On Friday, February 12–the Lunar New Year, Rosh Chodesh Adar, and Shabbat–the first episode of LUNAR: the Jewish-Asian Film Project premiered, a video series highlighting Asian American Jews. As a mixed heritage Chinese-American and Ashkenazi Jew, I was proud to have been featured.
But the sweetness of the New Year was also met with anger and fear. Like many Asian American/Pacific Islanders (AAPI) in the San Francisco Bay Area and across the country, I was horrified to hear about the attacks against Chinese and Vietnamese elders leading up to the New Year. And I was deeply disappointed at mainstream media amplifying these violent events to pit the Black and Asian communities against each other and justify the need for police.
So when several community organizations organized an interfaith vigil and solidarity rally in Oakland Chinatown, I immediately planned to show up. Still amped from the LUNAR premiere, I reached out to the cast group chat of Asian Jews, asking if anyone in the Bay Area wanted to attend with me. I created signs for us to hold, each titled with “Asian Jews Say…” I thought–this is an interfaith vigil, so why not show up Jewishly?
It was a beautiful event. Four of us from LUNAR stood together with our signs, and the crowd grew to more than 500 people of all backgrounds. Community Ready Corps and the Brown Berets, two trusted, Black and Brown-led public safety teams, provided security. People handed out red envelopes, a Chinese Lunar New Year tradition, filled with New Year’s candy that I hadn’t tasted since childhood.
After an Huichin-Ohlone land acknowledgment from a local indigenous leader, city council members and community leaders spoke about their work and visions for true public safety. Black community leaders voiced allyship and solidarity with the Asian community. There were several pastors present, a visibly Muslim speaker, and a sizable group of young Muslims holding signs in solidarity. I was proud to show up for my AAPI community with other Asian Jews. I gladly spotted one Asian and Ashkenazi family from my synagogue at the event.
However, a question kept crossing my mind: Where are the Jews?
Specifically: Where were other members of my synagogue, and others? Had they heard about the event? I wondered, did organizers have any long-standing, trusted connections with the Jewish community?
If yes, did the Chinatown community make asks of the Jewish community–including turning out at this vigil? Or had the Jewish community offered support to Chinatown? Have Jews signed up to volunteer for the daily foot patrols in Chinatown and escort services for elders, or even heard about them?
Judging by the lack of visible Jewish turnout, I assumed not. Perhaps there were other Jews in attendance, but they didn’t show up Jewishly, with signage or Jewish ritual objects. But as I looked up to the trusted Muslim and Christian groups on stage, the third Abrahamic religion felt painfully missing. I thought for a second: would my Jewish community show up if my family or I were targeted and attacked? Then I realized: is this the slightest, smallest taste of how my Black Jewish siblings felt after the police murders of Mike Brown, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and countless others, when the words Black Lives Matter seemed to be met with indifference at their synagogues, workplaces, and more?
As a Jew of Color community builder, I’ve learned that building trusted relationships takes time. This starts with knowing and trusting ourselves and our people. But what takes longer is building trusted relationships and solidarity with other oppressed groups. It requires showing up for each other and responding directly to each other’s requests, again and again.
Both of my peoples, AAPIs and Ashkenazi Jews, have shared histories of fighting for justice–in labor movements, anti-Vietnam war protests, and alongside Black civil rights leaders. It is time for Jews and AAPIs to build similar trust and solidarity with each other, starting now.
We’ve heard the sayings that Jews have a rich history of showing up for social and racial justice. That we’ve been persecuted our entire existence, which is why the commandment to love the stranger is repeated 36 times in the Torah. But the larger Jewish community did not show up in love when our AAPI siblings, including other Jews, were in need.
To my fellow Jews: it is time to begin building relationships and solidarity with your AAPI family. Volunteer to patrol your closest Chinatown or Little Saigon. Donate to organizations providing essential services to AAPI communities. Ask your AAPI communities what they need, and respond directly to their requests. Show up again and again, and mobilize your synagogues and Jewish communities to do the same. Take care of each other. Only we can keep us safe.
Bekkah Scharf is an environmental educator in Occupied Huichin-Ohlone territory. She is an organizer with Bend the Arc’s racial justice team in the San Francisco Bay Area, building Jew of Color community and working to make the Jewish community less racist. She is an alumni of University of California: Santa Cruz and the Repair the World fellowship, proud cat mom, and plant nerd.