Progressively Speaking: After Board’s race report, now is the time for action

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Progressively Speaking: After Board’s race report, now is the time for action

Rabbi Deborah Blausten looks at a topic from Jewish texts and offers a Reform response

Stephen Bush (pictured) and the Board of Deputies recently published the Commission for Racial Inclusivity report
Stephen Bush (pictured) and the Board of Deputies recently published the Commission for Racial Inclusivity report

Our sages debated the question as to what is greater – study or action?
In response, Rabbi Akiva taught that study is greater because it leads
to action. 

I love Akiva’s confidence in the power of learning to move people, but add one cautionary note – when it comes to social change, too often too many of us mistake study for action.

Stephen Bush and the Board of Deputies’ Commission for Racial Inclusivity report represents a charge to us as communities and individuals. 

The report is full of stories. Every time a report is conducted asking people to speak of their experience of discrimination, it makes an implicit promise: that those who need to hear this will understand and act. 

Study that does not lead to action is an affront to that which has been taught. A year ago, our community was ‘listening and learning’, acknowledging that speaking out in the name of antiracism while continuing to perpetuate harm on members of our own communities made those words empty. 

There is more learning to do, to enable people to really understand how racism operates, so we can work to dismantle structural racism within our community and be a better ally to other communities that experience discrimination. 

Learning should not be an obstacle to action and there is much in the report that can be implemented straight away. 

When raising issues around racism in the community, too often members are told: ‘Be patient’, ‘Things take time’, ‘This is complicated, let’s not upset people’, ‘This is a religious space, so we stay away from controversial issues’. 

Let’s be clear, the only thing those answers do is uphold a status quo that is unacceptable. 

Last week, a BBC documentary reported that in the past 35 years there have been 20 reports into racism in the Church of England, each in its own way lamenting the lack of progress on routinely identified issues. 

Our community has just conducted its first. It is on us to learn from the journeys of others and ensure the Jewish community does not end up trapped in a similar toxic cycle of inaction.

Rabbi Deborah Blausten serves Finchley Reform Synagogue

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