Voice of the Jewish News: Race report a defining moment

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Voice of the Jewish News: Race report a defining moment

This week's editorial reflects on the landmark report into racism within the community and asks if it can help promote more inclusivity.

Racism. (Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash via Jewish News)
Racism. (Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash via Jewish News)

“One of the great beauties of the Jewish people is that we have lived in all parts of the world and absorbed the elements of culture and perspective from our international experiences. We are a repository of humanity’s diversity and we must embrace that about ourselves.”

These are the words of Senior Sephardi Rabbi Joseph Dweck, who this week hit the nail on the head. Amid all this talk of “mixed race” etc, we can forget that we are a “mixed people”, of all shades, from black to white and everything in between. 

Talk of race has been a focus ever since unarmed black man George Floyd died after a white US policeman knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes while Mr Floyd cried out that he could not breathe. That policeman was convicted on all counts on Tuesday evening.

In the upswell and anger last summer, Black Jews flagged that the Jewish community, alas, was not whiter than white on this issue (if you’ll pardon the pun) and needed to take a good look at itself.

Cue a Board of Deputies commission on racial inequality in the synagogues, schools, community centres and Jewish life that we know. It was a huge self-audit, led by Stephen Bush, the highly-respected Jewish journalist who identifies as mixed race. His report is now in.

There are some huge positives to take from it, not least the fact it was launched in the first place and that people came forward, which confirms this was an issue that needed tackling. The Jewish community also looked honestly at itself. Bush, not a man with much spare time on his hands, should be applauded for taking up the baton. 

Jewish News reported extensively on this issue last year, knowing that the experience of non-white Ashkenazi Jews in the UK had to be understood if there was ever to be any kind of momentum for change.

Bush’s report adds vital extra layers, but its principal value was always going to lie in how it said we should change things. Some recommendations are helpful, others refreshing, in part for being simple. Don’t talk about ‘Jewish’ and ‘Black’ communities as if they are entirely distinct, Bush says, because they may overlap. This is a good point.

One of the biggest lessons we could all learn is that there is no such thing as “looking Jewish”. Jewish is as much white as it is black, as much Sephardi, Mizrahi and Yemenite as it is Ashkenazi. But there are 119 recommendations, over 111 pages, with much overlap and duplication. 

For a report that we all hope will flick a communal light switch, there is a risk that readers will simply switch off. The fact the report doesn’t break down the numbers of witnesses who gave evidence between black Jews, Sephardi Jews and others – instead just speaking about 197 in total – detracts from the final product, regardless of how valuable it is.

Jewish News is proud to have forged new ground on this issue and commits to doing more. We start by echoing the main message in these pages today – a day that history will hopefully record as the day the words ‘Jewish’ and ‘looks’ finally got divorced.

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