Friday, October 21, 2016

Shabbat Sukkot and Unpacking Internalized Antisemitism

Shabbat Shalom! As some of you may know, I was away last weekend to participate in a workshop on the Intersections of Antisemitism and Racism. It was a heavy weekend with many ideas brought in and a lot of time spent on unpacking internalized antisemitism. We shared a lot about all the ways that antisemitism has shaped our lives and upbringings. We started off with a brief overview of antisemitism and how it works: a system of ideas based on White Supremacy and Christian hegemony that are passed down through institutions to enable scapegoating of Jews. It is fundamentally different from racism in this respect. Whereas most racism functions on lies of the inferiority of the marginalized people, antisemitism functions on lies of superiority of Jews, and puts us in positions of buffer between the real ruling class and the other marginalized people, so that we can be more easily scapegoated when the ruling class deems it necessary. It functions on our isolation, especially in separating us from other marginalized communities, and leading us to believe that we can only ever count on ourselves, while leading other marginalized folks to believe that we are the source of their exploitation. It is cyclical, allowing Jews to succeed in good times, so that they will be an easy target in bad times.
Most of this was not new to me, though it felt validating to hear it from facilitators of this workshop and to sit in a room of people who see this reality and are committed to fighting it. After this background session, though, we moved on to “Facing the Unfaceable:” how antisemitism has affected us personally. We teased out all the Jewish stereotypes and neuroses and the ways in which so many of us have lived those stereotypes as coping mechanisms against the anxiety of antisemitism. This is when we started to unpack our internalized antisemitism. We practiced saying, “I hate what antisemitism has done to my beloved people!” and then naming a thing that we hate that has been caused by antisemitism. The facilitators called this and the other coping mechanisms we discussed, “Ancestrally designated best practices for our survival.” At this point, one of the facilitators said (paraphrasing because I can’t remember the exact wording), “Jews are human, just like all other humans. This means our grief and trauma connects us to the grief and trauma of all other people. This is important because antisemitism causes us to believe that we are a mutant people.”
This struck me hard. I walk around with both of those pieces and never realized it before. I assert to my fellow Jews all the time that we need to be involved in liberation politics because our grief and our trauma connects us to the grief and trauma of other people. I come into Jewish spaces assuming that our shared culturally inherited trauma and our shared values of Tikkun Olam means everyone is already on the same page as me, equally committed to ending state violence against other peoples, equally committed to intersectional liberation. But I don’t enter liberation movements with the same expectation and assumption that everyone is equally committed to ending antisemitism. And that is my internalized antisemitism. That is me accepting the narrative that we have no allies, that we shouldn’t even try to get other folks on our team. That the only way to break out of the buffer space that White Supremacy places us in is to show up purely as allies to other people that White Supremacy exploits, rather than to advocate for our own unique freedom from the ways in which White Supremacy exploits us. And that’s not good Jewish leadership. We’re a little over a week past Yom Kippur, but I realized during this conference last week, that I still have some more teshuvah to do for the Jewish people. For the sin I have committed against you by holding the people I love most against a higher standard than I hold for other people. For the sin I have committed against other peoples by assuming they can’t stand up to that standard.
We are now in the midst of Sukkot. Our sukkah reminds us of the fragility of life, and the miraculous strength and abundance of spirit. We can be vulnerable to antisemitism and but we can also be strong advocates for ourselves and our communities. In the Festival Torah reading for today, from Exodus, Moses demands that God show him Godself. He is concerned that God will abandon him to lead the people on his own without knowing what exactly they are getting into, and so he wants to see God’s leadership straight on. God, of course, cannot show God’s full self to a mortal, but allows the Divine Goodness to pass by Moses and Moses is able to get a fleeting glimpse of that Goodness. This is God reassuring Moses that God will lead and Moses can follow God’s trail, never quite seeing what’s ahead or God’s whole glory, but feeling certain that he is following the right path. The people of Israel dwelt in Sukkot throughout their desert wanderings, vulnerable to weather and war, but certain of God’s presences among them. We now often live the opposite way: in secure homes and seemingly safe from oppressive forces but vulnerable to theological doubts and existential dread. I want to hold both of these truths for our people. I pray that this time in which we put ourselves into slightly more vulnerable positions in our temporary dwelling places will help us see God’s presence in ourselves and strengthen our spirits so that we may all learn to be better self-advocates. May this festival season be one of community building and love, safety and strength, and may we be certain the holiness dwells among us. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.  

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