By: Jen Kraft
Senior Director of Design Philanthropy
A couple of weekends ago, I sat among more than 300 people attending an annual family camp for adopted children from Africa and the Caribbean. My daughter, Tali, was one of the many black children, and I, one of the many white parents.
We have been attending Heritage Camp since Tali was four years old; she is now 11. The camp has become one of our most beloved and important family experiences. As a parent, I have learned invaluable things about parenting an adopted child, heading a transracial family, and about the importance of building community to support the unique challenges that face our families. Tali has enjoyed learning more about African and black culture and history, and building friendships with children who are being raised with commonalities.
One of those commonalities is, and I cannot sugar coat it, racism. Almost all our children have been treated negatively because of the color of their skin. My own daughter has had her hair touched, unsolicited, by strangers, been asked why she doesn’t look like me, how much she cost, and that her face looks like a black crayon, followed by the breaking of said crayon in her face. Our friend’s Ethiopian child who goes to a public school in Jefferson County is called a “monkey” by classmates on a regular basis. On the first night of Heritage Camp, two of our female 17-year-old counselors were accosted with the term “gorillas” by three male teens from a church group visiting from Iowa. (The teens were immediately escorted off the campground by the sheriff and their group was banned permanently from the site.)
While Parshat Korach is about an attempted rebellion against Moses and Aaron, it is also about the power of inclusion and speaking up to power. While Moses and Aaron have G-d’s miracles to prove that they are the chosen leaders of the Israelite people, many commentators understand that Korach and his followers pushed against authority to make the point that power should not be held in the hands of just a few people. Although Korach was on the losing side in biblical times, the message of speaking up to power and challenging the status quo is very relevant today.
We are living in challenging times. We are feeling the groundswell of recognition that discriminatory systems and indignities faced every day by many of our fellow humans is simply unacceptable. There are voices in our society calling us to challenge our prejudices, assumptions, biases, and to learn more about the history which we all inherit.
This past Monday, we celebrated our newest federal holiday, Juneteenth National Independence Day, which commemorates the official end of slavery for our black brothers and sisters in the United States. Slavery and its legacies continue to plague this country with some of our most insidious problems. Those problems rear their heads every day for people with black and brown skin.
Parshat Korach says: “All of the congregation is holy, and God is in their midst” (Num. 16:3).” May we be inspired to challenge ourselves and our society to ensure that each of us is treated as if we are all created in G-d’s image.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Juneteenth!
Elements of this D’var Torah are inspired by the words of Rabbi Brigitte S. Rosenberg.