We, the faculty of the Interdisciplinary Program in Jewish Studies at the University of Kentucky join our colleagues and students in grieving for the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tony McDade, David McAtee, Rayshard Brooks and the countless victims of the systemic racism that disgraces our country. We write to affirm our support of the Black Lives Matter movement, and our solidarity with our Black colleagues, students, staff, and community members. It is not just the brutal killing of unarmed Black people, but also the weaponizing of whiteness exemplified by Amy Cooper’s call to the police in response to Black birdwatcher Christian Cooper’s request that she comply with the law and leash her dog, that are symptoms of the way white supremacist values are built into our national culture. While these events are recent, their roots trace back to our nation’s ugly history of slavery and the racist ideas upon which it was built.
It is written in Jewish Tradition (Deuteronomy 16:20), “Tzedek, Tzedek, Tirdof,” or “Justice, Justice shall you pursue.” Through our courses and our community engaged programming we aim to pursue justice, and in the spirit of Tikkun Olam, to repair our broken world through our actions. As part of that work, we acknowledge our responsibility to teach about the often fraught relationship between Jews and Blacks in Kentucky, other parts of this country, and the world as well as about the racism confronted by Black Jews and other Jews of Color. We, the Interdisciplinary faculty of Jewish Studies at the University of Kentucky pledge our commitment to engage in antiracist work in the pursuit of justice, in our teaching, community programming, and our daily interactions.
Our action plan includes the immediate pursuit of the following initiatives:
To strengthen our partnerships and support of our UK colleagues in African American & Africana Studies and the Martin Luther King Center by creating regular programming that brings attention to and helps organize around issues of racial and social justice.
To create and share a bibliography of relevant works on race, whiteness, Black-Jewish relations, Black Jews and other Jews of Color for the benefit of students, faculty, community members and others who wish to further educate themselves.
To form a community/university anti-racist reading group led by faculty to discuss relevant texts from the aforementioned bibliography several times per semester.
To create an award that supports and recognizes outstanding undergraduate research on Black Jews and other Jews of Color and/or antiracist scholarship in Jewish studies broadly conceived, and commit to identifying funding to endow this award.
In the long run, we will work toward more substantial program goals, such as the creation of permanent courses on topics such as Black-Jewish Relations, Voices of Black and other Jews of Color, and Comparative Perspectives on Slavery and the Holocaust as well as a graduate research award to support emerging antiracist scholarship in Jewish Studies broadly conceived and research focused on Black Jews and other Jews of Color.
In this national moment of self-reflection, vulnerability, and activism, the faculty of the interdisciplinary program in Jewish Studies commits itself wholeheartedly and with passionate conviction to engaging in antiracist work. We know that we cannot solve these problems immediately, or by ourselves, but as Rabbi Tarfon says in Pirke Avot 2:21, “It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but neither are you free to desist from it.“