Young Leftist Jews Standing with the Black South in 1964 and in 2014

Yesterday, I wrote a piece called “The Jewish Left is Alive and Vibrant” in the Jewish Daily Forward as a response to Jay Michaelson’s piece in the same paper, “Death of the Jewish Left.” In my piece, I touched on a number of the Jewish-Left subjects that I am most deeply connected to and passionate about, particularly Israel-Palestine in the present and the legacy of Civil Rights activism in the past. While on the subject of the Jewish role in the Civil Rights movement of the past, though, I wanted to add on to my piece in the Forward by calling readers’ attention to a beautiful and recent Jewish-left initiative that I was lucky to be brought into a few weeks ago. In honor of the 50th Anniversary of the Mississippi Freedom Summer, dozens of Jews who self-identify as “a cross-class, multi-racial, geographically diverse, intergenerational group of people with different expressions of Jewish identity” have launched an initiative to generate support for Cooperation Jackson and the Southern Grassroots Economies Project, two organizations in Jackson, Mississippi that are working, in the tradition of Black collective action, “to create financial mechanisms that do not profit off of inflicting harm upon oppressed communities, but instead explicitly serve their interests.”

I want to first invite everyone to read more about the initiative and then, hopefully, to stand with the initiative and to donate: In response to a direct request from the organizers in Jackson, “over 50 of us [and counting!] have committed some increment of 50 ($.50, $50, $500, $5,000, $50,000) to support Cooperation Jackson and the Southern Grassroots Economies Project. Together, alongside other allies, we aim to move $500,000 by Rosh Hashanah 2014.” The letter also deals gracefully, wisely and challenging with questions of race, money, privilege, identity and more, both outside and inside the Jewish community. An example:

”Meanwhile, Jews on the whole have risen up the economic ladder. The majority of Ashkenazi Jews, who fled poverty and persecution in Eastern Europe, assimilated upon arriving on [America’s] shores. Although only reluctantly accepted into whiteness, these Jews have gained considerable material privileges. This is not to say all Jews are wealthy, nor all Jews are white. The majority of American Jews are in fact not wealthy, and 20% of Jews are people of color. This is also not to say anti-Semitism is a thing of the past; it remains very present in our society, sometimes taking vicious forms. But the fact remains that many of our families have been able to build resources and accumulate wealth, in part because of access to white privilege. We must acknowledge and leverage this privilege and the material advantage it brings many of us.

I know that I was moved to consider these thoughts, thrilled to be part of this initiative, and challenged to do more. To tie this back to the aforementioned conversation about whether the Jewish left is dying or vibrant, I invite you to consider whether the spirit of this decidedly Jewish, decidedly Leftist initiative might tell us something about the current state of the Jewish Left that data about Sheldon Adelson’s bank account and statistics about intermarriage cannot.

Off to the post office to mail $50 to Jackson, Mississippi.

Volunteers in the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer
Volunteers in the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer
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