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How to Use
How to Use this Pledge
Our Jewish tradition teaches us that through questioning, we deepen our understanding (especially when we do it together!). This pledge has been designed to help you have deep conversations with other Jews - remembering that even disagreement is sacred when we do it in search of greater truth. We’ve designed it to look like a page of Talmud, which for many [link about non-rabbinic Jews] Jewish communities is a prime example of this value, as a reminder of how healthy discussion and curiosity help us stay connected to each other.
Our tradition also teaches us that learning is the responsibility of everyone in the community. But when it comes to thinking about anti-Black racism, sometimes our communities expect Black Jews to bear all the responsibility for educating those of us who are not Black. To counteract that, we would like to particularly encourage non-Black Jews to use this pledge, by sitting down for conversation with other non-Black Jews. (The following suggestions are written with that focus on non-Black Jews.)
One-on-One, At Synagogue & With Jewish Youth
Link to printable pledge
Link to fillable pledge PDF
Choose your first conversation partner. We suggest choosing someone you already have a strong relationship with - someone you respect and trust, who you think shares at least some of your concern for fighting anti-Black racism. This is about finding partners, not about identifying someone you think needs “fixing.” It should be an honor to be invited into this conversation. Pick people you hold in esteem - people you want there with you in the journey to fight Jewishly for Black lives. Or, choose someone you know will help you to feel more brave - so you can lean on each other when challenges come up around antisemitism, and support each other to stand up in constructive ways.
Decide whether it makes more sense to get together in person or online, keeping in mind health and safety. Arrange for each of you to have your own interactive copy of the pledge, so you can each note your own thoughts on it. Here’s a version you can print out, or one which can be filled in onscreen. [add links later]
Come ready to listen. Use any prompts you like below, or just talk. When you encounter differences, remember that the goal is not to defeat each other’s arguments, but to build toward being each other’s partners. Be open to being surprised by the insights your partner has, even if there are perspectives you don’t share. Share from your own personal experience.
If you are a white Jew who has done a lot of learning about anti-racism, and you are meeting with a partner who has done less, resist falling into any habits of talking down to them and try to set aside anxieties or preoccupations you might feel about correcting them. Especially listen to experiences your partner may have had with antisemitism, or incidents they suspected were antisemitism. When our concerns and painful experiences are taken seriously, it becomes easier to grow and experiment with new ways of doing things.
Debate and disagreement is welcome - with each other, and with the text. Use your interactive copy of the pledge to make notes about parts that move you as well as parts you don’t connect with. Know that the goal of this conversation is not to get your partner to sign. It’s to use the question, “Could you see yourself signing this?” as an entry point into the deeper conversations our community needs to have about antisemitism, anti-Blackness, and our future.
If your partner does sign on, follow up to offer them support. For non-Black Jews, signing the pledge includes committing to new conversations with others (see “We will bring our people with us.”). Reach out to your partner to ask if they’ve had a chance to schedule a conversation of their own. If not, ask them if anything is holding them back or makes it feel challenging. Would they like to talk through their hesitations with you? Would it help them to role-play, or to think aloud with you about how to approach the people they’re thinking of?
Stick together. Support each other to get more involved in local BLM work and related projects. Encourage each other to build and deepen relationships with non-Jews in this work. When concerns about antisemitism arise in your community or in this movement, help each other to think through the best possible ways to respond. If you notice that local Jewish communal responses to these concerns seem ill-conceived, help each other to play leading roles in redirecting the community toward constructive action.
Choose more conversation partners and repeat!
Jump to discussion questions
(*adaptable for use in other Jewish organizations)
Many synagogues have existing structures which are well-suited to a discussion about the Jewish Persistence pledge. Any of these could offer great opportunities:
social justice committees
after-kiddush discussion groups
adult education workshops
Think about leaders in your congregation who might be on board with helping these conversations to happen. Would your rabbi, cantor, congregation president or educator find the pledge useful and interesting? Supportive leadership makes a big difference in building interest among congregants.
We suggest arranging an event with a small group within your synagogue, rather than a synagogue-wide conversation. From there, you can break the gathering down into more personal conversations. During the pandemic, while most synagogues are not meeting in person, many are continuing to hold online discussion groups. When using Zoom for a group event, the breakout room feature can be used to assign one-on-one partners to each other for more in-depth conversation in pairs.
