American Jewish Committee — the AJC, the Jewish leader in intergroup relations for 114 years — was fortunate to represent the Jewish people in the June 14 Race Amity Day Celebration. We were asked to craft a Jewish message for all peoples in the spirit of E Pluribus Unum, Out of Many, One, a call that would “bring people together instead of apart during these trying times.”
This is an expansion of that Jewish message, delivered on Race Amity Day.
America has begun to emerge from a pandemic that has disproportionately affected people of color but knows no boundaries of race. Americans of all colors recently have taken to the streets to protest endemic institutional racism in the wake of the gruesome death of George Floyd, another unarmed black man killed by police. This is a moment to recall the wisdom of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
That is a message for Race Amity Day. We are all created in the Divine image; we are all children of God who has fashioned us in the fullness of our diversity — race, color, and creed. Be we black, white, or brown, our destinies are intertwined. We have learned that if one of us is ill, all of us can become ill; if one of us is unsafe, all of us can become unsafe. The events of the last few months — pandemic, economic dislocation, and racial injustice protests — have reaffirmed what we should have learned long ago, that we are all dependent upon and responsible one for the other, “tied in a single garment of destiny.”
The Bible calls upon us to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” “V’ahavta l’reakha kamokha,” the golden rule found in many religions and cultures. It doesn’t say “Love only your white neighbor,” “Love only your black neighbor,” “Love only your brown neighbor.” They are all our neighbors, whatever their color, deserving of our unbridled love, our amity.
Rabbi Hillel, who lived two thousand years ago, said it so well. “Im ayn ani li, mee li,” “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” “Ukhshe’ani l’atzmi, mah ani,” “But if I am only for myself, what am I?” What is true for an individual in Hillel’s words — to complete our humanity we must get beyond our narrow identities — is even more true for groups and peoples. Our particularism must serve our universalism. We all understandably identify with family, people, race. But if we are truly to fulfill our destiny, we must transcend our separations and embrace our brothers and sisters across those boundaries, and especially at this time, the boundaries of race.
It is time to tear down those walls that divide us.
Rabbi Shammai, Hillel’s contemporary, cautioned, “Emor m’at va’aseh harbeh,” “Say less, do more.” Amity is important, but amity must lead to action. Where might our action begin?
Unfortunately, blacks and Jews particularly know the experience of being targeted for hate. More hate crimes are perpetrated against blacks than against any other American group. More hate crimes are perpetrated against Jews than against any other American faith group. Our commitment to amity and action motivates AJC to advocate for passage of the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act. Remarkably and implausibly, in 2018 there were 85 U.S. cities of more than 100,000 residents that failed to report any hate crimes to the FBI. The NO HATE Act will support better hate crime reporting. If we want to stop the rise in hate crimes, all victims must count and be counted. We cannot manage what we don’t properly measure. Reach out to your members of Congress to urge them to see this legislation to fruition.
Let us begin on the road to action by first coming together and seeing our Creator within each of us, no matter our race. Let us truly appreciate our fellow human beings in all of our diversity. Let us reach out to our neighbors of every color with love, amity, and action.
As the Psalmist says, “Hineh mah tov u’mah na’im shevet achim gam yachad,” “How good and pleasant it is for brothers [and sisters] to dwell together in unity.” E Pluribus Unum. Let us be a blessing to God and each other and make every day a Race Amity Day.
Rabbi Noam E. Marans of Teaneck is the American Jewish Committee’s director of interreligious and intergroup relations.