Tag : Jews of Color

October 23, 2020 by

Parenting During the Pandemic

SARAH SELTZER: 37, Lilith’s digital editor and mom of two.

Dear Friends,

I’m in NYC with a baby and toddler at home and little childcare help; my partner is a recent cancer survivor so we’re cautious. Like so many working moms, my job is more flexible (and provides less income) than my male partner’s, so my work overflows into lunch breaks, early mornings, naps, weekends and after bedtime. But it gets done.

When the weather is good, a two-hour trip to a park with some social-distance visiting is the day’s highlight. When we’re stuck at home? Tears, yelling, and messes.

Every day, I track Covid statistics on my phone. Early on in the pandemic, when our own New York was suffering gravely, I had my husband change my Twitter password so I would stop obsessing. I slept better. I hated that I slept better.

The tiny pleasures and stolen cups of coffee that kept me sane as a working parent of little kids are totally out of reach. Here comes the disclaimer (and we all do this) that I am one of the lucky ones, and being with my kids has its blessings, too. But as my quiet text threads with other friends who are similarly “lucky” reveal that we all feel a sense of drowning, and fear. The headlines bear this out: “Single Mothers Hit Hard.” “Real Life Horror Stories from Pandemic Motherhood.” “Pandemic Could Scar a Generation of Working Mothers.” The substance of these pieces? Women, especially women of color, single moms, and working moms, are bearing the brunt of the economic and social fallout: double burdens at home, discrimination at work if work exists, the twin terrors of anti-Black state violence and disease, a generation set back on the path to equality.

I’ve asked some women Lilith knows (but who don’t know each other) to talk about how this feels right now. Let’s dive in. Where are you all quarantining? What is your day like? What do you miss? Anything you’re OK with giving up?

 

TAMAR FOX: 36, a writer and editor who does not bake sourdough bread, but does obsess about houseplants.

I’m in Philadelphia with my five-year-old back in daycare, and it feels incredible. My partner and I both worked from home before Covid, but when it hit, we spent three months passing our child back and forth, counting the minutes until her afternoon screentime. My 12-year-old stepdaughter was going back and forth between us and her mom, doing schoolwork, understandably bored and frustrated. I spent every minute feeling intense guilt about what I wasn’t doing: being an attentive parent, focusing on work, getting dinner on the table before 8 PM.

We have childcare now, but school is starting again, and it’s going to be virtual. How do you do kindergarten online? We will likely join one of those “pods” that everyone is talking about, though I’m also worried about how to do this in a way that doesn’t reinforce segregation and divert resources from schools, as some have argued they will. Yet there is no possible way for me to teach my child and do my job at the same time. Every family I know is inventing its own plan, and I’m so full of rage I feel on the brink of screaming.

In the “before times,” every Shabbat we would go to a playground near our house. All our friends would be there, and for sometimes four hours or more we would just hang out–the kids yo-yoing back and forth from the slides to the spiderweb to the parents with the snacks. It is cheesy, but I just yearn to do that again. I miss sitting around for hours at a time and not worrying about dying of a virus.

 

ARIELLE DERBY: an elementary school principal and the 41-year-old mother of “two amazing kids.” She lives in Silver Spring, MD.

Hi everyone.

I’m a single mom. I have an eight-year-old son I share custody of with my ex-wife, and I had a baby on my own in November. He’ll soon be a year old, which I cannot believe. I’m a school principal, and since we went virtual on March 13 I feel like I have not stopped to breathe. Trying to run a school for other people’s kids and a school for my own (same school, but different experience, of course) and a daycare and a household all from our one-bedroom apartment was a constant succession of Big Feelings, most of them bad.

I’m good in a crisis. I felt grateful to be employed, to have (some) money to throw at our problems—like being able to pay to have groceries delivered, to have friends and family to Zoom with and reliable internet and devices for everyone. I thought we were doing pretty well, despite everything. But things started to fall apart for me around the end of May, when I realized this wasn’t a crisis. It was life.

