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6/10/20

Borns Jewish Studies Program Statement on Anti-Black Racism and Violence

“Go and Learn”

As we watch the earth-shaking events of May and June 2020—the brutal death of George Floyd at the hands of police, the many thousands who cry out for justice day and night in a society where these tragedies happen again and again—the nearly two-thousand-year-old words of the sage Hillel come to mind:

“That which is hateful to you, do not do to others… The rest is commentary: now go and learn.” (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat, Page 31a)

These words, which became the basis of the “Golden Rule,” offer both a course of action in moments of pressured or clouded thinking, and a directive for pursuing the more protracted task of understanding.

“Go and Learn.”

We can watch funerals, march in protests, speak and feel empathy or outrage. We can cite historical, cultural, and social connections between “The Jewish Experience” and “The African-American Experience.” But above all, we must Go and Learn. None of us can claim to know the pain of others. None of us can fully understand the norms of a society that systemically perpetuates anti-Blackness and discrimination against people of color: even as we live in it, even as Jewish Studies fosters its own deep exploration of anti-Jewish persecution and discrimination. But we can learn why it is there, rethink what we thought we knew, and work for a more just world.

“Go and Learn.”

As scholars with diverse interests, we bring different experiences to this convulsive season. And we recognize that we must engage: whether in our research, our everyday interactions, or our teaching. Our journeys may happen in measured steps. Learning comes only with great effort, evaluating and gathering evidence is laborious; crafting ideas and arguments is complex, multi-vocal, and error-prone; and the dialogue leading to understanding and change is painful and slow. But every time we enter a classroom, we feel the eyes of the future upon us. As we face the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others, we must see injustice even where we don’t expect it, even when that requires us to look collectively into a mirror.

We will Go and Learn.