Stephen Bush, the Chair of the Board of Deputies’ Commission on Racial Inclusivity in the Jewish Community, has spoken to 100s of participants in a packed Limmud Festival session, about the groundbreaking work he is leading to investigate discrimination against Black Jews, Jews of Colour and Mizrachi, Sephardi and Yemenite Jews.
With the first draft of his forthcoming report written, Stephen took the opportunity to give Limmud participants a sneak preview of some of the testimony – all anonymised for this presentation – that he has received.
Stephen recounted the worrying testimony of one mixed-race Jewish girl who was stopped and searched every time she attended her synagogue, unless she was with her mother, who is white. A Black Jewish man told the Commission he dreads going into kosher shops because of their attitude towards him. And Mizrachi and Sephardi witnesses told the Commission about how their culture and customs were frequently excluded, such as when a boy was told that he would have to take his bar mitzvah to a different synagogue, if he wanted to read the Torah using a Mizrachi melody.
Stephen also put forward some of the new recommendations he is considering, including: calling for more proactive listening exercises across communal bodies; making Jewish Studies resources in schools better reflect the diversity of the community; and asking synagogues and communal bodies to commemorate the expulsion of Jews from Arab countries and Iran on 30th November, every year, as well as the Ethiopian Jewish festival of Sigd, 50 days after Yom Kippur.
The Commission’s report is due to be published in March 2021.
Speaking after the session, Stephen Bush said:
“The Commission has been an exciting but challenging process so far. Now, as I aim to bring all the testimony together with my reflections and recommendations into a report, speaking to an audience at Limmud was an excellent opportunity to hear from a cross-section of British Jews about racial inclusivity. My recommendations will only work if backed by the community. Today’s discussion was a very positive indicator, which suggests I am right to remain cautiously optimistic about change.”
Marie van der Zyl, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said:
“We commend Stephen Bush for all his hard work so far. Since we started the Commission, we are already seeing some positive changes, including synagogue movements like the United Synagogue and Liberal Judaism proactively running listening exercises with their own members. We know that we still have a long way to go before we can reach our goal, which I know Stephen shares, to make the Jewish community an unequivocally anti-racist environment, that is more welcoming and inclusive to Black Jews, Jews of Colour and Sephardi, Mizrachi and Yemenite Jews.”