On July 6 our daycare opened for infants again and I started sending the baby. It was amazing. He went for a week and two days and then a staff member got sick, and they shut down for three days. It wasn’t a teacher who worked with infants, but it was sobering. Following that the baby ran a low fever for two days, which caused me to get us all tested…negative.

My older son had a hard time with Zoom school. We talk a lot about feelings, and he said recently, “Everything is just so crappy now that when little things happen it just makes it even more crappy.” (He’s inherited my potty mouth.) He’s also thoughtful and sweet and funny and has spent more time playing Minecraft and watching Minecraft YouTubers in the past months than I care to admit. I am terrified about what the new school year will be like for him.

What do I long for? Not worrying about the trauma this is inflicting on my kid and all my students. Being able to buy groceries without its being A Production. Hanging out with colleagues in my office after school. Going out for coffee. Not feeling like every single fucking decision is life or death.

I started using Facebook like a public journal when this all started. I posted every day and tried to focus on the little moments of joy. My neighbors’ gardens blooming, my kids giggling. I know I am lucky. And yet. And still.

 

KATIE COLT: a writer, musician, and parent in the Chicago area.

Hi everyone.

I live in the suburbs with my husband and two kids. My daily life is centered around making sure the kids have what they need. Most of the domestic labor falls on me, as my husband has had to go into work from Day One of the pandemic (he’s a brewing production manager at a nationally distributed brewery).

Our five-year-old, a delightful and boisterous boy, is a “mover” (he physically cannot sit still) and is suspected to be ASD. Remote learning for his pre-K class was a disaster, and I am dreading our district’s remote-for-everyone plan, even though it’s safest. With my two-year-old, I’ve been trying to give him extra attention to help with his speech delay, but most of the time I just end up the referee between the kids. I’m worried that the younger one is missing out on socialization time, and that his speech delay is a result of being isolated. I feel like a failure because I can’t split myself into two people that can simultaneously give each child 100% of me.

On top of this, all I want to do is be alone. In April, I lost my dad to Covid. I’ve barely been able to get space to myself to grieve. Before this all happened, I was looking forward to sending the five-year-old to full-time kindergarten and the two-year-old to daycare a couple of days a week so I could spend time creating: writing and making art and music. I fear I will lose myself completely if I cannot figure out how to do this.

 

CHAVA SHERVINGTON: a longtime diversity activist in the Jewish community, as well as an attorney and mom in Los Angeles.

Hi everyone.

I’m a mother of two living on the West Coast with my husband and two daughters (four and six). I’m managing most household responsibilities, a house renovation, and am on the leadership team of an organization with a focus on racial equity work in the Jewish community. I’m on a hamster wheel: my husband is an essential worker, my kids are old enough to need real education and entertainment but not old enough to manage it themselves, and my professional responsibilities have exploded because of the new attention to racial justice.

My day cycles through conference calls, webinars, interior design, and refereeing household arguments. As an incredibly social person, I’m struggling with the fact that my circle has disappeared. Instead of conferences, social gatherings, smachot, and our warm shul and school community, I’m home with most of my in-person communication relegated to explaining for the 1000th time that, yes, my kids have to clean up their room even though they’re “still playing with it.”

An extreme extrovert, I am starved for adult interaction, leading me to spend more time on social media than I’d prefer to. I try to assuage my guilt with the fact that it does assist me in building relationships with my fellow Jews of color, but it also leads me to disappointment in the larger community as well, especially some responses to the movement for racial justice.

My kids are rotating between Zoom, the longest running game of house in history, and constantly anticipating the things they’re going to do when this gets better. Baruch Hashem they’ve adjusted to their new normal, but it was fraught with early behavioral regressions, chutzpah and clinginess combined with frustration that Mommy being home doesn’t always mean that Mommy’s available. My general 80s approach to parenting seems to be paying off, as my kids can entertain themselves for hours with dolls, books, and art…with only a few mishaps. I’m impressed with how resilient they’ve been and how much they’ve been willing to sacrifice until “after the virus.”

