June 21, 2017
Dan Lowen, Board Chair
Sarah Boden, Incoming Board Chair
Nancy B. Greer, President & CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle
Dear Leaders of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle:
Many of us were deeply concerned earlier this month to hear that the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle had decided to give its 2017 Tikkun Olam Award for Public Service to Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole and the Seattle Police Department. It is difficult to reconcile honoring Chief O’Toole with an award for Tikkun Olam - the idea that Jews share responsibility for repairing the world - while the Seattle Police Department is under a US Justice Department order and federal court supervision because of a history of excessive use of force and mistreatment of our fellow citizens, especially people of color.
In the wake of Sunday’s police killing of Charleena Lyles, an African American mother who called the police for assistance and ended up dead, the idea of the Jewish Federation carrying through this award is especially appalling.
The argument that the Police Department may work with the Jewish community effectively on other matters is, at this point, completely overshadowed by the police killing in our community of yet another Black person. By giving this award to an oppressive institution, the Jewish Federation is further marginalizing Jews of color and maintaining complicity with oppression. As a multiracial Jewish community, we know through painful histories what it feels like to be persecuted by state violence. It is clear that we, as a multiracial Jewish community, need to stand in this moment with our fellow community members, not with the police forces whose activity systematically undermines the wellbeing of communities of color across our region.
As members of the Greater Seattle Jewish community, we call on the Jewish Federation to immediately and publicly rescind its award to Chief O’Toole and the Seattle Police Department, and instead use the Tikkun Olam award time at Thursday’s annual meeting to invite in the broader community to say kaddish, conduct a healing service, honor community members working for social justice, and engage the broader discussion of police use of force that is so urgently needed in our city.
To do anything less would dishonor our Jewish ethics and values.