It goes without saying that 2020/5780 will probably go down as one of the most unusual and challenging years of our lifetimes. There is much for us to have wrestled with, reckoned with, and grieved. We have lost so much – missed time and opportunities with those we love, missed celebrating smachot in person like britot, baby namings, b’nai mitzvah, weddings and chagim, and missed rituals that so often are woven into the fabric of our lives and our Judaism, like funerals and shivas – the lack of being able to physically comfort one another in our darkest hour has proven to be one of the cruelest parts of this pandemic. And all of that is on top of the extreme disruption to our lives as they once were – school, work, uncovered faces…it’s been a lot to absorb in the past few months.
In the Twin Cities, our grief and despair went beyond the coronavirus pandemic with the video seen around the world of four now-former Minneapolis Police Department officers killing (or at least complicit in killing) George Floyd. Many sleepless nights followed for Minnesotans and especially those in the immediate neighborhoods. Many businesses – including multi-generational businesses built and run by members of the Jewish community – were destroyed or at least damaged, Many stepped up to help in multiple ways.
And so much fear – about contracting a virus, about ‘getting back to normal,’ about kids going to camps and daycares and schools so parents could go back to work, about the survival of small businesses and neighborhoods, about where all the unrest and anger and frustration would lead, about what kinds of significant reforms would be required to really make change this time.
As we conclude Rosh Hashanah and enter the ten Days of Awe between now and Yom Kippur, TC Jewfolk presents a series that might make you uncomfortable – a Cheshbon HaNefesh (accounting of the soul) if you will. We invite you to wrestle with the ideas presented in this series – about the privileges the collective Jewish community benefited from and how we might now use that privilege in alleviating some of the fear and inequalities that exist today.
The Jewish history on Minneapolis’ Northside is something that is often romanticized but perhaps not often faced head-on. “There’s still this nostalgia in the Jewish community [in Minnesota] for the old North Minneapolis, ‘it was great, we were all in it together,’” says Dr. Kirsten Delegard, a historian at the University of Minnesota who co-founded the Mapping Prejudice Project, which tracks the history of covenants in Hennepin County.
“And I think a lot of African Americans are like, ‘but, wait a minute, you left when you could, and you actually benefited a lot from leaving,’” she said. “And there’s just been this ongoing inability to bridge those very different understandings of the history that continues to fester today.”
It is a complicated, complex, and challenging history with which we must all grapple, ESPECIALLY in this year when we feel so full of fear and when the world feels upside down.
It is undoubtedly an uncomfortable topic to tackle. It’s never easy to take a hard look at your past. And as Minneapolitans, the story is hardly unique to us. Detroiters, Chicagoans, Clevelanders of a certain age can tell you their own versions of these stories in the same era.
“There isn’t a willingness to engage in the conversation. To ask ourselves, ‘Okay, but why were Jews able to leave [city neighborhoods], and Black people weren’t,’” says Hannah Lebovits, a former member of the Cleveland Jewish community who is now a professor at the University of Texas-Arlington.
“Before you can reconcile, you have to reckon with the truth,” said Steven Belton, the President and CEO of the Twin Cities Urban League. “The first step is to acknowledge that there’s a difference of experience here.”
In Monday’s Who the Folk?!, we featured Kirsten Delegard of Mapping Prejudice, to give background and framing to some of these issues. Over the course of the next two weeks, we’ll feature pieces that give some history, as well as context around the protests of this past summer in how it relates to those of 1967, and where we go from here. And we talk to people in the community whose work tries to bridge some of the gaps and have the hard conversations that need to be had.
We expect there may be some unease in discussing these things. It’s an uneasy time. But learning about the past, understanding the present, and trying to create a more equitable future requires facing some uncomfortable truths. We invite you to join us in this Cheshbon HaNefesh.