L’Shana Tovah Umetukah!
Hey folks, Syma here. I’m a proud DJJ Steering Committee member, mother, grandmother, and Macomb County Jew. I hope this email finds you safe, well, and nourished by the holiday season. We will certainly need to stay nourished as we navigate the next few months together.
In my studies leading up to Rosh Hashanah, I was confronted by the concept of Teshuvah, often defined as repentance. Rabbi Shefa Gold says:
“Looking inward and looking outward: that's what we do on Rosh Hashanah. We stop long enough to look at the world and the year that has passed. But we also take the time to look at ourselves. If we can understand who we are and what's expected of us, then we can begin to change, to return. Every change begins within; it must start deep within our hearts. [...] This is the true meaning of Teshuvah.”
Several months ago, I began a personal journey into a deeper understanding of systemic racism.
For years I didn’t feel white. I remember being called a dirty Jew at a very young age. I lived among many Sephardic Jews, even married one. We experienced so much bigotry while living in Israel as a “mixed” marriage that we even had trouble renting an apartment. In Brooklyn we were thought to be brown, i.e. Latino. So - how could I be white?
But my Teshuvah journey of looking inward helped me to understand the ways whiteness has provided me with access and advantages throughout my life. My father, an immigrant, was a WWII veteran who easily accessed his GI Bill benefits, which were denied to many Black vets. Less deterred by FHA redlining, my family was able to purchase a multi-unit house which not only provided a nice place to live, but also a steady second income. Additionally, my father had access to a well-paying job and membership in a union which had few - if any - people of color. None of this negates the hard work and commitment my family put into building a life for us. But with a deeper understanding and acknowledgement of how whiteness benefited us, I’m better prepared to navigate to this current global reckoning with race.
Syma and Florence at a recent demonstration in Shelby Township
So what do we do now? Rabbi Shefa Gold says that Teshuvah can also mean response:
“When the ‘great shofar is sounded’...’the still small voice’ emerges as my response. [...] I don’t mean listening as a passive bystander. The kind of listening I’m talking about is when you allow yourself to be addressed directly; it means ‘taking it personally,’ [...] calling forth compassion from my own depths. Response is an art-form that requires opening, listening and knowing oneself and one’s reactions. Respons-ibility is the freedom to respond wisely, rather than be enslaved by patterns of reaction.”
This is what I hear in the call of the shofar: a call to to look inward, to understand my role, and fight like hell to build the world we know is possible. At DJJ, we are responding to this moment with all our tools:
We are looking inward - in 5781 we are launching a Program for Racial Equity within the Jewish Community, investing in Jews of Color and activating Racial Equity Teams in four local synagogues. Email Kendra@detroitjewsforjustice.org to learn more.
We are standing in solidarity with our friends and neighbors - supporting educators, fighting for drivers licenses for all, and helping to ensure access to clean, affordable water. Learn about how we organize and get plugged-in here.
We are reaching out to fight for every single vote to be counted this election season - plug into DJJ’s GOTV initiative below:
We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, but the way is lit by ancestors like RBG and Myra Wolfgang - please SAVE THE DATE for the Virtual Myra Wolfgang Awards on December 17th. The world may look a lot different then - ken yehi ratzon - may it be so.
May our budding new year be filled with the sweat of the labor and the sweetness of winning.