Board of Deputies publishes landmark report on racial inclusivity in the Jewish community

The Board of Deputies has published the report of its Commission on Racial Inclusivity in the Jewish Community, the result of a 10-month exhaustive investigation unparalleled in UK Jewish history. You can read it here.

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 society as a whole sought to examine racial diversity, the Board of Deputies became aware of moving and concerning testimonies of Black members of our own community about their experiences.

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. We were delighted that the eminent journalist of Black and Jewish heritage, Stephen Bush, agreed to Chair the Commission.

The report’s release in the week that George Floyd’s murderer has been found guilty, and on this year’s Stephen Lawrence Day, feels particularly poignant, especially given the Commission’s many references to the Macpherson report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

Our Commission has considered 17 different areas of communal life, and the ground-breaking report makes 119 recommendations, with profound implications for British Jewry. Among them are the following:

  • Representative bodies and organisations involved in rabbinic training should encourage members of under-represented ethnic groups to put themselves forward for communal roles
  • Jewish schools should ensure that their secular curriculum engages with Black history, enslavement and the legacy of colonialism, and review their curriculum through a process led by students, particularly those who define as Black or of Colour
  • Jewish studies departments should ensure that their teaching celebrates and engages with the racial and cultural diversity of the Jewish community worldwide, including Mizrahi, Sephardi and Yemenite tradition
  • Communal institutions, particularly synagogues and schools, should commemorate key dates for diverse parts of the community, like the Ethiopian Jewish festival of Sigd and the official Day to Mark the Departure and Expulsion of Jews from the Arab Countries and Iran (30th November)
  • Schools and youth movements should improve training for teachers and youth leaders on tackling racist incidents
  • Communal bodies and Jewish schools should establish regular listening exercises that seek the concerns of their members or students
  • Communal bodies should ensure that complaints processes are accessible, transparent, fair and robust, with all complaints related to racism handled according to the Macpherson principle, and specific new processes for handling complaints about security
  • Communal venues should ensure that their security guards or volunteers desist from racial profiling
  • Communal venues should consider instituting universal bag searches for every visitor, including regular attendees. If this is not feasible, they should consider the use of objective and proportionate criteria not based on race.
  • A code of conduct should be developed for discourse on social media, making clear that attempts to delegitimise converts, calling people names such as ‘Kapo’, or using Yiddish terms such as ‘Shvartzer’ in a racist way, are completely unacceptable
  • Batei Din should improve processes for conversion, including stricter vetting of teachers and host families, and a clearer process for complaints

Commission Chair Stephen Bush said: “I hope my report will enhance communal life for Black Jews, Jews of Colour and Sephardi, Mizrahi and Yemenite Jews. My recommendations cover vast swathes of communal life, and draws on best practice from across our community. Their essential components are transparency and openness. Many of these recommendations, I believe, have a far wider applicability than being positive for Black Jews, Jews of Colour or Sephardi, Mizrahi and Yemenite Jews. 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.”

Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl said: “I would like to pay tribute to Stephen Bush for this thoughtful and detailed report. It makes difficult reading at times and its recommendations are certainly challenging. However, I am proud that we have done it. This is the first occasion that we know of that any Jewish community, anywhere, has published such a comprehensive audit of itself, backed by its national representative body. 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. Today I pay tribute to every single person who came forward and entrusted this Commission with their testimonies. Thanks to them, the Jewish community of Britain is one step further along in its journey to racial inclusivity.

The public launch for the report will be hosted online by JW3 at 8:00pm on Sunday 25 April:

Comments from communal stakeholders:

“It is an axiom of our faith that every person is created in the image of God and therefore our capacity for ensuring that all people feel welcome in our community is no less a task than ensuring that there is a place for God amongst us. The exclusion of even a single person because of the colour of their skin is a collective failure for which we must all take responsibility. Where good practice exists, let us celebrate it and where failings are identified, let us be earnest and persistent, leaving no stone unturned in our efforts to resolve them.”

  • Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth

“The United Synagogue welcomes the work done by the Board of Deputies to highlight areas of communal life which could be more inclusive of Jews of colour. The Torah teaches that we should love our fellow Jew as we love ourselves (Leviticus 19:18) and the Midrash famously quotes Rabbi Akiva who refers to this mitzvah as a fundamental principle of the Torah. Given that, we have committed publicly to learn how we can be more inclusive by listening to our members of colour and carefully reading the recommendations of the report. We were pleased to be able to offer our time to the Commission and thank Stephen Bush for the sensitivity he and his team have shown.”

