Does Judaic Cultural Appropriation Exist?

In 2015 and into 2016, the germane topic of cultural appropriation found itself in several articles vis-à-vis celebrities, musicians, and events that were deemed “racially insensitive” by committing certain “microaggressions”. This included Miley Cyrus’ head of dreadlocks at the MTV VMAs, and offensive means of celebration during Cinco de Mayo. This is certainly an issue that has blossomed in relation to the racial symposium.

Liberals exclaimed that these were inimical instances in which Americans took steps backward into antiquated schools of thought, expressing that they are insults as bad as blackface and derogatory slurs. Outspokenly belligerent GOP presidential candidates (okay, Donald Trump) were critical of this overt political correctness, likening it to stepping on eggshells.

Every race and identity seems to be scrutinized in this argument; the Washington Redskins and Native Americans; straight men dressing up as women and LGBT culture; the vast savannas of Africa in Taylor Swift music videos and colonialist ideals; the list goes on and on, a seemingly worthwhile conversation. However this discussion is stagnated when it comes to Jewish culture.

Proponents of an issue whose relevance is certainly considerable somehow omit Judaic culture from the topic as though it was a minority safe from the evils of America’s obsession with assumption of ethnicity. This seems a little too optimistic-or, worse, anti-Semitic.

In several of Madonna’s world tours, the icon preaches about the “awesomeness” of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) and, on several occasions, has worn shirts with the not-so-witty mantra “Kabbalists do it better”.

Certainly, Madonna is more than welcome to appreciate and practice the immense spiritual teachings of Judaism’s age-old school of thought. It is when she takes this aspect of our theology and plasters it on a white t-shirt in front of thousands of spectators that it becomes quite insensitive.

Because isn’t that what cultural appropriation is? Default races stripping already oppressed minorities of aspects of their identity and using it for their own profit? Or desensitizing an extremely vital or sacred aspect of a people’s ethnicity and turning it into a ploy for attention? By Madonna taking the sacrosanct ideals of Kabbalah and turning it into a costume for her encore performance of “Like A Virgin”, it seems like an issue liberals would tend to pounce at.

So why isn’t it?

It all stems from a seemingly apathetic response to anti-Semitism from the left. When reports of rates of Islamaphobia in Britain rising 70% in the past year, and anti-Semitic hate crimes rising 95%, more liberal sites and newspapers, such as the Independent, The Guardian, and BBC, only reported the former.

Or after attacks on a Kosher Paris deli, around the same time as the Charlie Hebdo attack in 2014, there was considerably less coverage on the deli attack than on the Hebdo terror incident (both of which are equally tragic events).

Author and left-wing activist Karen Armstrong was quoted after the attack, saying the stoic reactions towards this attack was because it had “nothing to do with anti-Semitism” but rather that it was “about Palestine”. While Ms. Armstrong’s quote is a myopic and baseless claim, it does serve bearing in that many liberals see attacks on Jews this way.

So if the proponents against cultural appropriation are the same liberals that see violence perpetuated against a Jewish minority as simply being “about Palestine”, there is little doubt why they don’t care about Judaic appropriation.

Conservatives claim that those who call out cultural appropriation are merely persnickety members of an all too politically correct society. However, this is something that I am not in accordance with at all. I firmly stand by the conviction that appropriation should be called out. Harmful stereotypes, such as the “mystical negro” to Shylock the Jew, can lead to deleterious societal results, from misunderstanding to hostility.

However, it seems negligent and almost callous for a movement that prides itself on being all encompassing to overlook the plight of dealing with Jewish pigeonholes because it is at odds with their own agenda.

About the Author
Joel Danilewitz is currently a senior at Harriton High School and an alum of the Alexander Muss High School in Israel. He is also an intern with the advocacy organization StandWithUs.
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