I feel like I’m creating infinite extensions on when that actually is, when they’ll be able to play with friends, return to shul, visit cousins and grandparents who live plane rides away. But I am inspired by their generosity of spirit and willingness to take this in stride. One thing I’ve learned so far is that there are lessons all around us, if only we’re willing to pay attention.

All the best,

Chava

 

AUTUMN LEONARD: a mother of two who leads workshops and conversations for parents and kids about race.

Hello new thought partners. It’s lovely to be sharing ideas. My family has been quarantined in our fourth-floor walk-up apartment in Brooklyn for the centuries that have passed since March 16: the day NYC schools closed. My son turned seven two days before the closing. The pictures from his slumber party look so forbidden now, like we were fiddling on the Titanic as it sank. That was before wearing masks was supposed to be important. All of my work quickly dried up. I teach yoga and do facilitation and anti-oppression coaching. Once the yoga studios closed I had to wait and see if they would go online, and once they went online, I had to wait and see if they would invite me to be on the roster. Meanwhile my husband’s job exploded. He co-directs a parenting organization, and every single person on staff besides my husband is a working momma. My husband was the only person on his staff who had a partner who was no longer working full time, so I experienced more pressure to take care of the kids in order to free my husband up to backstop all those other mommas he works with. It was a masterclass on how I put unnecessary pressure on myself. I waded into remote learning while my husband worked up to 70 hours/week.

Remote learning was a slow-motion disaster for my first grader. He did not want to be seen on Zoom calls. I bribed my kids with chocolate to run laps up and down our hallway and stairwell. I kept taking videos of my youngest in apoplectic tears and then talking myself out of sending them to our teachers.

Here’s what I know about my emotional state: Dissociation is my superpower, I often feel fine in an emergency while knowing that in a few months or years I will have panic and anxiety and not know why. It’s like taking out an emotional loan against my future. So when this first began that’s what I did. I stayed very calm. It was an adventure. We would figure it out.

I have been teaching yoga via Zoom from my living room, or from my bedroom (with the bed flipped up against the wall), or even sneaking up onto the roof of my apartment. I have been holding space for other people while embracing how much I could not feel myself. There is a generation of kids whose entire lives will never be the same (they are calling them Generation C for Covid and/or Change). There are so many families who have been decimated.

Then George Floyd was murdered, the uprisings began, and suddenly I was absolutely incapable of pretending everything was fine anymore. So now I have become a stay-at-home momma, who intermittently teaches yoga from every room except the bathroom, who stayed indoors for most of three months—and then took her kids out to protest in the middle of a pandemic. While I have handled the pandemic of racism my whole life, I couldn’t handle the twin pandemics of racism and Covid and just stay safe.

 

ARIELLE DERBY:

I do appreciate hearing your stories, and at the same time it’s like a horror novel I don’t want to read.

Autumn, your words resonated with me. As an educator and a parent, I cannot stop thinking about the long- and short-term effects this will have on our kids. What lessons are they learning? God, I hope I am modeling and teaching resilience, gratitude, flexibility, strength…in my mind I am pretty much hiding in bed all the time.

What are our kids learning about who and what is valued in America? What will it mean for them to see and process that the grown ups can’t fix it? Can’t fully protect them? We are all affected, and at the same time my skin, my class status, my resources change the level and nature of my affectedness. Perhaps that is one thing for the “silver lining” list—having to think about and confront my privilege and what it means, the abundance of gratitude that comes with those realizations, the spur to action as a necessary response to those realizations.

 

KATIE COLT:

Arielle, this sentiment really resonated with me. What I am doing and where I am in my head are usually two completely different processes, as if I am split in two, each piece located on separate continents. When my five-year-old was a baby, I was struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety, and I was telling my mother about the terrible thoughts in my head while I was nuzzling him and feeding him. “You may be thinking of terrible things, but you’re not doing terrible things,” she said. If reassuring my kids while I quake in fear is considered “lying,” like one men’s magazine article described it, well, I’m nearly pathological. Everyday I’m full of dread and believe it MUST be leaking out somewhere, yet my kids ask to put their masks on the moment I open their car doors to unbuckle their little seatbelts. If anything, this makes me feel a little triumphant, this normalization of pandemic life. Because ultimately we have lost, but we are here.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how ineffective communities in today’s world can be at providing basic care for each other. In my neighborhood, I’m lucky to know several neighbors on my block, but we watch each other struggle with grief and loss, with working from home, with lack of childcare, and we say very little about it.

