On the evening of the Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh, my synagogue organized a vigil and Havdalah for the community to grieve. Community Ready Corps, a Black-led liberation organization, provided security. It was a beautiful show of solidarity. Their presence helped create a safe space for the community to process our rage and fear. One week later, I had my adult Bat Mitzvah. To my surprise, every seat was filled. In both of these instances, we were stronger because we were together, Jews and allies alike, in the aftermath of such hate.
More than two years later, amidst a global pandemic and a deeply divided country, I found myself grappling with the same grief, rage, and fear, his time as a Chinese American. Asian elders were being violently attacked in San Francisco and Oakland Chinatowns, and across the country. Pak Ho and Vichar Ratanapakdee died from their injuries. The mayor of Oakland had blamed the attacks on city council members who had been working for years to defund the Oakland police department rather than addressing the pernicious anti-Asian racism that motivated them.
However, Black and Asian communities refused to be divided by such fear-mongering. Asian Health Services and Compassion in Oakland expanded their “community strolling” program, in which volunteers patrol and escort elders in Chinatown. Black, Latinx, and Asian community groups continue to work together to re-imagine public safety so that it works for everyone.
“I Still Believe in Our City” art series by Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya created in partnership with the NYC Commission on Human Rights.
Then on Tuesday March 16, 2021, a white supremacist murdered 8 people, including 6 Asians.* Asian communities, already scared and hurting, are in ever more pain. And still, I am reminded of the solidarity I’ve witnessed these past few years, from Pittsburgh to the Black Lives Matter movement to Oakland Chinatown. As I navigate the familiar feelings of grief and rage, I try to hold on to these moments of safety through solidarity.
We are in the season of Passover. Every year, Jews are asked to imagine ourselves in Mitzrayim, in places of narrowness. In the words of Koach Baruch Fraiser upon the shelter-in-place order of 2020: this year, there is no need to imagine ourselves in Mitzrayim; it is here.
White supremacists and police continue to terrorize people of color. COVID continues to disproportionately impact low-income and communities of color. In Oakland, families sleep in the streets while housing and hotel units remain vacant, and corporations grow richer by the minute.
My communities feel far from liberated. Yet time and time again, I’ve seen communities show up for each other in love. I am reminded of this quote by Leo Ferguson, from JFREJ’s Black Lives Matter Haggadah:
“The only real way out of the Mitzrayim of our fears is solidarity. Only by forging deep connections and sharing struggle with other communities will we create lasting allies who will walk with us into the promised land of our collective liberation. That is true Jewish freedom — true and lasting safety.”
During this season of narrowness and liberation, what will you do to help foster true and lasting safety in your communities? How will you support Asian and other oppressed peoples who have been fighting for their liberation for decades? How will you continue to do so, even after the victims’ names fade from the headlines? How can you mobilize your people to join you?
*Updated to reflect that he victims’ families did not consent to their names being released.
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.