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A Statement from the Temple Beth-El Sub-Committee on Racial Justice

We acknowledge the lands where Temple Beth-El sits as once the lands of the Masswascut—The Land between the two rivers, and the territory of the Meschanticut, which are the ancestral homelands of the Narragansettt, Pokanoket and Nipmuc peoples. We live, work and worship on the unceded lands of these Indigenous nations, the land of enslaved and free Africans and other marginalized groups, before the Temple was built in this area. In recognition of the systemic injustices that still exist in our community we unequivocally say that Black Lives Matter.
 

Our acknowledgement of these facts requires us to take action and engage in active allyship with BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and Other People of Color) communities. 

Judaism is predicated on a covenant which outlines the holy obligations we hold to one another as members of a community with a collective purpose. Our covenants remind us that those with power have an obligation to empower those with less and remind us that those with freedom have an obligation to help free those who are without. When we honor our commitment to each other, then our communities will flourish with rain at its proper time, grain, wine, oil, and grass in our fields. When we do not fully commit, we risk the future of our very community.

 

We are committed to embracing that Black Lives Matter and we dedicate ourselves to the pillars of the Not Free to Desist Covenant. We recognize that we will not complete the work, but neither can we desist from it.

  The Story of a Statement: how and why the Racial Justice Statement came to be and the promise it holds

By Diana J. Fox, Carlene Lighty-Fiorito, Wendy Grossman

It is with great enthusiasm that the Racial Justice Committee shares the statement that now lives on the TBE website here: Racial Justice - Temple Beth-El (temple-beth-el.org), under the Community and then the Tikkun/Social Justice Initiative tabs.

         The first stage of the statement was crafted during the summer of 2021 in the Temple meeting hall by a group of Racial Justice, Social Justice, and Pride members and our rabbis. We sat around a square of tables, wearing masks, and guided and inspired by Not Free to Desist: An open letter from Black Jews, Non-Black Jews of Color, and our allies to Jewish Federations, Foundations, Organizations, and Initiatives—projected on a large t.v. screen.

         We had called for this statement as a response to burgeoning national and global statements of intolerance, bigotry, and acts of violence against Black and Brown people, and the Black Lives Matter Protests that flooded streets in response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and too many others. We believed it was important to offer a statement of values for our community that lays out and reaffirms our values of diversity, inclusion, and equity for all, asserting Temple Beth-El as a space that is welcoming and compassionate, where learning and worship can unfold in an environment that boldly rejects all forms of bias, discrimination, xenophobia and violence. We wished to recognize the diversity of global Jews, including in our own backyard. 

         Following the initial crafting, we word-smithed the statement, especially concerned that the opening land acknowledgment accurately reflected the Indigenous peoples who inhabited this land for millennia.  The statement is rooted in the original injustice of land dispossession of Indigenous nations. As part of this endeavor, Rabbi Preston shared with us the land acknowledgement of the Trinity Repertory Theatre. We then reached out to ask permission to borrow the opening sentence, adapted to our Temple; we needed to ensure that the lands of the Masswascut encompass Temple Beth-El property. They do. Permission granted, we sought to launch the statement under a new Racial Justice tab—which we will continue to develop—during the month of February, Black History Month, to recognize and honor the contributions of Black Jews and Jews of Color to Jewish life. 

         We also recognize that statements of values can grow and change, as we do—it is a “living document”.  We further wish to note that symbolic proclamations of values should not be taken lightly, but as acts of disruption in order to undo the erasure of Indigenous peoples and Black Jews and Jews of Color.  Our statement urges us to be accountable, to unravel persistent colonial and racially unjust practices that continue that stand in the way of true equity for all.

Sat, May 28 2022 27 Iyar 5782