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History and Purpose of the Reparations Working Group

The Reparations Working Group (RWG) began as a study group initiated in December of 2020, bringing together staff and community members from Abundance Farm and the CBI Tikkun Olam committee. In June 2021, RWG approached the CBI Board with a resolution requesting that CBI commit to the study and the making of reparations by formally establishing a working group. Included in the resolution were the following goals:

a. Exploring the history and case for reparations in this country
b. Looking at the case for reparations in the Torah and other Jewish texts
c. Reviewing the history of slavery and racism here in the Valley and the connection of Jewish communities in the Connecticut River Valley to that history
d. Researching examples of reparations work nationally and locally
e. Forming subcommittees to carry out the work going forward

Along with the goals came this request: To endorse a plan to engage with the broader CBI community over the next year to bring a range of voices to this discussion and learn together about reparations and what our unique roles and responsibilities are, as a community, to redressing the historic and continuing inequities in our society.

In June 2021, the Board unanimously passed the resolution to create the Reparations Working Group. Our group’s current membership includes 14 active members, ranging in age from 26 to 78 years old. Our activities have included:

● Community outreach meetings in February 2022, including 96 participants, 5 House Gathering Teach-Ins, including 23 participants
● ~20 individual meetings with all CBI Board Members and Senior Staff
● Programs to educate CBI and/or to deepen the understanding of our own RWG members regarding the role and meaning of reparations:
          ○ December 2019: Leah Penniman
          ○ May 2021: Shavuot 5781 on the Torah of Reparations
          ○ Spring 2021: The Torah of Reparations Adult Education Class taught by Rabbi Justin David
          ○ October 2021: Kathleen Anderson
          ○ November 2021: Dr. David Ragland
          ○ November 2021: Rabbi Aryeh Bernstein
          ○ October-November 2021: The Stolen Beam Series
          ○ April 2022: Anthony Russell, Passover Song Acknowledgement Project

On December 6, 2022, after several months of discussion, one-on-one meetings with Board members, and careful research, we finalized our proposal and presented it to the Board. Through the following winter and spring of 2023, we conducted a series of large community and small house meetings to bring the reparations proposal to the community while continuing conversations with the Board. Based on the responses we received from the Board at the April 2023 CBI Board meeting, the Reparations Working Group has decided to implement a new approach.

Looking Ahead
Beginning in 2024, with the support of several new committee members and a shift in leadership, our plan is to focus on institutional strategy as well as community education and healing with the hopes of transforming the culture of the larger CBI community towards a more rigorous and widespread understanding and commitment to reparations. Please read below for more on the basis for our call for reparations and please consider joining us in this journey for greater justice and healing.


The Commitment
We know the road to healing and justice is long. For that reason, our proposal envisions CBI making a 100-year commitment to this work.

Interested in getting involved in the work? To inquire about joining the Reparations Working Group, please contact Judi Wisch.
Interested in learning more about reparations? Check out the resources below, and contact Amy Stein to get on the CBI mailing list, where we will post upcoming opportunities to learn about reparations as a CBI community.

We look forward to building together!

Resources to Explore
“Virtually every institution with some degree of history in America, be it public, be it private, has a history of extracting wealth and resources out of the African-American community... behind all of that oppression was actually theft." - Ta-Nehisi Coates

Definition of Reparations
The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Torah Case for Reparations by R’ Aryeh Bernstein
Movement for Black Lives on Reparations
A New Generation of Black Farmers Is Returning to the Land
Ask the Rabbis | Should Jews Support Reparations for African Americans?
Native Presence in Nonotuck and Northampton
Slavery in the Connecticut Valley of Massachusetts
The Jews of Paradise

Thoughts to consider:

Connecting reparations with Judaism through the practice of teshuvah
In this work, we have learned that making reparations has much in common with the practice of teshuvah. Teshuvah is a tool our tradition gives us for repentance and repair, and it has three parts: first, an apology without expectation; second, a plan for how to proceed differently; and third, encountering the same situation again and proceeding differently. Reparations, as defined by the United Nations and the Movement for Black Lives, include each of these parts: an apology; economic and social restitution for those harmed; action to stop the violence that is happening; and changes to the systems and structures of our society to ensure the violence won’t happen again (see the Reparations Now Toolkit.) While we understand that these changes need to take place at a community level, we are committed to understanding our unique institutional roles and responsibilities in this restitution process.

Relating this to the Jewish community of Northampton
We ask ourselves: To what extent does the CBI community owe a debt that requires reparations to Black Americans?

In studying the history of the Jewish community here and the experiences of Black Americans both here and nationally, we learned about the initial sale of land and a building to the first Jewish community members of Northampton, who then formed the first synagogue. What stood out to us was the fact that these Jews received financial help from the Christian churches and other community members in making this purchase.

This makes us wonder, “Where was the Black community at this point, and would they have had the same access to this network of support, this privilege?”

It also makes us wonder, What if...?
● CBI couldn’t have afforded to buy a building for the synagogue back in 1908 (or they were not welcome to buy the land and the building by the community)?
● The church was unwilling to sell the building to Jews?
● The church took the highest bidder for the building?
● None of the local Christian community, Northampton businesses, or business people donated money for the purchase of the building?

CBI received community support and the opportunity to buy the synagogue’s first building. The purchase of that building gave us a foothold in building property
equity. This was an advantage that was afforded to, likely, mostly white Jews in this community that almost certainly would not have been given to Black Americans.

Mon, May 27 2024 19 Iyyar 5784