Last weekend in Charlottesville and everything that came after showed me my place in America. I will never deny my white privilege but when Nazis are screaming: “Blood and soil” and “Jews shall not replace us” it is about Jews as much as People of Color.
Oh Judiasm why are you so complicated?
If I believed in G-d I could understand why I think about you so much.
But I don’t believe; I believe that Jews have survived thousands upon thousands of years of persecution; that our culture is worth preserving–we survived being kicked out of countries, being forced to fight for governments that wouldn’t let us own land, have careers–except for money lenders, own property or be citizens, and many of our relatives were killed.
Somehow we got through all of that with a collective dark, self-deprecating, and (I think) hilarious sense of humor. The humor of the shettel is so worth preserving. We’re readers and writers.
Education is another collective value. My father was born in an apartment without the proverbial pot to pee in but by G-d he graduated from college. No secret cabal of rich Jews sent people to universities during the Great Depression but somehow they managed to go. Even if they had to work 40+ hours a week and go at night. (This isn’t a “oh but we’re so much better than anyone else” anecdote—it’s a “we’re finally citizens of a country and we’re going to work our tushes off so we can have everything that our parents and their ancestors weren’t allowed to have,” story.)
I loved hearing my father’s stories. I was always aware that we were privileged simply because we had been born in New York. Had my grandparents and great grandparents had a bit more money they might have stayed in Byelorussia, only to be killed by the Nazis’ 30 years later. Yes we were incredibly privileged.
My maternal grandmother was a Communist and very active member of the Emma Lazurus Society. Her bedtime stories were the best because she taught me about causes she had been involved in including the Scottsboro Boys, nine young men who were wrongly convicted of raping two white women on a train. The Communist Party brought in their legal branch, and people like Bubbe Celia spent a lot of time raising both awareness of the gross injustice and money for the trials. The case ended up before The Supreme Court and the men were declared innocent though it took 20 years for the last defendant to be freed. The kicker is that one of the accusers had come forward to recant her story, worked for the defense and still….(Read the link and more; this is a case that should be taught in every high school American history class.)
Bubbe Celia was the last white person in her building. Nobody would dare suggest that she move as everyone in the building loved and looked out for her.
I grew up in Jewish neighborhoods, went to a Jewish camp that stressed camping and social justice equally, and lived in Manhattan most of my adult life.
When I was a teenager I spent two summers in Mexico. The first summer was spent in Oaxaca where we learned about its glorious culture. I did some volunteer work the second summer and then traveled through Mexico. My white privilege was off the scale then.
If I hadn’t figured out that I lived a privileged life on my own, my father would have been only too happy to tell me. Almost the first thing he did when we moved to an affluent suburb when I was twelve was take my sister and I too see a trailer park just two miles from our house. (The trailer park now consists of luxury RV’s.)
Many of the counselors in my camp were given time off to go to the March on Washington where they heard Martin Luther King Jr speak. I tried so hard to go, but….The next summer I cried because I was too young to participate in Freedom Summer.
When others feared The Black Panthers I wanted to meet them because I thought they were doing some amazing things. Later I would.
I spent a large part of my adult life purposely seeking out people from other races, religions and ethnic groups. I never wanted to be a person who lived her life not knowing, and understanding people from other groups.
When George Zimmerman wasn’t convicted for the murder of Trayvon Martin I cried as if a member of my own family had been killed.
So so much more…..
That doesn’t mean I think of myself as better than anybody else. I could list my faults but that would take up too many paragraphs.
How did this turn from a rift on Judiasm to a “if I have to go to heaven’s door and must defend how I treated People of Color would I be able to?” It’s easy.
This past week I have read many articles and blog posts about checking your white privilege. Some have given exact instructions on how to act. One said that you shouldn’t think of Saturday August 12th as “being about you.” You know that “you’re so vain” to think that it had anything to do with you.
The protesters were chanting “Blood and Soil.” Just happens to have been one of Hitler’s favorite slogans. “Jews shall not replace us.” If that’s not about “my people,” I can no longer comprehend the most simple of chants.
I will never deny my white privilege.
Yet Charlottesville showed us who white supremacists (I call them Nazis because they are) think are their enemies.
This wasn’t a week to tell people to “check your white privilege.”
It was a week for groups to come together to protest American Nazis.
And the current American administration who did such a fine job of making all people feel welcome in our own country.