After the outrage over the senseless killing of George Floyd, Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl spoke out, describing the killing as “cold-blooded, racist murder”. She said, “We must show solidarity against hate and such vile racism”.
We recognise that, while the outpouring of solidarity with the Black community from many Jewish institutions has been heartening, this must now be matched by a willingness in the community to learn and strive to become a more welcoming environment for its own Black members. Indeed, many Jewish organisations across the country have been in touch with us to ask how they can help.
In response, the Board of Deputies is today announcing our intention to form a Commission on Racial Inclusivity in the Jewish Community to banish prejudice and promote inclusion”. We are pleased to announce that the Commission will be chaired by eminent journalist Stephen Bush.
As a first step, the Commission will be inviting Black British Jews and other Jews of Colour to come forward and give evidence, anonymously where preferred, about their experiences in the community – good and bad – so that we can build a picture of what is happening. As a second step, the Commission will talk to our partners in synagogues, schools, youth movements, cultural spaces and other Jewish institutions to discuss best practice and challenges, and seek to overcome them. We anticipate that after around 6 months, the Commission will conclude with a report and recommendations that will be shared widely with the community, with institutions invited to respond on what action they will take. As a follow-up, the Commission will review the extent to which the community has stepped up to the challenge, with further recommendations.
The Commission will have much to consider. Over the last week, we have heard from a range of Black British Jews that our own communal spaces are not always welcoming. We have heard complaints about being stared at in synagogues, being asked probing questions, being given a hard time by security at communal buildings, facing racism in Jewish schools, a lack of racial diversity in Jewish leadership positions and even heartbreaking prejudice in the context of seeking another Jewish partner.
The Board of Deputies is providing staff resource to support the work of the Commission. We invite Black British Jews, Jews of Colour and others who are interested in participating in this project to get in touch with Anthony Silkoff, on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Announcing the launch of the Commission, Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl said, “We have all been sickened by the killing of George Floyd and the sheer scale of violence and prejudice that Black people face on both sides of the Atlantic. While we as a community must show solidarity and seek to change our whole society, there are things we still need to fix in our own community. The Commission on Racial Inclusivity in the Jewish Community will seek to listen to Black British Jews to understand the prejudice and barriers that exist in our own community and work with all our partner institutions to make sure that there is zero tolerance in our community for racism of any kind. We are delighted that Stephen Bush has agreed to chair the Commission. We look forward to working with him to change our community for the better.”
Chair of the Commission, Stephen Bush, said: “I am honoured to have been invited to chair this important and timely initiative for the Jewish community, with the support of the Board of Deputies. Together with Black British Jews from across the community, we will be able to explore the issues at the heart of the Black-Jewish experience. I invite Black British Jews to come forward with their points of view so we can get this process started.”