First Friends Meeting Labor of Love Meeting for Worship
Morning Message by Malkah Bird, American Friends Service Committee
Malkah Bird works for AFSC-Peacebuilding Indiana, is one of the chapter leaders for Jewish Voice for Peace-Indiana and is also a kindergarten teacher at Meridian Hills Co-Op. She has a deep commitment to anti-racist work here in the United States and in Palestine and Israel. Malkah is inspired by the Jewish traditions and values of her upbringing to actively work and organize within her community to help build peace, justice and equality. Originally from Detroit, Malkah and her family moved to Indianapolis five years ago. As a family, they love caring for chickens, cats and dogs and making time to explore outdoors.
If you had told me, a couple of years ago, that today- I would be here speaking about racial justice, white supremacy, and Jewish resistance movements at a Quaker meeting- I would definitely not have believed you. I am a kindergarten teacher. And a mom, and I am not someone who ever thought of myself as an activist or an organizer. But…some days we are called to be kindergarten teachers, and moms, and some days we are called to organize. I am humbled and honored to be here with you all today.
A few years ago, when my daughter was very young, she started asking us questions about faith and religion and Judaism. I didn’t have a lot of answers for her and I started thinking back to when I was little and was learning about our faith from my family. I remember asking my mom, “Who are Jews?” and she said, “Jews are The Chosen People.” and I said, “Chosen for what?” and she said, “Chosen to be Democrats.”
Now that I am older, I have come to realize that it is a bit more nuanced than that, but I think, at the time, she had made her point. What she meant was, because of our history, our traditions, our beliefs, our faith, our values- we, as Jewish people, must always find ourselves standing on the side of the oppressed against the oppressor. I grew up understanding that we must commit to the idea of Tikkun Olam, or repairing the world, to stand against injustice- even when it is uncomfortable or unpopular- actually, especially when it is uncomfortable and unpopular
In May of 1939, the ship the M.S. St Louis set sail from Germany with over 900 Jewish refugees aboard. They traveled across the Atlantic, fleeing persecution from Hitler and the Nazis in Germany. Upon arriving in Cuba, the US and Canada, they were not permitted to disembark, systematically turned away from each county on the basis of their religion. Ultimately, with no other option, the ship returned to Europe, where it is now known that a great number of the passengers lost their lives in the Holocaust.
I am part of one of the generations of Jewish people who was raised in the shadow of the Holocaust. Six million Jews, five million Roma, LGBTQ, disabled, communists, unionists and others murdered by the Nazis. After these horrors, Jewish people around the world made a promise that is etched into our beings. We said never again.
Never again will we allow the world to shrug at genocide.
Never again will we allow scapegoating of the most vulnerable.
Never again will we miss the warning signs of approaching madness.
But as people of conscience, we know that Never Again is not limited to Jews, it means Never Again for any one. From Gaza to Ferguson, Charlottesville to Indiana and everywhere in between.
A few weeks ago, The American Friends Service Committee, Jewish Voice for Peace, and all of us, watched in horror as white terrorist neo-nazis marched in the streets of Charlottesville. The problem is, though: these acts of anti-black racism, anti-Muslim racism, anti-Semitism and nativism are neither new nor isolated.
As we know, the news out of Charlottesville gained a lot of national attention, but we have to be clear on its nature. It is really only the latest chapter in a book that must be named, again and again: White supremacy. White supremacy that pervades our society. White supremacy that devalues black and brown lives. White supremacy that has been given official voice in several facets of our government.
And it is white supremacy that we must resist: We cannot afford to condemn it as a fringe phenomenon.
Instead, we — white people especially — must actively work to dismantle it in our streets and schools; our police departments and statehouses, our synagogues and our churches, and in our homes and our hearts.
And we are heartbroken for the victims in Charlottesville, and for the daily victims of police brutality, systemic racism and marginalization. But I am also hopeful. I am deeply moved and inspired by the tireless work and leadership of the people of color who are, and have always been, on the frontlines of the resistance movement.
This weekend, with the looming uncertainty of DACA, we are reminded again of the humanity behind the talking points. Of the 800,000 DACA recipients, children and families who are afraid, and yet continue to move forward, to show up, speak up and advocate for a more just and peaceful nation. One in which black and brown lives matter as much as any other.
A few years ago, when we had only been in Indianapolis a short time, Jewish Voice for Peace hosted an interfaith Passover Seder. It was one of the first events that I did with the organization and it was attended by a widely diverse group of people- Jews, Muslims, Christians, Quakers. We called it a Liberation Seder and focused much of the discussion on the on-going Occupation of Palestine and the need for peace and Justice in Palestine and Israel. Part of the Seder was an opportunity for people to stand up and share their current justice work. The overwhelming majority of those who stood to share were Quakers. They had long lists of beautiful, non-glamorous justice work that seemed to be integral to their lives.
It was a powerful moment and a big part of the reason that I feel so lucky to now be working for the American Friends Service Committee, an organization that has been building peace and humanizing instead of militarizing for over 100 years. I realized then that we are not all going to do everything, but we do have to do something. Find some way to be in the world that helps amplify the voices of those in our society who are marginalized. To stand behind those who are in the daily struggle for a more just, equitable and peaceful world. Allow ourselves to be challenged and transformed by the struggle of solidarity and justice.
Last Spring I had the opportunity to hear the minister and Black Lives Matter activist Nyle Fort speak. He told us that, yes, we need resistance but we also need radical imagination- for, while the resistance tells us what we are working against, it is our collective imaginations tell us what we kind of world we are working for.
So today- I thank you again for having me here in this beautiful space and I invite you to continue imagining and building peace and sharing your work as we transform together.