In the wake of the recent “lynching,” a lot of my Jewish friends in Atlanta are asking me “How can we help?” and “What needs to be done?” What should be the response of the Jewish Atlanta to the killing of George Floyd? The answer is simple: We’d like for Jewish Atlanta to help us to end the murder of innocent blacks in Georgia, Minnesota, Kentucky and everywhere with the exact same fervor, dedication and commitment that you show towards preserving and defending your own families, that you show for Israel.
One of the main challenges to interfaith collaboration in Atlanta is that every community tends to prioritize its own, making the needs of other communities less of a priority, and even making reciprocity and interfaith collaboration less of a priority. Those of us who seek to once again re-establish black-Jewish relations in Atlanta have to learn how to prioritize one another’s efforts. And in order for our respective cultures to understand one another’s needs, there must first be “real” dialogue, real understanding. Understand that each and every day, every one of your black friends in Atlanta and across America, including me, lives with the reality of being killed by police officers. Many Jews are passing as white. Black Atlantans need you to be proud kippah-wearing Jews and stop passing as white (to those who it applies to) and experience the “inconvenience” of being people of color (which is what you are) even if you’re Ashkenazi. My black is beautiful. And YOUR black is beautiful.
Atlanta, we know that there is power in numbers. The truthful acknowledgment of Jews in Atlanta, throughout the Southeast and around the world as people of color will not only allow you to be your authentic selves, a proud people who protested and subsequently defeated Pharaoh of the Torah/Old Testament, but it will cause a deep, transformational change in your hearts toward your black brothers and sisters, understanding the plight of blacks in white Atlanta and white America feeling with “empathy” versus “sympathy” because we have the same Pharaoh in common.
Atlanta’s native son Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “There’s a little black in every white. And there is a little white in every black.” I say to all of my Jewish friends and family in Atlanta, across this nation and around the world that we may all be a different hue, but we’re all the same color. This is what Dr. King was saying to us while alive and what continues to resound from beyond, that every single human being is connected through our DNA. And it is this brick and mortar that he used to build his “Beloved Community.”
We need you to denounce any racist friends that you may have in your circles of influence and speak against the racist “Hamans” that you personally know (you know who they are). We need you to stop racist comments when you hear them, to break business ties with racist whites. We need you to understand that blacks and Jews are in this together; white racists view you as the n-word, too. We need you to embrace blacks as absolute equals.
Jews have used their influence to make a difference in society. You’ve used it in the past, during the civil rights movement right here in Atlanta, the cradle of the civil rights movement where The Temple was bombed by racist extremists in 1958. We need you to join us in today’s modern-day struggle for civil-human rights and the basic right of human life.
When I attended the recent day of solidarity in Sandy Springs, there were only a handful of blacks amid thousands of Jews. When I attend black solidarity rallies, there are only a handful of Jews. If we can have meaningful, robust dialogue, understand one another’s priorities and come together, when Jewish communities are attacked by anti-Semitic actions or death threats, as in the case of the most recent acts of anti-Semitism in New York, which led to the death of Jews in synagogue, then the black community will be there for you by the masses, right here in Atlanta.
And when injustices like the lynching of George Floyd happen, Jews must be there to support our black communities by the masses as well. As Rabbi Abraham Heschel once said, “The black church is the salvation of Judaism.” We need each other.
I believe that these recent, unjustifiable, malicious, heinous acts of violence and murder leaves us no other choice but for all people of color as well as people of every race, creed, sexual identity and economic class to at last come together to defeat white supremacy. We can do infinitely more to bring about real justice, true freedom and democracy if we at last come together as one people. Baruch ata Adonia Eloheinu Melech ha’olam. Shalom, and in the spirit of tikkun olam, May G-d’s blessings rest upon each of you and your families. Together, we shall overcome!
Rev. Anthony A. Johnson is a Martin Luther King Jr. scholar and doctoral student in interfaith studies at the United Theological Seminary. He is an ordained minister, longtime civil-human rights activist and former Alabama state representative. He was also the grandson of Rev. N.H. Smith Jr. of Birmingham, Ala., co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Dr. King and others. Johnson was a member of Temple Emanu-El in Birmingham for 10 years and is a member of The Temple.