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December 31, 2019 Dove Kent

Can We Cut Off Antisemitism at its Roots?

526493DB-2386-4875-B9FD-82A2A5AD1A07On the antisemitic attack in Monsey:

Last night I had a dream that it was finally time to harvest the root vegetables. In the dream, they had been left too long in the ground, and they were starting to rot.

I woke up, dressed, and went outside to harvest. I wasn’t too late. The first radish, round and bright and pink, allayed my fears. I spent the morning digging up the roots, rinsing them clean, putting them into containers to store. Then I checked the news.

Hasidic Jews in New York attacked with a machete inside their Rabbi’s home on Chanukah. The ninth antisemitic attack in New York during this week. Visibly Jewish people bearing the violent brunt of the story told about all Jews: that we are the ultimate source of people’s suffering. And that by harming us, killing us, that suffering will be alleviated.

The roots of our society are rotting. It is time to dig them up.

The roots of racism and antisemitism, that have run deep through our society’s history and have grown violence for generations. The exploitation of Black and Brown people, since before our country’s founding. The story that says that Black people are subhuman, that Black labor is white people’s to commodify, that Black communities can be destroyed in an infinite number of ways if white people can benefit. Stories that pave the way for gentrification and expulsion. And the stories that say it’s the fault of the Jews, stories imported by white nationalists for generations that claim that Jews control the banks, control the government, and ultimately control people’s lives. We have breathed these stories in since before we were born. They have always been written and spread by white supremacists and white nationalists, but at some point they came to be understood as common knowledge and we have failed to belong to each other ever since.

All of these stories serve to divide and conquer. All of these stories are meant to keep power in the hands of those who hold it.

As Carin Mrotz writes, “Just as capitalism absolutely depends on racism in order to justify exploiting black and brown bodies for labor, it absolutely depends on antisemitism in order to scapegoat the Jews and obscure the wheels of its own violence. Poor people are told it’s the Jews who are to blame for their poverty and oppression. Oppressed people are driven apart and pitted against each other. That’s the whole point. It’s so, so painful – and as we see, violent – when it works the way it’s supposed to.”

Most Hasidic people in New York experiencing this violence are poor. They live at the same economic level as the communities around them. But this isn’t the story that gets told. Because if we enable our suffering to connect us to one another, then we constitute a threat.

We must constitute a threat.

This doesn’t mean returning things to the way they were under the Obama administration. This means digging up the rotten roots. This means upending the stories. For white Jews, this means fighting for the safety of Jewish communities, primarily those visible Jews at the most risk, without reinvesting in the same white supremacist systems of policing that separated us all in the first place. White supremacist institutions clear the way for white nationalist violence; we cannot keep ourselves safe from the violence through reinvesting in those institutions. We are brilliant and we are capable of forging another way.

The people at the forefront of fighting for the safety of Jews and Black people are Black Jews. There is a wide fundraiser going on this Chanukah to support JPOC work, so if you want to take an action right now, donate here: https://jewsofcolorshine-5780-hanukkah-fundraiser-13871.cau…

If we are going to constitute a real threat, it will require a level of solidarity most of us on the left are unaccustomed to. Many Hasidic communities do not share progressive politics or values. But we do not have the luxury of picking and choosing who needs our solidarity. As Jeyn Levison wrote, “Solidarity transcends agreeing with people’s politics. Solidarity transcends agreeing with people’s cultural values. Solidarity is complex and transformative and difficult.” If we are going to dig up this country’s roots, we cannot only respond to the needs of people who look like us or think like us. We must find belonging in everyone.

Some people will see this violence and tell other stories about antisemitism. They will see that the perpetrators in New York are racially diverse and they will say that this proves that antisemitism “from the left” is just as violent as from the right, assuming that all people of color are leftists, ignoring the white perpetrators, ignoring the sources of the stories and who benefits from our communities being divided. People will want to separate the growing violent antisemitism of this country from the growing antisemitism around the globe, and it’s undeniable source of right-wing nationalist movements that are threats to Jews and communities of color over continents. People tell a lot of stories. We don’t have to believe them anymore.

It is a very frightening moment for Jews. And it is scary for all people to decide on a future with a totally different set of systems from the ones we know. But I believe that we are brave enough to do it. Get your shovels, dear friends.

Dove Kent is an organizer, educator, and movement builder, residing in Durham, North Carolina. She currently serves as the Senior Strategy Officer at Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, and was previously the Executive Director of Jews for Racial & Economic Justice, and the co-founder of Tzedek Lab.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lilith Magazine.