Al Het for Our Racial History

We wrote this Al Het for Yom Kippur in 2020, a recounting of the layers upon layers of racial injustice inflicted on Black Americans in the course of U.S. history, and touching on the involvement of Jewish Americans in that history as well.  

Al Het for Our Racial History 

For the sins of the Middle Passage that kidnapped and transported 9 to 12 million Africans to the New World.

For the sin of buying and selling human beings.

For the sin of forced breeding.

For the sin of differentiating between Light and Dark African Americans and treating them differently.

For the sins of rape and torture and other atrocities against the bodies of African Americans.

For the sin of using the Torah to justify slavery – as did Rabbi Morris Raphall of Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in New York in a widely publicized sermon.

For the sins of cruel labor in the fields, on the chain gangs.

For the sin of building both the northern and southern states’ economies on the backs of African American forced labor.

     Ve’al kulam Elo’ah selikhot, selakh lanu, mekhal lanu, kaper lanu


For the sin of amassing the wealth of New York City on the cotton industry.

For the sin of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and the Dred Scott decision. 

For the sin of keeping African Americans enslaved in some areas for three and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation.  

For the sin of forcing freed slaves into indentured servitude after the Civil War, paying them not with wages, but by tipping and sharecropping.

For the sin of abrogating 40 acres and a mule, and instead rewarding Confederate soldiers with confiscated lands.

For the sins of Black Codes in the South, of voiding Reconstruction and perpetuating the myth that Reconstruction was intended to impose Black supremacy.

For the sin of never enforcing the 14th Amendment throughout the long decades when the voting rights of African Americans were suppressed. 

     Ve’al kulam Elo’ah selikhot, selakh lanu, mekhal lanu, kaper lanu


For the sin of humiliating, separating, and discriminating against African Americans with Jim Crow laws for 100 years.

For the sins of racist white supremacists – presidents Andrew Jackson, Millard Fillmore, and Woodrow Wilson; leaders such as John C. Calhoun, Edmund Pettus, and Judah Benjamin, among so many more.

For the sins of the Tulsa Massacres and other pogroms, destroying the chances for African Americans to achieve economic prosperity, and wiping that history from white America’s collective memory.

For the sin of textbooks that claimed some African American slaves loved their masters, while others were lazy and immoral.

For the sins of building public towns barred to Blacks, of redlining neighborhoods and preventing Blacks from renting by means of racist mortgage covenants instigated and approved of by state and federal governments.

     Ve’al kulam Elo’ah selikhot, selakh lanu, mekhal lanu, kaper lanu


For the sin of showing “Birth of a Nation” at the White House, and in front of enthusiastic Jewish audiences in New York City.

For the sin of segregating schools and underfunding schools in predominantly Black neighborhoods, and fighting against integration and affirmative action. 

For the sin of directing the war on drugs as a war on the African American community, incarcerating Black males in massive numbers, and depriving Black neighborhoods of adult male householders.

For the sins of disproportionate traffic stops, the cash bail system, and the school-to-prison pipeline. 

For the sin of police violence that keeps on killing Black Americans.  

     Ve’al kulam Elo’ah selikhot, selakh lanu, mekhal lanu, kaper lanu


For the sins of resting on the laurels of Rabbi [no-glossaryt]Abraham[/no-glossary] Joshua Heschel and other brave Jews who fought in the civil rights movement in the 1960s … and letting the Jewish alliance with African Americans disintegrate. 

For the sin of the Jewish community benefitting from white privilege for the last hundred years in America while claiming we are not white and not responsible. 

For the sin of thinking this is something somebody else did.

For the sin of thinking we are being welcoming to Jews of color when we ask them if they’re really Jewish. 

For the sin of not having African American friends or colleagues. 

For the sin of living in a country more segregated now than forty years ago, and not taking steps to change that.

For the sin of allowing provisions of the Voting Rights Act to disappear and not working on their re-enactment, and for the sin of standing by while state after state enacts new Jim Crow election laws to suppress the vote in communities of color.

For the sin of falling into stereotypes in our thinking that we would not tolerate against the Jewish people.

For the sin of allowing racist patterns of thought to persist – that individual actions are indicative of the behavior of an entire group. 

For the sin of continuing to treat people differently because of the color of their skin, rather than the content of their hearts.

     Ve’al kulam Elo’ah selikhot, selakh lanu, mekhal lanu, kaper lanu

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