British Jewish community ‘can do better’ on race and prejudice

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A report on race and inclusion among British Jews has highlighted problems of racial profiling in security checks at synagogues and other Jewish venues.

The report from the Board of Deputies of British Jews says this must end and venues should institute bag searches for all visitors, including regular attendees, so as not to stigmatise people who look different.

These are among 119 recommendations from the Commission on Racial Inclusivity in the Jewish Community, chaired by Stephen Bush, which is published today after a 10-month investigation.

It was set up soon after the George Floyd murder, after concern at “moving and concerning testimonies” of black Jewish people living in Britain. They include the Sephardi, from the Iberian peninsula, including people of Asian and North African descent; Mizrahi, from the Middle East and North Africa; and Yemenite Jews, whose history can be traced to merchants at the time of King Solomon.

The Board of Deputies says “the brutal, racist murder of George Floyd on 25 May 2020 sparked a reckoning about the treatment of black people all over the world, and the undeniable reality of systemic racism and discrimination in societies on both sides of the Atlantic.

“We vociferously expressed our concerns about this at the time. However, we realised that we needed to go further. No community is immune from the scourge of prejudice and ours is no exception.

“As such, we launched this commission to learn more about the experiences of black Jews, Jews of colour and Sephardi, Mizrahi and Yemenite Jews, to examine the issues and make recommendations for how our community can do better.”

The recommendations include encouraging people from under-represented ethnic groups to undertake rabbinic training; ensuring Jewish schools’ secular curriculum engages with black history, enslavement and the legacy of colonialism; ensuring Jewish studies departments include teaching about all Jews, including Mizrahi, Sephardi and Yemenite traditions; observing key festival dates important to black and minority ethnic Jews, in synagogues and schools and ensuring youth leaders and young people tackle racism.

Mr Bush said: “A proactive attitude to inclusion will draw in many people of all backgrounds who have felt marginalised, left out or turned off from Jewish life.

“As a community that often frets about its numbers and its future, giving as many people as possible a sense of belonging and a full ability to participate will nourish, strengthen and enrich the Jewish community further, for the benefit of all its members.”

Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies, said the report made difficult reading: “I sincerely hope the commission serves as a starting point for a wider conversation in our community and in wider society about how to tackle and defeat the scourge of racism.”

The report is published today, 22 April, the 28th anniversary of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, an 18-year-old black teenager, whose death and subsequent police investigation led to profound changes in attitudes towards racism.

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