this kind of scale? Or is it something that was just inevitable?
MINTZ: I do think that this moment is incredibly bizarre. With COVID-19. The JCRC had just facilitated a new program called JCRC Talks, where we were looking at how the pandemic was disproportionately affecting the African American community. So understanding systemic racism, understanding that it permeates every sector of society, is something those conversations we have been in. But seeing it hit this magnitude, seeing the marches every weekend, seeing cities actually step up and changing things, seeing the state of Mississippi changing its flag. You know this is going to be much more. In this time, I want my kids to look back on and be proud. And yes they are going to shake their head and say, ‘How did it take so long?’ but we’re here and we’re doing it.
WINFREY: A lot of people are using this time to talk to their kids. A lot of times this is been a topic that people have maybe wanted to steer clear from. Is that something you are facing head on when you’re talking to your kids and young people in your life?
MINTZ: The conversations around hate and bigotry are conversations the members of the Jewish community have learned to have with their kids. We are also at a time of increased anti-Semitism. The most violent expressions of anti-Semitism in this country happened in 2018 and 2019. We saw a really substantial uptick. One thing the JCRC does is track incidents throughout the state of Indiana. So we know that families more and more families are dealing with this. One of the things that we do is help young members of the Jewish community learn to stand up and speak out when there’s an instance of not just anti-Semitism but when they see hatred, when they see injustice or discrimination, what does it mean to be an upstanding bystander
WINFREY: Moving forward, what advice do you have for people who might be tuning in to say, ‘Hey, look at how you can improve the state of the country, look at what you can do to make things better?’
MINTZ: I think it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. And easy to feel like maybe there’s not much I can do. But everybody is at a different place on their journey. So, No. 1, I value wherever you are. If you are opening your eyes and just now starting to read just now starting to listen, that’s great. Keep doing it. If you’ve been on this path in all this journey for a decade and are ready to play a leadership role, there is a place for everybody. And everyday somebody is interacting with somebody who is different from themselves. I guess that’s the first thing. Learning and modeling for your kids what it means to talk to someone who is different, to ask a question. There are countless opportunities for you to step into a moment and model what it means to be an ally, what it means to speak up. And of course there are ways like joining the marches or finding organizations that you want to support philanthropically. Like voting, like filling out your census — all of these things are also part of making sure that society is accountable to us, the people.