In the weeks following the murder of George Floyd, as protests against racism and police brutality erupted nationwide, Anthony Russell received an invitation to respond to this moment from Jonah Boyarin, a Yiddish speaker and the Liaison to Jewish Communities at the NYC Commission on Human Rights. Russell, a musician and student of Yiddish who is Black, was asked to contribute to an initiative translating terms specific to the Black Lives Matter movement into the language.
Writes Russell in his recent Jewish Currents article: “Though [the word “shvartse”] has a historical and literary precedent in the Yiddish language for the respectable discussion of Black people, it also has a parallel history of pejorative use as a racial slur.” Long aware of this complexity, Russell agreed to join the cause, helping the Yiddishist collective formulate a list of terms, including this re-interpretation of a popular idiom: “Afroamerikaner Blut iz Nisht Keyn Vaser,” literally “African American Blood is Not Water.”
The translation project is one example of Boyarin’s ongoing work to promote racial justice inside and outside the Jewish communal world. As Jewish Communities Liaison to the NYC Commission on Human Rights, he emphasizes that white Jewish leaders must recognize their crucial role in the larger movement to transform racist policies, practices, and beliefs. In this online public program, Boyarin and Russell will discuss their Yiddish translation project in the context of anti-racist practice, and what Jewish people can do more broadly to effect positive change in their communities.