The San Francisco Black–Jewish Unity Group
Since early 2016, Congregation Emanu-El has worked with leaders in the African-American community to identify issues of concern that we can then address in order to make important and lasting changes that affect the lives of underserved people in San Francisco and in California. We have worked successfully to reduce the use of cash bail; reduce the impact of fees and fines on indigent people; open up occupational licenses for people with felony convictions; create housing for very low income Bay Area residents; provide economic opportunities for formerly incarcerated people; and a number of other issues. In doing so, we have brought members of the African American and Jewish communities in San Francisco together and deepened relationships between members of our community. We welcome Congregation Emanu-El congregants to join us at our monthly meetings the second Thursday of every month from 6 – 7:30 pm.
Please contact Rachel Montana for more information.
Congregation Emanu-El and Rabbi Beth Singer were instrumental in the formation of the San Francisco African American and Jewish Unity Group early in 2016. The initial idea was for clergy to meet to address issues that concerned the African American clergy in San Francisco and to seek satisfactory solutions to those concerns. But the clergy decided to invite leaders and social activists to participate in order to bring the communities together and to get more community support. It was decided to keep the group informal and to meet once a month on the second Thursday for 90 minutes. Members discovered that as they got to know each other better, discussions became very personal and thought provoking and they became closer to one another. These discussions about racial issues, prejudice, and attitudes in this progressive community became an important part of the organization’s activities and helped forge a true unity among the group.
Issues the Unity Group Is Working on in 2019 – 2020:
The Unity Group has focused its efforts in 2019 and 2020 on a number of vital issues in several different areas and working with the Office of the Governor, with several California legislators and their staffs; and with officials in California administrative agencies, has been able to effectuate significant changes. This work continues, both in the implementation of changes and in the Unity Group’s advocacy for more change:
- Criminal Justice – inequities in the system and what practices and laws need to be changed. This led to our successful support for reducing the use of cash bail and the effect of fees and fines on indigent residents of the City. The Unity Group has actively lobbied for a number of bills in the California Legislature, and met with representatives of the Governor of California and with state legislators and their staffs asking that they introduce specific bills.
- Prison Reform – Unity Group members have advocated for numerous changes in the operations of California prisons that are designed to make prisons places for rehabilitation and not punishment. Unity Group members have met with legislators and prison officials to discuss improving mental health services; reducing the use of solitary confinement; expanding courses and programs available in all prisons for inmates; expanding reentry services; offering much improved assistance in helping inmates adjust to life outside prison before and during reentry; and numerous other changes that are designed to get more people discharged from prison and into housing and good jobs that will increase their chances of success. Unity Group members work with 5 – 10 effective nonprofit organizations in these efforts.
- Parole Reform – The Unity Group has advocated that the Bureau of Parole Hearings (BPH) be expanded from 15 to 17 commissioners and add more women, and therapists, clergy, and formerly incarcerated people. In 2019, BPH was expanded from 15 to 17 commissioners, which is expected to increase the number of parole hearings in California from 6,000 in 2018 to 8,000 in 2020. In October 2019, Governor Newsom appointed a licensed clinical social worker to the Parole Board, the first one. This commissioner is a woman, bringing the number of women to 4 out of 17 commissioners.
- Institutional Racism – The Unity Group co-sponsors lectures, seminars, and programs that address issues of institutional racism, economic inequality, white nationalism, and prejudice of any kind. Two recent examples are that starting late in 2019, the Unity Group will co-sponsor with several San Francisco churches a series of seminars. The purpose is to focus on and to break into small groups for discussions of these vital issues. In addition, the Unity Group is a co- sponsor of Integrity for America’s program in November 2019 at Temple Emanu-El that addresses those who challenge longstanding principles of our democracy, like white nationalists.
- Economic Equity – The Unity Group actively works to break down any barriers to employment based on race, religion, sexual preference, natural origin, or criminal record. We work with several nonprofits to convince companies to hire formerly incarcerated people and to help formerly incarcerated people obtain good jobs so that they can afford to live comfortably in the Bay Area.
- Electoral Politics – The Unity Group works with a number of national organizations to register and encourage to vote young voters and voters of color in purple and red states and in selected districts in California. This work had an impact in the November elections in Virginia and Kentucky. The Unity Group advocates that voting should be made as easy as possible and resists all attempts to prevent citizens from voting.
The Unity Group constantly reviews the issues to be focused on and welcomes input from its members.
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