Because, somehow, the privilege we share has sent us our own independent islands, all lined up neatly in a row, and no one knows how to swim or wants to learn. Anyway, maybe that’s what the future, post-pandemic looks like to me: social contracts of reciprocity. I’m ready to jump in the water and discover how to float.

 

CHAVA SHERVINGTON:

Katie, so much of what you wrote I could have written myself. I don’t know if I would classify it as “lying” but I feel responsible for minimizing my children’s anxiety, sadness, and fear. I think there’s a distinct difference between avoiding and denying current realities, and helping children manage difficult circumstances. Given how isolating, depressing, and fear-inducing Covid, the continuing police brutality and rhetorical backlash around the current civil rights movement, and the economic downturn can be for adults, I have made specific choices around how we discuss these issues around them. I’m constantly questioning whether I’m making the right decisions about what we do and don’t discuss, but I’m hoping that I’m instilling core values around equity, justice, and communal responsibility.

And I miss my village! This pandemic has exposed the lack of governmental and societal support for women and children, how structural racism exacerbates that lack of support, and even for those in privileged circumstances demonstrates how necessary a village is. It’s also raised so many questions that society must reckon with in a serious way as we come out of this pandemic. Going back to “normal’ is not an option. This moment has exposed how normal is not working for so many of us. The new mommy wars around pods or no pods, remote learning vs. in person learning are only a reflection of the disparities that already exist.

Those of us who profess to value equity need to re-evaluate how we engage with institutions. As I see businesses who refuse to take cash, I think of all the folks with no credit or no bank accounts who are now prevented from accessing resources.

How much are we willing to sacrifice because of inadequate childcare options, how do we ensure that kids with food insecurity have proper access to nutritional meals, are employer expectations based in efficiency or in patriarchy, how do our personal relationships need to be reevaluated so that women aren’t overburdened? What are the many ways that this pandemic has more widely exposed racial disparities in health care, education, wealth, job opportunities, how many folks have been thrown into an economic tailspin due to a societal crisis? How do we build systems of resilience that don’t rely on exploitation?

One of my biggest fears is that this moment will pass, these questions will get pushed aside and pushed off until our next moment of crisis.

 

AUTUMN LEONARD:

My grandmother was an undertaker, firmly a member of the black upper-middle class in her town of Flint, Michigan. When I was a kid, everyone there knew my grandmother. She ran a funeral and undertaking business. I was seven the first time I saw a dead body in her basement. Since then I never lost the realization that death was something that could happen to any of us at any time. It has changed the way I live my life, because if you keep in mind that one day you will die it changes your idea of what is important. It has made me think a lot about how adulting is just playing an elaborate game. Some folks make up the rules to the game, and the rest of us try to win. When you look at life that way, rather than being fixed, everything seems adjustable.

The strange thing for me about Covid is that suddenly large sections of society are not ignoring mortality and the fact we can change the rules of society when necessary. Here in NYC, we could pause paying rent and mortgages for those at risk of homelessness. It’s in our power to keep people from being forced out into the streets during a pandemic. When survival is on the line, we rethink what is necessary.

I have had conversations with my 97-year-old grandfather (Jewish, not Black) about how he’s satisfied with the life he has led. I cannot imagine him saying this to me pre-Covid. I cannot imagine discussing it with my kids. But I have been discussing these things with my kids. “No matter what happens to Poppa, he will be satisfied. He is not worried.” We have no control over what happens at Poppa’s retirement home and they are all locked down there, no visitors, and anytime someone tests positive all the residents cannot leave their rooms. So suddenly we are talking to Poppa more than ever. My kids may know their greatgrandfather better than they might’ve. I think because of these discussions my kids are avid social distancers. We do not sugarcoat or ignore or pretend that anything other than our lives or someone else’s life is in the balance.

