When I first agreed to write this essay, I thought that it would be fairly straightforward. Instead, I found it difficult.
How was I going to convey my feelings as a Black Jewish Woman fighting against anti-Semitism and standing for Black Lives Matter in a way that didn’t feel repetitive and contrite? What did I want the reader to know that perhaps they hadn’t heard on the news or at a Zoom cocktail hour?
When we talk about Jews and Jewishness, it is automatically conveyed through an Ashkenazi lens, a White European lens, a Zionist lens. We tend, without conscience, to ask non-White Jews, “How did you become Jewish?” or “When did you convert?” or “Do you know Hebrew?”
We fail to see how we have perpetuated stereotypes by not having representation of color on our boards, in our synagogues or heading our Jewish community centers.
We do not correct historical inaccuracies and ignore anthropological evidence demonstrating that Jews originated in North Africa. We seldom acknowledge that Jews appear in a variety of hues and can be found throughout the non-western world.
I grew up Black and Jewish, which means I’m proud but I feel guilty for it. According to my parents, I was born to change America and open her eyes.
As a Black Jew, I shouldn’t have to choose between my cultures in order to stand up against hate and ignorance. I am a woman of two worlds that have endured a horrific history of oppression and slavery. I have had crosses burned on my lawn. My mother was refused help from a rabbi who didn’t believe in interracial or interfaith marriages.
So, first things first, don’t ask me to pick a side. Ask how you can become aware of your racial biases.
The real issue is that political and religious groups tend to be biased, as they are often built from and rest upon an ideological agenda. The pure intention of the Black Lives Matter movement was to inform others that systemic racism was still prevalent in America, and that until we can confront it, we cannot truly say that “All Lives Matter.”
As soon as it became politicized as a group, it became a charge for anti-Semitic rhetoric mixed with ending systemic racism. In the process of this amalgam, BLM managed to tick off the Zionists. This perpetuation engulfed the movement and once again, Black Jews were compelled to choose a side.
As other political groups began to chime in with their agendas and racial biases, all became convoluted. We now find ourselves wandering in a desert of confusion.
When I say “Black Lives Matter,” I am not putting aside my Jewish culture nor am I a part of a political agenda. I am honoring a part of me that still needs a seat at the table of humankind. I am acknowledging the oppression, disenfranchisement and “othering” that persist in our society. It is never either-or, nor should it ever be, but here we are.
My Jewishness is intertwined with my Blackness. It is 100 percent a part of me, no matter my skin tone, and whether I keep kosher or not.
It is not up for debate. It is just who I am.
Our goal should be to confront racial bias within our communities. It is challenging when all sides want to stand out and no one wants to find the commonalities. It is easy to lump the “lost and needing to blame” in with an ideological agenda, instead of voicing one’s true intentions. It is easy to stay quiet instead of respecting differences and protecting his/her rights to exist. This has been my fight. It is our fight.
As Jews, I feel we need to stand for humanity. We need to step up to the plate and be a pillar for what is right and what is just. If anyone can relate to the struggle of Black people, it’s us, the Jewish people. If anyone can speak to how to build a coalition of communities to resist oppression, it is the Jewish people. We must take our neighbors in and break bread instead of clutching our purses when a brown or black face enters our community or synagogue.
My parents made a conscious choice to birth me for the purpose of bridging the racial divide, and so I stand here at 51 years of age, calling all parts of myself to the table. My existence, the future of my daughter and the future of our communities depend on us marching alongside each other, educating each other, being open to facing our own biases and remaining aware of our privileges.
This is how we put an end to systemic racism in America. We are being called upon as the chosen people to act in accordance with a higher authority, to hold all of humanity sacred.
Please join me in creating space to be authentic, and not expecting me or us to choose sides. It’s going to take a village, and right now, Black Lives Matter.
Rain Pryor Vane is an entertainer, writer, and awesome wife and mother who lives in Baltimore.
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