Letter: Jewish community also addressing racial justice issues

Graphic by Lori Deaton

I was distressed to read the article of July 28 titled, “The Work Goes On: How Local Faith Communities Are Addressing Racial Justice in 2021,” [Xpress] by Jessica Wakeman.

While the worthy efforts of five Christian faith communities were highlighted in the article, not one mention was made of the work of the Jewish community. I know Ms. Wakeman was aware of some of this work, as I was interviewed for that article, and I am a member of the Jewish community.

Judaism has a basic tenet of faith called tikkun olam, which means repair the world. Racial justice issues fall under this precept. Using that as guidance, Congregation Beth HaTephila’s social action committee sponsored four evenings of discussion around issues of racial justice, which included understanding the role of white supremacy. A study group encouraging further introspection of these issues provided a further avenue for discussion during the afternoon of Yom Kippur, a holiday devoted to prayer for atonement and forgiveness. Because of COVID, events took place online.

We have also provided congregants with lists that highlight Black businesses in Asheville, so they can support them with their patronage, and a reading list with relevant materials to continue personal study. Before COVID, we were able to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. weekend with St. James AME Church. Our efforts will continue in the coming year.

CBHT is not alone in the Jewish community in these endeavors. Congregation Beth Israel’s social action committee sponsored its own study groups, its own lists and will be going forward with them.

The first large-scale public effort to address racial justice issues in the Jewish community was sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council. Their programs were open to the entire Jewish community in the area, heavily attended via Zoom, and spurred the actions highlighted above. Another Jewish group, Carolina Jews for Justice, is also intensely involved in the racial justice movement.

Perhaps you could give me a reason as to why the Jewish community’s involvement was omitted? If we are trying to be inclusive in this region, I think it would have been a good idea to mention it.

— Vivian Ellner

Editor’s response: We regret not including additional faiths in our recent piece. Some of what the writer notes in her letter, including the four-part discussion on racial justice, was previously addressed in initial reporting on the subject in August 2020 in the article, “Love Thy Neighbor: Religious Leaders Tackle Systemic Racism.” 

Reporter Jessica Wakeman adds: “Thank you for making yourself available as a member of Congregation Beth HaTephila to be interviewed. Reporters work within a limited word count in their stories, and, unfortunately, not all the information we gather or interviews we conduct make it into every article. In retrospect, I regret not including a synagogue or mosque in the piece for a more comprehensive view of the religious landscape of WNC.”


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2 thoughts on “Letter: Jewish community also addressing racial justice issues

  1. Mark Lieberman

    I agree with Vivian Ellner that omission of the Jewish community’s involvement was a significant oversight. But Jessica Wakeman’s response to Ms. Ellner was also deficient and defensive. Please don’t use the reflexive journalistic excuse that word count limitations explain your omission! Also Wakeman’s belated recognition that adding a “synagogue or mosque” would have provided a “more comprehensive view of the religious landscape” was at best a tepid apology. Because you had information about the response from the Jewish community you should have included it. If you didn’t investigate the response from the Islamic community and there was one, that’s unfortunate and reflects that you didn’t do a thorough job of investigation. But don’t insult both communities by conflating the two faiths. No one would expect you to go down the alphabet and name every religious community, just the ones that actually made a significant contribution to the racial justice issue.

    • Voirdire

      ” I regret not including a synagogue or mosque in the piece for a more comprehensive view of the religious landscape of WNC” ….hardly sounds like “Jessica Wakeman’s response to Ms. Ellner was {also} deficient and defensive” to me. But then again, I’m not of the Jewish faith, with the/a diaspora mentality that so often is the defining parameter for them. There is no doubt that Jewish Americans have often been included at the forefront of the civil rights struggle/ movement here in the US beginning in the 1950’s and 1960’s …and continues today…. god bless them. So, anyway, thanks Jessica for your fine article…. very much appreciated by everyone.

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