Recently we went to what we thought would be a distanced playdate and the other girls ran and hugged each other. They then turned to my eleven-year-old and tried to shame her into hugging them. My kiddo said “You have to respect my boundaries.” Until then I didn’t know just how determined she could be.

And yet I would give back knowing my daughter has a core of steel and my grandfather is at peace in a heartbeat if it meant we were not living through what we are living through.

 

TAMAR FOX:

For years I’ve been saying that the old folk tale It Could Always Be Worse is basically the story of my life, and should be printed on my headstone. As a foster parent, I do sometimes add people to my house and it always does make me feel like I’ve lost my mind, and when it’s over I always do feel this intense peace that I’m able to be there for kids that need a safe space. That has been a big piece of Covid times for me. Feeling overwhelmed and stressed and livid, and also grateful.

I worry for my friends who don’t have partners or kids. My best friend is a frontline doctor in New York. After months of excruciating work, he suddenly had to put his dog down last week, and my heart is breaking for him. I have caught myself wishing I had some alone time to watch all the Netflix, and sleep uninterrupted and keep the house cleanish for more than 5 minutes. But having people (and pets and plants) to take care of has also kept me from descending into madness.

One of the weirdest parts of all of this has been figuring out how to be there for friends experiencing loss (deaths, but also miscarriages, cancer diagnoses, job loss, etc) when I can’t give them hugs, or easily make them meals, or help with childcare. I keep thinking about how much I needed my friends when my mom died, and when we had new babies. It sucks to not be able to do the things for others that helped me. My old standards are pretty useless now. I’m doing text check-ins. Sending postcards to friends every week. But it doesn’t feel like enough.

 

SARAH SELTZER:

It’s 5.30 am and I’m nursing my baby as the sun rises: so in the new normal, office hours have begun. As Autumn and Arielle have said, the revelations and insights I may have gained because of this mass suffering—I was schlepping way too much “before,” focused on providing for my kids (Pumped breastmilk! Dinner!) rather than just being with them—are valuable, yes, but not valuable enough.

Autumn, I also broke my quarantine to walk in a BLM protest with my kids, and my partner has been doing an intensive antiracist curriculum with our oldest, but I yearn to do more that’s physical: to make marching and organizing a part of my rhythm as I used to do during Occupy Wall Street, during various feminist uprisings, and earlier, during protests of the Bush era.

One of the things I struggled with as a new mom in the Trump era is that my body isn’t mine to use spontaneously. It is the center of a small ecosystem. But sometimes I wear a teargas- proof bandanna from Occupy as my Covid mask, to remind myself that protest movements always return, that, as my mother and Lilith colleagues remind me, the period of life with young children is finite, even short, and that someday I may be marching along with my kids, celebrating victories with my kids, being taught how to be in intimate spaces with other people again by them, and with them.

And now to try to get an hour of sleep before the day begins, again.

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October 15, 2020 by

Connecting Jewish Tradition with Black Fugitive Legacies

This autumn, the parking lot of the Halcyon Arts Lab in Washington DC hosted a special sukkah built by visual artist Jessica Valoris. Though its materials—recycled cardboard, paper, bamboo and plant materials—are all things you might expect to find in your average sukkah. this one is anything but; it’s a structure that confronts the past and present, invites us to engage with possibilities of the future. Lilith spoke with Valoris about creating, Black fugitivity, spirituality, and more. 

(more…)

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July 13, 2020 by

Call for Submissions: Black and Jewish Fiction

Polish up that short story, flash fiction piece, or novel excerpt and submit today! Lilith magazine–independent, Jewish & frankly feminist–especially welcomes feminist fiction submissions from Black Jewish feminist writers and BIJOC writers of all gender identities this summer for our upcoming print issues. Publishing since 1976, Lilith (www.Lilith.org, and in print) has always been committed to diverse representation from Jews of Color, and we’re eager to expand this with more fiction from YOU.

