The chair of the Board of Deputies’ Commission on Racial Inclusivity in the Jewish community, has spoken to hundreds of participants at a packed Limmud Festival session about his work investigating discrimination against black Jews, Jews of colour and Mizrachi, Sephardi and Yemenite Jews in the community.
With the first draft of his forthcoming report written, Stephen Bush, took the opportunity to give Limmud participants a sneak preview of some of the testimony – all anonymised for this presentation – that he has received.
Bush recounted the testimony of one mixed-race Jewish girl who was stopped and searched every time she attended her synagogue, unless she was with her mother, who is white. One black Jewish man told the commission he dreads going into kosher shops because of their attitude towards him. And Mizrachi and Sephardi witnesses told the commission about how their culture and customs were frequently excluded, such as when a boy was told that he would have to take his barmitzvah to a different synagogue, if he wanted to read the Torah using a Mizrachi melody.
Bush also put forward some of the new recommendations he is considering, including: calling for more proactive listening exercises across communal bodies; making Jewish studies resources in schools better reflect the diversity of the community; and asking synagogues and communal bodies to commemorate the expulsion of Jews from Arab countries and Iran on 30 November, every year, as well as the Ethiopian Jewish festival of Sigd, 50 days after Yom Kippur.
The commission’s report is due to be published in March 2021.
Speaking after the session, Bush said: “The commission has been an exciting but challenging process so far. Now, as I aim to bring all the testimony together with my reflections and recommendations into a report, speaking to an audience at Limmud was an excellent opportunity to hear from a cross-section of British Jews about racial inclusivity. My recommendations will only work if backed by the community. Today’s discussion was a very positive indicator, which suggests I am right to remain cautiously optimistic about change.”
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