Miriam’s Cup: Anti-racism and Teshuva

I am part of a group of rabbis and Jewish leaders from across North America thinking together about Racial Justice.  As a group of white Ashkenazi leaders, it is a context for each of us to engage in the personal work of looking at the ways we participate in the structures of racism and privilege and  act with unconscious bias.  It is a context to examine racism in the Jewish community and in our own institutions and to think about the commitments and actions of anti-racism on personal and societal levels as Jews.  One of the members powerfully asserted that as Ashkenazi leaders, our work for racial justice is certainly about education but more importantly, it is about teshuva – repentance, responsibility and repair.

            The new month of Elul begins at sundown on August 19th.  It is the last month of the Jewish year and turns our attention toward the inner and outer work of teshuva.  Cheshbon hanefesh, taking stock of our individual and collective lives is a year-long, perpetual process but it gains particular focus, as well as ritual and communal support, at this time of year with its culmination during the High Holydays.  Judaism’s Elul rituals and framing are rooted in the understanding that we can’t dive into Rosh Hashana expecting to transform anything real about our lives or our world without a longer period of focused reflection and intention, taking clear and regular steps to effect change over time, with the support and partnership of others engaged in the same process to encourage, challenge and cheer each other forward.  This is why we blow the shofar every morning during Elul.  This is why we are called to use the month of Elul to do everything in our power to heal relationships and make amends where we have caused harm.  Jewishly, this is a particularly potent time to discern what our community’s anti-racism work can and should look for the long road of transformation ahead.  What is the process of teshuva that we need internally, within the DJC, and what can be our outward-facing commitments and actions?

            In the wonderful diversity of the DJC community that includes Jews of Colour, including Sephardim, Mizrachim and Ethiopian Jews, People of Colour from other ethnic and religious backgrounds, Ashkenazi Jews and white folks who are not Jewish from various backgrounds, the conversations, actions and processes of teshuvah will need to be varied.  We will want to think together about what conversations and actions should be engaged in in separate, supportive demographic groups and how we can wisely strengthen the DJC to become a conscious, anti-racist Jewish community.  Please share your ideas and suggestions.

            I want to highlight that several members of the DJC have been actively involved in TEAM –  Toronto East Anti-hate Mobilization. TEAM has been working with other community members and groups to address racist incidents in the East End.

(1) After a noose was discovered at the Michael Garron Hospital, TEAM members gathered to put up a large anti-racism sign.

(2) In late June, a black man and white woman who were walking their dog in Dentonia Park were verbally assaulted with racial slurs and were physically attacked by two white men. TEAM helped to organize a protest at a local police station to insist that charges be laid against the attackers. Charges were then laid later that day!

and (3) TEAM is planning an anti-racism event to be held on August 29th in Dentonia Park to reclaim it as protected anti-racist space, in which the attack happened (close to Victoria Park and Danforth). 

            Please join us (from a distance) on that day to show that hate crimes will not be tolerated.  We will have art supplies and chalk for kids and families to express how important it is to unite against racism and intolerance.

            If you are interested in learning more about TEAM and how you can be involved, please check out  (and “like”) the group’s Facebook page (Toronto East Anti-hate Mobilization) or contact the group by email at torontoeastnohate@gmail.com.