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June 15, 2020 by

From Catholic to Conservative Jew: One Spiritual Journey

Dennies Gajadhar was born and raised in a Catholic family in Guyana. Soon after moving to the U.S., she began to learn about Judaism and made the decision to convert, become a Bat Mitzvah, and move to an Orthodox community. She spoke with Arielle Silver-Willner about her journey, and her experiences as a newcomer and a black woman in the Orthodox community.

Arielle Silver-Willner: You were born into a Caribbean Catholic family- How did you learn about Jewish traditions and practices?

Dennies Gajadhar: Where we are from, we’d never heard about Judaism. When I came here I started working [as a nanny]. My job was to take [the children] to Hebrew school and then they joined the choir; I would stay and listen to them. At one point they were singing and I was singing too, and the cantor was like “Maybe you should join the choir.”

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May 29, 2020 by

We are Dying Because of the Fears of White People

“I’m not Black, I’m Jamaican.” Following in the tradition of many immigrants and first-generation Black immigrants, that was the tune I sang for most of my adolescent life.  I ran from my Blackness. My mother came to the United States seeking a better life. Until she stepped onto U.S. soil, my mother had never known a country where you could be shot and killed just for existing. 

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January 16, 2020 by

A White-Passing Black Jew in NYC, via YA Fiction

Color Me In

As a Black Jewish woman, it feels inevitable that whenever a book comes out about being Black and Jewish, someone’s going to tell me to read it. So when someone asked me to review Color Me In by Natasha Diaz, I was skeptical. Usually these books are not actually written for me—they are written to explain me to other people. As I began to read Color Me In that was my initial impression: Another way to explain “other” to the mainstream gaze rather than a celebration of identity without the burden of explanation. But, as I was happy to discover, the book is much more than that.

The book is Diaz’s semi-autobiographical novel for young adult readers about growing up as a white-passing Black Jew in New York City. The beginning of 15-year-old Neveah’s journey reads very much like one of those “explaining” books. Neveah has moved from her father’s cushy home in the suburbs to her mother’s family home in Harlem, and we follow along as she experiences Black church and family life for the first time. Neveah cannot seem to find her voice and is often silent when it matters most. Her Black cousins are impatient with her hesitation to speak out on their behalf when she’s deemed more attractive by dint of her lighter skin. Will Neveah learn to speak her truths?

But Diaz’s story hits its stride as Neveah finds her mother’s journal and begins to unwind the history of promises, broken trust and trauma that lead to Neveah’s present circumstances. It’s fitting that one of the most vibrant characters in the book is New York City itself, complete with paternal bodega owners, gossiping church mothers and student rabbis. Learning to live in a city that eats and prays in so many languages is a key that unlocks Neveah’s ability to speak.

There were so many elements of Diaz’s story that resonated with my own childhood: Does being Jewish make me less black? (Nope.) Is it my job to explain Jews to Black folks, or Black folks to Jews? (Hell no). Can these disparate parts of my family communicate across race and class barriers? (If they want to.) Does my light skin require me to speak up more, or less? (Depends on who is in the room.)

I cried as the story culminated in a ritual in which open mic nights and church choirs intertwined with b’nai mitzvahs and bubbes to create a ceremony which is distinctly, beautifully necessary. As more Black and Brown people become visible within American Judaism, the recognition and creation of rituals by and for us is everything. Thank you Natasha Diaz for seeing us, for being us—and for writing this book.

Autumn Leonard is an anti-racism trainer and facilitator who creates high-quality, child-centered programming that furthers racial justice; she also teaches yoga in NYC schools through the Urban Yoga Foundation. She says, “I inherited a love of equality from my parents, who braved laws against interracial marriage and got legally hitched in 1960.”

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January 16, 2020 by

For Jews of Color, by Jews of Color

Torah

 

 

 

 

 

 

I remember a time not long ago in which I could read Hebrew, chant it, recognize words, but not understand the text before me. I remember visiting Orthodox cousins and watching them davening, a flurry of words on their tongues. In contrast, my immediate family could not speak a word of Hebrew and, for a long time, Hebrew remained a mystery language to us. At times growing up it was difficult to feel ownership over my Jewishness. I remember being told as a child that I was not even Jewish by a person who simply looked at my mother, who is Filipina and Jewish, and made an assumption.

