Multiple Dimensions of Justice

Multiple Dimensions of Justice
(Published in the in August 2020 Issue of “The Reflector”)

Being an alumnus of Brandeis University, there are a number of things that have always impressed me about the school.  First, it’s founding in 1948 was the Jewish community’s response to the anti-Semitism of quotas for Jewish students at elite Universities like Yale and Harvard.  Second, the school’s name-sake Louis D. Brandies was a Supreme Court Justice who fought for the working class and disenfranchised in our country.  Third was the school’s seal.  EMET (or truth) in Hebrew letters was at the center of the seal while the outer ring contained this phrase “Truth: Even Unto It’s Inner Most Parts.”  After four years at the school and a career in Jewish education and advocacy, I have come to embrace the full meaning and depth of that phrase.  In the same way you can take a letter of the Torah and turn it, turn it, and turn it again to seek its full meaning – Truth and Justice I believe have that same property. 

In the summer of 2020, the Jewish community seems to be wrestling with issues of Truth and Justice that have the same multiplicities of meaning.

Amidst the backdrop of our ongoing COVID-19 pandemic – we are searching for our personal truths around the issues of Racial Justice – and what Justice and Sovereignty mean in Israel.

In both cases, before we even get to debate the “merits” as they say, we often get stuck on the meanings of words and letters. 

We believe in racial justice for example - as most people do in principle - but are conflicted by what that actually means and who we should partner with to achieve it.  We have local partners in communities of color who we routinely work with, yet, we are not sure how to react or who to talk to when notable celebrities in the black community endorse the same myths and stereotypes about Jews that white supremacists use.   In response, NBA Legend and civil rights activist Kareen Abdul Jabbar has – along with others - called out those comments as false and unhelpful to the cause.  Still, due to understandable caution, many in the Jewish community wonder what it means to support a cause whose national figures engage in this anti-Semitic language – even when others stand up and speak out against it.  We struggle with what letters like BLM might represent even as Black Lives Matter has, in the months following the killing of George Floyd, become a national, civil rights call to action and rallying cry for racial justice

What are our truths?  What is just and right in this case?  Is it always our duty to call out Anti-Semitism?  Yes of course.  Is it also our duty to form partnerships in our community so that we can engage and educate rather than withdraw and condemn?  Yes, it seems that is a truth as well.  Can both be true at the same time and happen side by side?  The lesson from my alma matter would seem to be yes.  For the deepest meaning of Tzedek, we must embrace both truths.

Words and phrases also seem to catch us up as we try to navigate the pending issue of annexation / extension of sovereignty in Israel.  It seems that if you use the word annexation, assumptions are made about your political positions toward Israel.  The same is true if you use the term extension of sovereignty.  Based on the thesis proposed – truth, even unto it’s inner most parts – can there be truth in both concepts?  Can there be less judgment involved as we prepare to wrestle with what actually is enacted by the current government in Israel? 


In our JCRC (Jewish Community Relations Committee) work, we often wonder if there can be a restoration to civil debate around issues rather than assumptions made ahead of time.  In this case, we wonder if people who use either term, for whatever reason, can be seen as loving and supporting Israel – just from their own truth.  After reading volumes of articles and sitting through dozens of live webinars and recordings, even Israeli’s can disagree on what terms are used and which course is the right path.  Isn’t that something we in the Diaspora should be allowed to do as well? 

In the weeks and months ahead, the JCRC of the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond will be trying to help the community navigate these “truths” from various perspectives through webinars, social media posts, and policy updates.  We welcome your participation, your input and your civility.  We welcome your open-ness to multiple perspectives on truth and justice - and to helping us strengthen our community even while we may disagree.

David Cohen
JCRC Director

For more information about the work of the JCRC please contact David Cohen, JCRC Director at