AFTER THE SHOOTING AT THE TREE OF LIFE synagogue in Pittsburgh this past October, I witnessed an outpouring of support for the Jewish community. Most profound were the retellings of one-to-one encounters that my Jewish friends had with non-Jews in their community. One friend shared how days after the shooting a woman of color passed him on the street, noticed his kippah, turned around and came back to face him. She looked him right in the eye and said something along the lines of, “My community is with you. We may both be under fire, but we will stand with our Jewish neighbors.” We were both moved to tears.
Jews have a long and proud history of allyship, of standing up for those in our society who have been forced to the margins. When our non-Jewish friends and neighbors ask us how they can help, it may feel as though we need look no further than Hillel’s infamous adage, “What is hateful to you do not do to another” (Talmud Shabbat 31a). While these words are a good starting point, we and our friends who wish to be allies could perhaps use more specific steps.
GLAAD (formerly the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) has a thoughtful list on its website called “10 Ways to Be an Ally & a Friend.” I offer a modified and condensed version of this advice:
1. Be a listener, be open-minded, and be willing to talk.
2. Be inclusive and curious: Invite Jewish friends to spend time with your friends and family, and seek out experiences in Jewish spaces.
3. Confront your own prejudices and bias, even (and especially) if it is uncomfortable to do so.
4. Believe that all people should be treated with dignity and respect.
5. If you see Jews or Judaism being misrepresented in the media or in your community, contact the Anti-Defamation League.
In short: Be curious, be kind, and be compassionate.
TODAY, THERE ARE MORE HATE GROUPS in the United States than at any time in the last 20 years. Hate incidents in schools have exploded, deeply impacting entire communities. And anti-Semitism is alive and well on both ends of the political spectrum. No wonder many of us feel deep uncertainty and fear. If there was ever a time the Jewish people needed more allies, it’s now. So, how do we build allyship with elected officials and other faith and minority groups, and how do we accept allyship from non-Jews?
In advocacy, one of the most effective ways to create allies is by building and engaging in coalitions on issues of common cause. No great social or political change has come about in our country without a diverse coalition of allies.
Yet how can we build a coalition with whom we vociferously disagree on abortion, the West Bank, or taxes? How can I sit across the table from someone I think might harbor anti-Jewish bias?
We can, because we must. Because every opportunity to work with non-Jewish leaders to combat hate crimes, support families living in poverty, or protect immigrants is an opportunity to break down barriers and stereotypes, learn from one another, and deepen understanding.
There is no magic formula for building coalitions or allyship. And, in my experience, the most important Jewish tenet of this work is “elu v’elu,” wielding a “both/and” perspective. This practice emphasizes there are multiple sides of an issue and that we must grapple with complexity and views not our own. By practicing “elu v’elu” we open ourselves up rather than close ourselves off. We have the opportunity to bring our community together with others, and to understand, listen with an open heart, find common cause, educate patiently, build consensus, and create lasting and meaningful change.