  • Michael Goldstein, President of the United Synagogue

“Our tradition teaches us that all human beings are made in the image of God. The report on Racial Inclusivity in the Jewish Community, which held in depth consultations with so many different Jewish organisations in a thoughtful and non judgemental manner,   will encourage all of our community institutions to examine their attitudes and behaviours in this regard. Hopefully this will ensure that our community spaces become safer, more welcoming places for all people of colour. It was a task that was much needed and the report offers very sound advice on the changes we should be making to fulfill our religious duties of care for all.”

  • Rabbi Dr Jackie Tabick, Beit Din Convenor, The Movement for Reform Judaism

“This report is impressive for its commitment to amplify voices in our community which have not been heard loudly enough for too long. The need for the report should give us all pause and remind us that however inclusive we think are, we have learning still to do. As for the recommendations, the fact that some seem to be so self evident and yet need stating in this manner, troubles me greatly. There are others which provide Liberal Judaism with important guidance in our own future learning and work and we will certainly consider them and see how we can incorporate them into our future commitment to building inclusive, diverse and welcoming spaces for all Jews and their families.”

  • Rabbi Charley Baginsky, Chief Executive Officer, Liberal Judaism

“This remarkable report, based on listening to hundreds of individuals and institutions, is written with clarity, thoroughness, insight and sensitivity. Its recommendations span all areas of communal life. Specific and detailed, they will help us all to be more aware and inclusive. It is the responsibility of all parts of the community to study and implement them. I hope we will look back on this as a defining moment, guiding us to respect and celebrate the rich diversity of Jews and Jewish life in Britain and beyond.”

  • Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, Senior Rabbi, Masorti Judaism

“I am greatly encouraged by the report of the Commission on Racial Inclusivity in the Jewish Community, led by Stephen Bush. With this report the Commission presents to the Jewish community of the UK and all of its stakeholders a carefully researched, broad and thorough set of observations and recommendations to help ensure that our communities fully embrace Jews from all backgrounds, ethnicities and orientations. One of the great beauties of the Jewish people is that we have lived in all parts of the world and absorbed the elements of culture and perspective from our international experiences. We are a repository of humanity’s diversity and we must embrace that about ourselves. With the Commission’s report and recommendations, we have the guidance and framework with which to do so.” 

  • Rabbi Joseph Dweck, Senior Rabbi, S&P Sephardi Community

“CST thanks the Commission for its ground-breaking work. The report importantly raises awareness in its own right, and its recommendations are markers as to how our community can be more welcome and inclusive for all Jews. As the report makes clear, CST actively discourages racial profiling in our training and work, because it is wrong on an operational, moral and legal basis. In security, behaviour is the thing that matters, not colour.”

  • The Community Security Trust (CST)

“JCORE welcomes the publication of the Report of the Commission on Racial Inclusivity. Eleven months after the killing of George Floyd, we are still at a pivotal moment in our understanding of and commitment to tackling racism both in Britain and elsewhere in the world. There are numerous positive and achievable recommendations in the Report, which we in JCORE would be pleased to use our expertise to help the BOD and others to implement.  This work will not only be important (and necessary) for the Jewish community, but can also help Britain become a fairer and more cohesive society.”

  • The Jewish Council for Racial Equality (JCORE)

“Sephardi Voices UK welcomes the report of the Board of Deputies’ Commission on Racial Inclusivity in the Jewish Community and commends the thorough work by Stephen Bush and his team. We particularly endorse the recommendations on Jewish Studies and look forward to providing audio-visual educational resources, speakers, and our archive of testimonies of Jews from the Middle East, North Africa and Iran to enable institutions to enhance their curriculum and deepen awareness of Sephardi/Mizrahi culture.”

  • Sephardi Voices UK  

“As the global network for Jewish & Israeli international development work, OLAM deeply recognises that issues of racial diversity, equity, and inclusion are inherent in this work, and we support the huge step forward in ethical best practices that this report will drive, both in the UK Jewish community and throughout the Jewish world. OLAM and its partners are proud to continue to work with communal bodies to further the Commission’s recommendation that they prioritise international development as an advocacy issue.”

  • OLAM

“Tzedek welcomes this important report, and we are pleased to have contributed to it. Anti-racism work is central to our mission and we are grateful for the Commission’s feedback in this area. We particularly welcome the recommendation that international development should be an advocacy priority for our community, and we look forward to playing our leading role in making this happen.”

  • Tzedek

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