Jewish Community Relations Councilof San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin, Sonoma, Alameda and Contra Costa Counties


Black History Month 2016

February 29, 2016
Posted by: Abby Porth, Associate Executive Director

Today is the last day of Black History Month 2016. Throughout the month, we have featured on our social media the intersection of the African American and Jewish communities. As we wrap up the month, I want to share my speech from the San Francisco Interfaith Council (SFIC)-University of San Francisco (USF) Civil Rights Workshop on Friday, February 12, 2016. In addition, you’ll find information here about our new year-long learning campaign on racial justice, and a collection of resources about Jewish diversity published throughout the month.


SFIC-USF Closing Remarks by Abby Porth

Historically, the civil rights movement has been led by the African American community. And it had to be. And we – non-African Americans – had an important role of blessing that movement with our witness to it, our prayer, and our championing of it. This was for the good of our country and its promise of equality for all.

Today, in this new civil rights movement, African Americans are again at the forefront. And where are we? We white people, we Jews, Asians, Latinos, LGBT folk? Where are our religious leaders? Our work today is to challenge racism wherever we see it, hear it, or ourselves perpetuate it. Most of our communities are blessed to be racially mixed today. In the Jewish community, there are an estimated 20 percent of us who are Jews of color. My community is, for the first time (and admittedly many years late), starting to examine issues of racism internal to our community, and working to become more inclusive. All of us religious leaders have a moral tradition to draw from, as well as the ethical obligation to, interrupt racism. Sadly, we have more than enough opportunity to do so.

In the Jewish tradition, there is a teaching that controversy is “for heaven’s sake when it has lasting and productive value.” We call this machloket. Machloket is why so many of you have witnessed robust political and religious debates at Jewish supper tables that you’ve sat around. My community believes that there will be lasting and productive value to these passionate discussions. That’s what we call chutzpah (or audacity) in Yiddish.

In all seriousness, it is this rabbinic teaching of “machloket” – important and valuable controversy – that provides the imperative to question, challenge, think, and strive to grow and create progress. It is the recognition that change cannot occur in the absence of deliberation, thoughtful and passionate questioning, and the search for understanding.

It was through the San Francisco Interfaith Council, whose mission is to “celebrate our diverse faiths and spiritual traditions, bringing people together to build understanding and serve our community” that I first learned how communities can be in meaningful relationship with one another across religious difference. We all know why that is important; but it is the how that doesn’t come quite as naturally. In the absence of knowing how to do this, many simply do not try.

SFIC events begin with religious leaders invoking their own traditions’ supreme being or divine source – in their own language. This is done NOT to proselytize, and not to offend. It is done precisely so we can get to KNOW one another, using the language that is relevant for each of us and our traditions.

By hearing the authentic perspectives and lexicon of the other, we better understand one another, we are better able to hear the experiences that undergird one another’s perspectives, and from there we can create progress – together.

And if this all sounds a bit too kumbaya, let me be clear. This is about maximal efficiency and strategy. Progress happens collectively, when disparate parties are invested in it and working to achieve it. It simply doesn’t happen without that.

Today, we told a story. Sometimes the most important story is told simply. So, here is what I heard today – in simple words – from all of you:

-Government – get it right.
-Declaration of Independence.
-Religious leaders
-Mind freedom
-Outspoken leaders
-Richest country in the world
-Intrusive policing
-Institutional racism
-Police brutality
-Not begging. Not asking. Demanding justice.
-Racism exists
-Living, breathing
-Create space
-Breast plate of protection
-Stand in solidarity
-Being Black, and being me.
-Wake up!
-Justifiably angry
-Racism is in our DNA
-Wake up!
-God is love
-Let’s do something

So today we engaged in controversy for heaven’s sake, we believe our conversation will have lasting and productive value. We exhibited a bit of chutzpah. We listened to one another speak in an authentic way, and we moved the needle a little closer to creating change.

We owe a debt of gratitude to the University of San Francisco and the San Francisco Interfaith Council for its wisdom in bringing us together.

Thank you – each of you – for bringing your full, thoughtful, passionate selves to the discussion.


This month we officially launched our year-long “Racial Justice: Learning for Change” campaign. Throughout the year will be hosting events, town halls and other opportunities for our community to expand its knowledge of racial justice. At the end of the year the JCRC Assembly will convene and transform this education into action by enacting a new JCRC Consensus Policy Statement.


Additional Resources

Black Jews You Should Know, Part 1 (Tablet Magazine)

Black Jews You Should Know, Part 2 (Tablet Magazine)

Black Jews You Should Know, Part 3 (Tablet Magazine)

Black Jews You Should Know, Part 4 (Tablet Magazine)

Soul Food Shabbat: How to Celebrate Black History Month with a Jewish Twist (My Jewish Learning)

Celebrating African American Jews (New York Public Library)

Celebrate Black History Month in San Francisco (San Francisco Travel)

5 Ways To Celebrate Black History Month In The Bay Area (CBS SF Bay Area)


PHOTO: President Barack Obama greets a young guest during a reception celebrating African American History Month in the East Room of the White House, Feb. 18, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)