Particularly outside of Orthodox spaces, Hebrew and Jewish education in this country are inaccessible at best, and unnecessarily expensive. Hebrew is by no means the best or only Jewish language, but it is one that can grant access to a wealth of Jewish texts and histories spanning time periods and continents. The distinctly American myth that adults cannot learn new languages impedes access to Hebrew courses. The pervasive idea is that if you did not or could not access Hebrew or Jewish education as a child, if you do not have the yichus, the background, as some might say, then you will not be successful. Jews of Color have as many individual experiences as there are Jews of Color in the world, but the JOC community includes many adult learners wanting a Jewish education who are particularly likely to fall through the cracks. When you add pervasive racism, which exists even in the most progressive majority-white Jewish spaces, Jewish learning spaces that do exist can still not be the right place for good learning to occur.

So my friend and colleague Yehudah Webster and I co-founded Ammud, the Jews of Color Torah Academy as a space for Jewish education for Jews of Color by Jews of Color.

ARIELLE KORMAN, “Why She Needed to Create the Jews of Color Torah Academy,” on the Lilith Blog.

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March 5, 2019 by

Don’t Assume Anything About That Kid on the Bus

I see where the mistake came from. Unfortunately, there just aren’t that many Jews of color in our community. But still: don’t assume that that the black boy on the Jewish day school bus is the bus driver’s kid.

Yeah. That happened. I don’t think I need to tell you how it made the kid’s mom feel.  I don’t think I need to tell you what that says about our school community’s assumptions, commitment to inclusivity, and default gatekeeping. But to be crystal clear: it was devastating. 

There’s some context, to be fair. Our bus had been a mess the first couple of weeks of the school year. The driver was late (hours late), partly, it emerged, because of childcare challenges. (Insert full rant about the need for much better and more comprehensive and more affordable childcare in the US.) So yes— there was a day when the driver’s kids, an older girl and an infant boy, were on the bus. Once. Neither of them was five years old.  Neither had been riding the bus every day since the beginning of the year.

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January 17, 2019 by

A Challenge to White Jews on MLK Day

Recently, a fellow Jew of Color (JOC) posted on social media that she was feeling apprehensive about attending upcoming Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations in her Jewish community. Several other JOCs and parents of multiracial Jewish children shared her reaction, saying that MLK Day Shabbats often read as haphazardly organized, superficial efforts to celebrate diversity.

On a different space on social media in response to the Jewish Women of Color Women’s March Sign-On Letter, I witnessed a white Jew lamenting that Jews don’t get enough credit for the work they did during the Civil Rights movement. This reflects the same problem. All too often, the Jewish community focuses on the work of the late 1960s while not recognizing the need for or engaging with antiracist work in the present day. Thankfully, another white Jew in the social media group helped the commenter understand the ways that her original comment falls short.

None of this is a surprise to me: In my experience as a Jewish diversity consultant, I encounter defensiveness and unwillingness to confront the ways that white Jews do benefit from and thus perpetuate white supremacy. Resist the urge to say “not me” as you read this. Instead, answer yes or no to the following statements:

  • I have been watched or followed at a department store or boutique.
  • I have been asked, “What are you?”
  • When pulled over or in the presence of police I have feared for my life.
  • When entering my shul security has searched my bag and my person.
  • I have been asked how I am Jewish.
  • I have been mistaken for a service worker or the help.
  • I’m usually the only person of my race when I am in synagogue.
  • When requesting an aliyah, I’m asked how I converted.

If these questions are foreign to you, you benefit from white privilege. If you have asked some of these questions yourself (like “how are you Jewish?”), you have perpetuated white supremacy. Our nation’s institutions and systems are based on the idea that whiteness is the norm, the ideal, and anything other than whiteness is considered wrong, lesser than, other. And Jewish institutions are no exception. 

