Jews, Violence, and Intersectionality

Last week, I wrote about ways that Christian allies fail to understand how their words and deeds contribute to antisemitism in America. Today, as promised, I will write about how Jews are failing, as allies to one another.

A bit of history about antisemitism:

Antisemitism was not invented by the Germans in the 1930’s. It has a long history that includes conflict between Jews and our colonial conquerors, the governments where we took refuge, and the people from different cultures who lived around us. Think about Chanukah: That’s the story from 2000 years ago, when Jews rededicated the Temple after a period where Judaism was banned by the colonial government.

Because we have been a group within another culture, until the modern era, we rarely had citizenship in European countries. We lived there, but were disenfranchised. European Jews were expelled from many European countries, creating a cultural insecurity that plagues our identity. A large group of American Jews have European ancestry, but are not secure in a European identity.

Jewish Intersectionality:

The idea that all Jews are Europeans is a fraud. We are not all white, and we do a disservice to our co-religionists by making that assumption.

We belong to a people who have lived all over the world. There, we intermarried, had conversion into and out of the faith, and adopted family from all over the world. This, too, is not a sudden, modern thing. There have been long-established Jewish communities in India, Turkey, China, and Africa; thus, there are Jews of every race. Some of these communities still exist; others have dissolved.

Jews can have any nationality or skin tone, and we can live anywhere. In modern times, we maintain a Jewish identity as well as a national one, like “American.”

Judaism has no creed (mandatory statement of faith) that binds us. One is still Jewish, even if one has no faith in God. At any time, a Jewish person can return to religious practice, no questions asked. We are bound by family ties, traditions, and culture. We are also oppressed based on our tribal heritage, whether we practice the religion or not .

Given all that, how can Jews avoid hurting one another, when we discuss hate crime?

Jewish people, here is your “to-do” list after a hate crime incident:

  1. Publicly post that you stand against all racial violence. This is especially important after an incident. Do it when Jews are victims, but also learn about other people who are facing oppression in this political climate and stand with them.
  2. Do not claim special victimhood because of the long history of antisemitism. Assault, murder, and disenfranchisement are common in America; Jews are not getting the brunt of it all. We are not “canaries in the coal mines.” We are the smaller miners who fall when the canaries are already dying and no one is attending to them.

(I have been following subway/bus, public assault since the beginning of the Trump administration; the top group assaulted are immigrant women.  The highest murder rates, per capita, are among trans women of color. Black people are losing their voting rights in huge numbers, they are incarcerated in disproportionate numbers and for unequal prison terms. Muslim countries were listed as the first group of countries banned from immigration to America. I can go on….)

  1. Be sensitive to Jewish intersectionality. Do not assume that all Jews are European or Near Eastern. Black Jews also face antisemitism from their Black community. They need white support from white Jews, when the powers-that-be are sewing discontent between Blacks and Jews. You are doing them a disservice if you are not allied with them against racism in the Jewish community. Helpful Podcast link
  2. Fight the urge to differentiate yourself from other Jewish communities in non-Jewish eyes. Orthodox, particularly Hasidic, Jews may not be like you, but these visible Jews are easy targets for street hate. You do not need to be like them to stand with them. There are ways to be visibly Jewish that increase solidarity, for those who do not wear Hasidic style dress.  Helpful link.
  3. Refrain from making antisemitism about political affiliation. There is deep antisemitism in both left and right wing American politics. It is hypocritical to ignore antisemitism as a necessary evil on your side of the political aisle while bemoaning it on the other side. Helpful link: Helpful link.

American Judaism is diverse. We are easy prey for divide-and-conquer politics. Please be an agent for unity with anyone who is facing repression during this political era.



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