Jewish | jewish
On Saturday, I took my kids to peaceful demonstration outside City Hall, which was billed as serving two purposes: 1) reject an infamous neo-nazi who’s set up headquarters in the heart of our historic shop district, and 2) be present at the dismissal of a City Council meeting, chanting and holding signs to encourage them to protect our undocumented and immigrant population.
The event was hosted by SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice), an organization of white folks coming together to support and defend more marginalized people by taking their lead and amplifying their voices — which has really informed me on how to be a white person in the movement for Black lives. So here’s the thing: yesterday I needed them, and they let me down in ways that have flattened my lungs and my spirit. And they’re not the only ones.
My family is Jewish. My kids see me marching for Black lives, and women, and trans rights, and for refugees, in airports, at Indivisible meetings, in front of the White House, and in my congresspeople’s offices. I brought my kids to this event — this particular event — because I was sure that SURJ would show them that *we* can count on our community to have *our* backs in the same way…you know, like when they hold a rally dedicated, in large part, to running a Nazi out of town. But, alas…
The turnout was underwhelming, but that felt ok for two little guys who might be intimidated by a larger crowd. Then the chanting started, and they got excited and shy and watched me participate. “Hey hey, ho ho, white supremacy’s got to go…” and “Love, not hate — that’s what makes America Great!” and finally, “When immigrants are under attack, what do we do? STAND UP FIGHT BACK!” And that last one, man, it was the one I was waiting for. I couldn’t wait for my boys to hear people who *weren’t Jewish* say they’d fight back for Jewish people under attack. They’d be so thrilled! They went through a whole list of marginalized people — immigrant, Muslim, refugees, trans people, Black people…and no Jews. Until one other lady and I timidly suggested they mention Jewish people — you know, the ones under attack by the LITERAL NAZI we were there to protest.
And so the woman leading the chants said it. “When Jewish people are under attack, what do we do? STAND UP FIGHT BACK! When Arab people are under attack, what do we do? STAND UP FIGHT BACK!” Wait — what? Is there some sort of rule that when Jews are mentioned as victims, we must also mention Arabs? Is this some sort of continuation of the Israel/Palestine deba(te)(chle)? Why can’t anyone seem to just say I SUPPORT JEWISH PEOPLE IN THE FACE OF ANTISEMITISM?
This stank of #notallmen and Blue Lives Matter. Look, I am no Netanyahu loving, Palestinian hating Jew. And yet the need for some kind of balance here was remarkable to me. Standing up for American Jews is not synonymous with supporting Israeli settlements — in the same way that supporting American Muslims doesn’t mean you’re on board with whatever thing a Muslim country on the other side of the planet is doing that you find horrifying. You can’t *ever center on Jews* even at a rally to reject a Nazi? It’s *really* just *never* ok to straight-up defend Jews?
Listen, SURJ is one thing. But the rest of the white cis/het mainstream Christian community’s silence is another issue. And I get the disconnect, to some extent. In my personal experience, until today, Jewish people have only been talking about the rise of antisemitism among themselves. But the conversations are astonishing.
There were hushed discussions during our synagogue preschool’s Thanksgiving feast about parents staying up late, just nights after the election, making theoretical escape plans over a bottle of wine. Every Jewish person I know has had some form of this conversation — and I run in pretty liberal, unobservant, even atheist circles. One friend and her husband are buying a tiny apartment in a city in South America that they’ve researched extensively. Most Jewish people I interact with have either renewed their passports, applied for passports for their kids, or are feeling anxious about not having done so.
So why are Jewish people the only ones talking about our exclusion from lists of vulnerable populations and the crazy spike in overt antisemitism? We make up 1–2% of the entire world population, but we show up for everyone else. Most of the people who’ve introduced me to racial and social justice through their words and their deeds are Jewish. And yet…Christian women were praised for showing up at the Women’s March, in defiance of their church doctrine — Jewish women were not mentioned at all (every other minority group in America, including Palestinians, were thanked — and, I must admit, I got a real kick out of hearing Sikhs get a shout out for once) even though we showed up by the busload, like we always do, *because* of our doctrine.
I, of course, have theories as to why we’re not hearing more about antisemitism from our friends and neighbors:
+ When we only talk about it with each other — the news doesn’t spread.
+ Many of us are uncomfortable taking up bandwidth that is more desperately needed by people more marginalized than ourselves. After all, we can generally pass as Anglo in daily life.
+ Because we pass, and because our skin is white, and because we live in a society that is *super sure* that Jewish people are rich and connected and educated and elite, and definitely control the media, we are perceived to be safe and invulnerable.
+ Jewish people don’t want to broadcast their complaints about the Christian majority — that would only reinforce the neurotic/paranoid/Woody Allen Jewish trope.
+ We just don’t want to call attention to ourselves. Nazis kill Jews. At that awful rally I attended, you’d better believe I hid my children’s faces from all of the iPhones I saw recording.
So what does this say about the majority, though? Where are the non-Jews in this scenario? Do you see the swastikas painted everywhere? The cemeteries desecrated? The multiple bomb threats called in to Jewish Community Centers nation-wide, which, in reality, serve preschoolers and elderly water aerobics enthusiasts during the day? Why aren’t you *saying anything*? Am I right? You think we are invulnerable?