Like every Jewish person across the world I was heartbroken, angry, and frankly scared after the Tree of Life shooting last year. And like a lot of Jews of Color I know, I cringe and worry for the lives of my fellow JOCs trying to enter police-guarded places of worship. This tug is at the center of what it is to be a Jewish person of color living in America today.

When you question the validity of someone’s Judaism (by asking if they understand the order of service, or if they converted, or asking their “story”), you are perpetuating white supremacy.

When you have the urge to talk about Nazis and white supremacists as oppressors, but do not acknowledge other systems of oppression, of you are perpetuating white supremacy.

When you dismiss the words and concerns and perspectives of People of Color (POCs) and Jews of Color, you are perpetuating white supremacy.

When you say, “But not me!” or “I have a lot of friends who are POCs!” you are perpetuating white supremacy.

When you herald Rabbi Heschel and Dr. King for one Shabbat each year, yet JOCs are not in positions of leadership, members of your organization’s board, or helping to make decisions in your organization; when you don’t do the work of making your Jewish spaces welcoming to JOCs and multiracial Jewish families; when you lean on JOCs to teach you instead of doing the work yourself; when you invite JOCs to share their stories and don’t pay them for the emotional labor of telling of those stories; when you exoticize Jewish communities of color in other countries without acknowledging the long-standing Jewish communities of color here, you are perpetuating white supremacy.

When you feel safer with a police officer outside your place of worship without acknowledging how the presence of a police officer feels to a JOC, you are perpetuating white supremacy.

I’ve written an article like this every year because the message needs to be heard every year. But the thing is, it doesn’t have to be this way. We, as a Jewish community do the legacy of Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel a disservice by looking to the past instead of addressing what is occuring in the present. We do a disservice to our communities by talking about tikkun olam instead of living it. Change does not need to be slow. It does not need to take time. It does not need to be a process. It’s actually quite easy. Here are some steps.

  1. Take a look at your organization. Who is in key leadership positions? Is there a Jew of Color? Or two? Or three? If not, ask yourself why not, and change that. Hire JOCs in positions of power. Actively recruit JOCs. Invest the time to work with Jewish leaders of color to recruit, retain and hire more Jews of Color.

  2. Next, take a look at your Board. Do you have JOCs represented there?

  3. Review your synagogue’s welcoming policies. Everyone should be treated equally when coming into shul. No one should feel singled out. This means that if you have a security guard, that security guard should be checking everyone’s bags and person, even if they come every single week.

  4. Remove words like “welcoming” “inclusive” and “diverse” from your synagogue’s welcoming page if your space isn’t truly welcoming, inclusive, and diverse. Don’t use stock photos or older photos of Jews of Color, especially if those folks are no longer in your community..

If these steps feel too hard to implement in your Jewish organization, you have to acknowledge that diversity and inclusion are not your priority and move on. If the idea of moving on and doing nothing doesn’t sit right with you either, then take the advice from our fathers and remember that “you are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” King’s dream has not been realized. His work is not complete. The movement did not end in the 60’s. It continues today. We have an obligation to work towards justice and equality. That work begins with the individual. Listen and amplify the voices of Jews of Color, pay Jews of Color for their work, hire Jews of Color to work in your organizations and invite us to sit on your Boards.

We are not the stranger the Torah reminds us to welcome. We are your brothers and sisters.

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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.

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January 10, 2019 by

Jews of Color Field Building Initiative •

“U.S.-based Jewish racial diversity is not a dilemma or a challenge to be solved. It’s simply a fact,” writes Ilana Kaufman, a community relations professional in Berkeley. “The challenge to be solved is how to successfully build the bridges, pathways and highways needed to…connect together the diversity of our community.”

The Fund for Jews of Color Field Building has already given grants to projects such as Bend the Arc, Dimensions, Jews in All Hues, The Jewish Multiracial Network and JewV’Nation Fellowship Jews of Color Cohort. Read more about the founding of this project in Ilana Kaufman’s blog. jimjosephfoundation.org/news-blogs/building-field-jews-color

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