Serling Institute Faculty Statement of Solidarity with Asian Americans

We, the faculty of The Serling Institute for Jewish Studies and Modern Israel, want to express our horror and devastation at the brutal murders in Georgia this past week, of Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Delaina Ashley Yaun and Paul Andre Michels.  Six of the victims were Asian American women. We recognize that these events are a part of a long history of discrimination against Asian Americans, and the intensification of violence against Asian Americans during the covid-19 pandemic. The Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Hate Reporting Center has tracked over 3800 anti-Asian incidents since March 2020 (New York Times, 3/17/21).

The white supremacy that led the Atlanta killer to view Asian women as dangerous and exoticized symbols of temptation has led other murderers to perceive Blacks, Latinos, American Indian and Indigenous peoples, and Jewish people as threats to their imagined superior civilization.  As scholars of Jewish studies, we recognize the linked dangers that white supremacy poses to our nation and our world.  We stand committed to fight against white supremacy, and express support for and solidarity with our MSU students and colleagues who may be fearful of even daily engagement in public spaces as a consequence of this hatred.

As scholars of Jewish experiences throughout the world, we reach out to all Asian Americans at this time, including Asian American Jews.  They are especially affected by white supremacy’s attacks upon Asian Americans and Jews, and we grieve with them and share their fears at this moment.  Yet Asian American Jews are frequently marginalized or ignored as members of the American Jewish community.  The Serling Institute commits itself to do more to listen to Asian American Jewish students and colleagues, to learn and to teach more about the experiences of Asian and Asian American Jews.

We have written too many of these statements in the past several years, as white supremacy and hatred have become more emboldened and virulent in our country.  Some may become weary and jaded in an atmosphere of hatred and anger.  As scholars of Jewish life, we recognize the particular dangers that cynicism and weariness can cause in people of good faith in a threatened democracy.  We pledge ourselves to fight this weariness, to ally with others on campus and in our community, to redouble our fight against the hatred so visible in our nation, and to work to repair and finally realize the ideals of equality in our democracy.

 

The Serling Institute for Jewish Studies and Modern Israel Statement of Solidarity with the Black Justice Movement

The faculty of the Serling Institute for Jewish Studies and Modern Israel at Michigan State University voices solidarity with the movement that has erupted in direct response to the recent police murders of Black people, including those of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade. Their murders are just the most recent manifestation of 400 years of anti-Black violence in this country, from slavery to Jim Crow to mass incarceration.

As scholars of Jewish studies, we have many inter-connecting responsibilities to stand against such discrimination and violence. Systems of white supremacy in America have perpetuated inequalities for Black people throughout our society – inequalities that have only become more starkly evident in the unequal impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Black communities, and in the documentation of these recent instances of ongoing violence against Black people at the hands of the state. We must come together as scholars in higher education to create classrooms, campuses, and scholarship that are not only inclusive of all communities, but actively combat anti-Black racism.

Our connection to Jewish studies and the Jewish community mandates that we combat such racism outside the Jewish community and within it. We must particularly center Black Jewish voices at this time, and the racism of some Jews against Jews of other origins.  We must also consider the ways that American racism has allowed many Jews to benefit from white privilege. 

Doing so affirms a continuity in American Jewish community support for the ideal of equal rights for all and for firm opposition to discrimination in access to voting, housing, jobs, education, public accommodations, and public transport.

Finally, as scholars of Jewish history, we are attuned to the dangerous consequences of states using militarized law enforcement to abuse any minority population. It is our responsibility to speak out against these injustices, and act in ways that combat anti-Black racism and violence wherever it occurs. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “in a free society, some are guilty, all are responsible.”

These responsibilities require us not to just speak, but to act. In order to actively support our Black brothers and sisters and combat anti-Black racism, we faculty in Jewish Studies at Michigan State University commit to do the following:

 Listen with empathy to Black members of our communities, as they tell us of their experiences, and what they need from us in order to support them.

 Redouble our efforts to collaborate with other programs and units on campus in ways that enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus.

 Focus this year’s programming (and incorporate an ongoing dedication to this type of programming) to the historic and current relationship between the Jewish community more broadly, and other non-Jewish minority communities, especially Black Americans and other non-Jewish communities of color. This will include histories of cooperation and collaboration, as well as histories of tension and conflict. In addition, we will endeavor to highlight diversity within the Jewish world – particularly on the experiences of Black Jews – including the historic and oftentimes difficult relationship between these Jewish communities.

Open Letter Regarding Act of Terror Against Congregants at the Tree of Life Synagogue

October 29, 2018

Our hearts go out to the victims of Saturday’s horrific attack at the Tree of Life synagogue outside of Pittsburgh, and their families, fellow congregants, friends, and the entire community. We live in dangerous times. Individuals radicalized by the rhetoric of hate groups on social media are emboldened to act on their prejudice, in part through the inflammatory comments made by mainstream politicians.  Antisemitic rhetoric is gaining greater legitimacy. It is therefore even more incumbent upon all of us to take care of one another, watch out for one another, treat one another with respect, empathy and kindness, while standing firm against hatred and prejudice of all kinds. This is likely to be one of the worst antisemitic attacks in U.S. history.  

Early indications are that the perpetrator’s violence was triggered by long-standing antisemitism, combined with anger about the work of Jewish groups to show compassion and support for refugee communities – demonstrating the way in which prejudice and hatred for one group should not be separated from prejudice and hatred for other marginalized groups, and that people of good will must stand up not only for the rights, dignity, and safety of their own communities, but for the rights, dignity, and safety of others. The Anti-Defamation League reports that there was an almost 60% increase in antisemitic incidents in the United States in 2017 from the previous year (almost 2,000), which is the highest number of incidents since the ADL started reporting incidents in the 1970s. These include antisemitic incidents in schools and college campuses that nearly doubled in number for the second year in a row, in addition to bomb threats, vandalism, and white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, Virginia. 

We in the Michael and Elaine Serling Institute for Jewish Studies and Modern Israel will continue our work to educate ourselves and others about the history and ongoing presence of antisemitism and prejudice more broadly, and work to combat prejudice locally, nationally, and internationally.

We have organized a Teach-In on antisemitism on Monday, Nov. 5th at 5pm, Club Sparta, Case (James Madison College). All are invited to attend and participate in the discussion led by six faculty from the Serling Institute, and a Board member of the Institute who knew those that were murdered on Saturday.

Yael Aronoff
Director, The Michael and Elaine Serling Institute for Jewish Studies and Modern Israel
Michigan State University