Just as you would thoughtfully pick your partner for a one-on-one pledge conversation, think intentionally about who in your synagogue would be a good partner for this work. Who shares at least some of your commitment to fighting anti-Black racism? Think about building these conversations from the inside out -- for instance, start first among folks in your congregation who are most likely to support the pledge. When that group has had a successful experience with the pledge, the participants may be interested in helping to plan a larger conversation. You might ask each of these original participants, if they are comfortable, to volunteer as one of the facilitators for the small breakout group conversations in the next round of pledge discussion.
In any synagogue, there will be a range of exposure to anti-racist educational concepts, and a range of perspectives about the Movement for Black Lives. Encourage respectful disagreement and debate, but consider setting some ground rules at the beginning to ensure a productive discussion.
Having this conversation in the context of a synagogue community gives us an opportunity to incorporate Jewish texts that speak to a commitment to anti-racism into the discussion.
With Jewish Youth
Do you work with Jewish youth, or have children who are active in Jewish life? The pledge can be used as a tool to help Jewish youth make sense of and process the political events that are happening in the world around them.
We encourage educators and parents to make age-appropriate adaptations to the general prompts below and the “one-on-one” format above, for use with your students. Tell us about your experience and share your suggestions with us.
Young people often feel more pressure than adults do to show off socially-approved opinions in front of their peers. Consider giving young people who are examining the pledge for the first time some time to reflect quietly to themselves, as well to discuss their reactions aloud. Encourage them to use their page in whatever way helps them to think - whether moving their bodies as they read/listen, making notes in the open spaces, circling parts that matter most to them, or just doodling.
You might find these open-source curricular resources useful. They have been created by educators to support learning about Black Lives Matter from early childhood settings through the teen years. We encourage combining these materials with Jewish teachings as offerings to your students and families.
CONTRIBUTORS: Feel free to suggest adding or removing any of these questions, as well as any improvements you’d like to see. Note: While we are specifically asking non-Black Jews specifically to take on these conversations, some events may take place in multiracial congregational or youth settings which include Black Jews, so we do want to arrive at prompts that speak to a wide variety of Jews.
Consider these prompts, or use your own.
Could you see yourself signing this? Think aloud about it.
This pledge asks Jews of all backgrounds to make a choice together to stay in the fight for Black lives. What does it feel like to commit to something fully - to decide that you are not going to give yourself the option of walking away?
When in your life, or in your family’s history, have you seen the following?
You or your ancestors standing up for yourselves
You or your ancestors witnessing others standing up for their own dignity
You or your ancestors experiencing someone reach across lines of difference to stand up in support of you
Have you personally witnessed, or experienced, antisemitism in a movement that you care about? Or from a group of people you care about? What was it like?
If you are a Jew of Color, Black, Indigenous, Sephardi and/or Mizrahi, how does this part of your personal experience or your family’s experience shape your thinking about anti-Blackness and antisemitism?
Where does this pledge not feel right to you? Where’s the part that makes you think to yourself, “I would sign this, if only I could change this part of it”? Or, “I could have done this better!” What would you rewrite in your own personal version of the pledge? (Feel free to actually make those changes to your copy - then notice how it feels to read your version.)
“When things get hard, we pledge to reach out to other Jews for strength, for creative solutions, and to support each other to stay in the movement.” What might this outreach look like? Who are friends, coworkers, loved ones, or teachers you could imagine reaching out to about antisemitism and the importance of staying in the movement for Black lives?
As you read the pledge today, do you think your own reaction to it differs from how your parents or grandparents might have reacted to it? In what ways? Why do you think these ideas might have landed differently for different generations in your family?
What would it feel like to be in relationships and coalitions that can withstand moments of tension and hurt? What kind of tools, practices, and qualities would those relationships require?
How do conversations about Israel/Palestine connect to conversations about antisemitism, in our Jewish communities or our movements? Are you satisfied by those conversations? Why or why not? What do you wish were a part of these discussions?
When you hear criticism of Jews - whether you agree or disagree with the criticism - what feelings come up for you?
When you imagine the possibilities - what a world free of white supremacy and antisemitism would be like - what do you picture? How does it feel to imagine being there? Use whatever senses you have access to to picture being in this world. What colors and textures does this world have? What does it sound like? How do you imagine your body feeling?