As our country takes more serious steps toward addressing racial justice, our Jewish community has been considering our role in this process with both dedication and humility. We are inspired by the history of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marching with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King to step forward into the next generation of civil rights work. We also learned from Bryan Stevenson’s book Just Mercy that we need to be proximate to those impacted by racial injustice, and follow their lead on the priorities and actions needed to create change.
We began this year with our retreat, where we took time to reflect on “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in our Jewish Institutions,” with the help of Shekhiynah Larks and Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder from Be’chol Lashon. Each synagogue and Jewish agency in Santa Clara County was invited to evaluate itself, and to set goals for increasing diversity in leadership and growth as a welcoming community.
As follow-up to the retreat, the JCRC cabinet members split into chevruta and chose books or movies to explore and discuss together from this resource list. Although the pandemic prevented us from public gathering, we supported local Black-owned restaurants with our Saturday Night Supper Take-Out.
As election season approached, we probed our Jewish history and values on the question of whether diversity should be considered as a factor in public employment, education and contracting decisions (proposition 16). We learned from Shekhiynah Larks and Prof. Marc Dollinger in conversation on “Diversity and Jewish Values: What Does it Mean Today? Can Proposition 16 Restore Equal Opportunity for All?”
Criminal justice reform has long been a focus area for JCRCs in California, due to the unique crisis of mass incarceration in our state. In 2011 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that California prisons constituted cruel and unusual punishment due to overcrowding and inadequate facilities and care. As part of the “realignment” process that reduced prison populations, our JCRC served on the steering committee of the Faith Reentry Collaborative funded by the Santa Clara County Behavioral Health Services Department. The Collaborative successfully launched a system of faith-based resource centers that facilitate service coordination for individuals reentering the community from jail. Evaluations have shown a clear reduction of recidivism as a result of this program.
Today we continue advocating for policies that represent our Jewish value of the sanctity of every human life, and our obligation to protect and respect every life. We have actively supported, through letters and public testimony, the pilot Community Mobile Response project in Santa Clara County. This project provides non-police emergency response to situations that are not criminal but rather rooted in mental health, substance use, homelessness, truancy or family conflict. This program seeks to address escalation and racial bias that has too often resulted in excessive force when responding to Black residents and other people of color. We look forward to the California Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission approving and funding this program.
We continue to be motivated by the JCPA Toolkit for Criminal Justice Reform, and our membership in the JCPA Criminal Justice Reform Task Force, which provides educational resources and partnership opportunities for this work. We in turn provide educational resources to our local Jewish community, for example by organizing the Criminal Justice Reform: Why and How panel hosted as part of the Jewbilee day of Jewish learning with the APJCC.
To learn more about JCRC’s work, contact Diane Fisher, JCRC Director, at [email protected].
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