Let’s plot some points on a timeline, just for fun. My mom was a secretary in a secretarial pool in the 60's, like on Mad Men. She can’t watch the show because it’s painful. My mom. That means that shit happened not-so-long-ago. I saw a meme fluttering through Facebook the other day which pointed out that Ruby Bridges, who was famously the first Black student at a newly desegregated New Orleans elementary school in 1960, is only 63. Wrap your mind around that. Now remember that the Holocaust ended only 15 years before Ruby. (I want to be clear that I am in no way conflating these very different moments in history, but rather using them as major cultural and historical landmarks familiar enough to a broad audience to make my point.)
So think about those events on a timeline — how they seem like history, but they’re our parents’ actual lived experiences. I am one or two generations removed from those things. If your mind is blown that your mom could have had her ass slapped by her boss, if she worked at all — and that Ruby Bridges is only your mom’s age, which means desegregation of schools happened such a short time ago — then also think about how close we are in time to the Holocaust.
That brings us to today. Today is Monday, February 27, 2017, and Jewish Community Centers and schools up and down the east coast are evacuating their babies and kids and senior citizens and teachers — because actual real-live human people have the audacity to pick up their phones and call these buildings, wait for another human to answer the phone, and then say they mean to murder the children inside. Excuse me — not “the children” — the JEWISH children. I’m watching my friends in Philadelphia organize on Facebook to physically lift the 500+ headstones that were broken and knocked over, in a Jewish cemetery, back into place.
And here’s where this becomes political. Because even the threatening of little babies’ lives in their community preschools is political now. We’ve got actual current and former Republican officeholders who are blaming these attacks on Muslim Americans. This is baseless.
Are you ready for me to get super weird on you? Here I go:
Nothing is done without a reason. When former senator and serious presidential candidate Rick Santorum goes on national television and declares that fundamentalist Muslims are the antisemites wrecking cemeteries and threatening the Jewish community, there’s a reason. It must serve him in some way. And it does. Is it deflection? Maybe. Is it hard for him to admit that white Anglo guys like him are so likely to commit hate crimes, molest kids, do weird stuff in bathrooms, and shoot Black people? Probably. But guys like this are also Christian fundamentalists who support big oil and fracking the shit out of our planet and inspiring terror in Jews until they all run back to the safety of their “homeland.”
Use up the earth, send the Jews to Israel…what does that remind me of? Hmmm…Revelation, perhaps? I mean, with all this power and all the time in the world, instigating the rapture might *seem* like a low priority to you, but, then, you’re not a psychopath. Maybe you’ll laugh or dismiss this idea. Maybe it is laughable. I really do hope it ultimately winds up being hilarious. Maybe I’m living up to that paranoid Woody Allenesque Jewish trope. But paranoid European Jews who fled are the ones who lived long enough to pass their neuroses on to their children. And according to Ha’aretz, Israel’s leadership is starting to worry and prepare for an influx of American immigrants. So maybe, although the panic level seems low, it’s possible that, in reality, the level of panic ought to be turned up to 11.
My point is this: whether or not Jewish people seem like a vulnerable population to you, we are. Whether or not you, as a Jew, see yourself as part of a vulnerable group, you are. These bomb threat “hoaxes,” as they’ve been called, are doing more than tricking preschool directors into making teachers hold toddlers in the temple parking lot until the bomb squad clears the building. They are more than an inconvenience. What they are doing is disrupting our culture.
We mainstream American Jews, are, for the most part, science-based thinkers, knowledge-seeking, and assimilated people. We make up such a tiny sliver of the world, and yet we intermarry and eat bacon and identify as atheists because religious ideology is less important to so many of us than our heritage and lineage and culture. We take the risk of shrinking our slice of the pie by being intellectually curious, for better or for worse.
The synagogue isn’t necessarily the social and cultural center of the mainstream Jewish world in 2017. But Jewish preschool is. The JCC is. It’s where our tiny sliver of our ancient tribe of people finds each other. It’s where our kids learn the fundamentals of Judaism over dry challah, grape juice from a big can, and the sound of an acoustic guitar and an earnest singing voice. It’s where our kids go for camp to spend a mere 8 weeks out of 52 as something other than Other. That’s what these bomb threats and other desecrations are trying to disrupt.
And it’s working. Imagine a parent’s dilemma: do I defy my tormentor and keep my kid in a Jewish school, or do I refuse to take the risk and pull my kid out? Jewish schools, day schools, in particular (which you can think of like Catholic schools), all over the country are losing students — which means losing tuition, which means laying off teachers. Add to that the cost of increased security measures — it’s not sustainable.
So we, as Jews, and as non-Jews, need to make a decision: is the Jewish faith and culture something we want to fight to preserve? Do we want to cave to what is essentially Christian fundamentalist neo-nazi terrorism and assimilate further? Do we want to just hunker down and wait for the waves of antisemetic terror to wash over us (even though we’re up to 5 waves now, just since Trump won)? Do we want to pretend it’s just bluster and so far from us and that Jews are white and totally fine and we have yoga in the morning, so gotta watch Netflix with the hubs and de-stress a little before bed because, you know, self care?
That’s what it comes down to. Where do we Jews rank in order of priority? Sadly, we know the answer. Please change our minds.