The past several weeks have been among the most painful and heartbreaking that I can recall: the overwhelming loss of life to COVID-19, the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, seeing the frustration, anger, sorrow of the black community of the United States as we learn of the disproportionate losses.
After the demonstrations and destruction in Atlanta, I needed to take a hard look at where I am, where have we failed, what more can we be doing as individuals and as communities. It’s not only how we respond now, but how we have addressed or failed to address so many issues that have resulted in this moment in history.
The black leadership of Atlanta pleaded to the crowd: “don’t destroy, … use constructive means to achieve change as did the heroes of the civil rights era.”
The Jewish community has always felt and acted on its obligation to work toward a just society through “constructive means.”
In my self-searching, I took some solace in knowing the Jewish community has been, and we ARE, working on the disparity of justice. We need to redouble our efforts and be strategic.
Before this pandemic, before the Arbery and Floyd deaths, the Jewish community was addressing issues of education, jobs, access to affordable health care, voting rights, criminal justice reform, nutrition and hunger, hate, affordable housing, women’s rights, gun control. Each one of these has tremendous significance and impact on the black community in particular.
Some ask if these are Jewish issues.
For the Jewish Council for Public Affairs every policy issue is prefaced by its biblical citation for its action.
Combating anti-Semitism and assuring a strong, viable Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people are two pillars of the JCPA mission, but our sources challenge us to act beyond our unique concerns.
JCPA is an umbrella for the organized Jewish community, representing some 14 national agencies such as ADL, Hadassah, National Council of Jewish women, the Orthodox Union, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements, and 125 Jewish communities around the country.
For over 75 years JCPA, formerly National Jewish Community Relations Council, has crafted policy platforms on all the above issues, and many others, informed by consensus among all the constituents. These policy positions are available to inform the education, advocacy and action of each organization and community that choose to use them.
In addition, each year JCPA selects an area of focus as its own national initiative.
In past years, some focus issues have been cyber security, confronting racism, poverty and the food stamp challenge.
The JCPA national focus for the past 18 months has been criminal justice reform.
The criminal justice system is among the greatest concerns of communities of color today. The tragedies of the past several weeks confirm the need for reform, and we have been asked to be part of this effort. A portion of this national initiative is in coalition with many faith communities and is being spearheaded by Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
What more relevant and proximate place for Atlantans to invest our resources.
JCPA’s Criminal Justice Initiative engages Jewish communities around the country in reforming the criminal justice system, and aims to:
- Educate and empower the Jewish community to TAKE ACTION on criminal justice
- Advocate to CHANGE UNJUST LAWS and improve law enforcement practices
- SUPPORT INDIVIDUALS AND FAMILIES harmed by incarceration
- BUILD ALLIANCES between Jews and communities of color
The inequities people of color suffer at the hands of the justice system constitute one of the most pressing civil rights issues in the U.S.
The Jewish community has a distinguished track record on fighting for racial equality and civil rights throughout the U.S. However, more than 50 years after the passage of landmark civil rights legislation, our society still struggles to fully embrace equality. But through partnerships and active engagement, we can help to change that.
If you, like I, am saying, “I haven’t done enough, I need to be more proactive in addressing the inequities in our society” please consider being part of the work of Atlanta’s Jewish Community Relations Council under the JCPA umbrella. We welcome and need your participation.
American Jewish Committee, ADL, NCJW, Hadassah, every synagogue in Atlanta is part of JCRC here as are most national organizations. We partner with other faith communities, ethnic and racial communities, think tanks and caring individuals to work toward the day when peace and justice prevail.
If not now, when?
Lois Frank, a longtime community activist, is a past national chair of the JCPA and past president of the Atlanta chapter of the American Jewish Committee, and she sits on the national board of the AJC, in addition to leadership in other human rights and humanitarian organizations.