Are Jews white, white passing, or “people of color” (POC)? Dare Jews claim suffering or must we acknowledge privilege? Are we victims of racism or do we uphold racist systems? Do we support Israel or do we see it as evil? The language is wrong. The dichotomy is forced. It is a test we Jews cannot pass and remain true to ourselves.
Since the majority of Jews were expelled from Judea and Israel 2,000 years ago, our histories have varied. Now, we come in all colors, backgrounds, and races, yet we share an ethnicity and history of persecution, a thread of fear and not belonging.
No Jew is free of trauma. We carry it in in our DNA. We hold it in our collective memory. This trauma shapes who we are, what we think, and how we behave.
It is not all we are, but it’s a shared national trauma, a collective history we are never allowed to forget. Whether we suffered in this century or last, in the year 2, 1492, or 1942, we share it, this suffering of a people, our people.
- Blond, blue-eyed Jews from the Former Soviet Union carry the trauma of having to hide, deny, relinquish, and then re-prove their Jewishness.
- Jews in China must hide their Jewishness and desire to move to Israel as Judaism is not recognized by China.
- Jews who lived in Africa and Middle Eastern countries suffered as dhimmis, second class under Muslim rule, always under suspicion, always careful. 850,000 lost their wealth and property when forced from their homes and are now accused of “appropriation” of foods from the lands they lived in for centuries.
- Jews in Europe suffered pogroms, blood libels, ghettos, loss of property, taxes, humiliations and the murder of six million in the Holocaust. Survivors no one wanted returned to the land they had prayed for 2,000 years only to be attacked and called foreign occupiers.
- Jews who never left the Holy Land from Temple times lived through foreign occupation, famine and poverty, watched their holy places turned into sites of idolatry, their holy objects looted and carried away, their people taken as slaves, and their homeland renamed for sworn enemies long vanquished.
- Jews in Ethiopia held fast to First Temple Judaism. Some were forced to take the cross, others lived as outcasts, waiting, waiting to return to Zion. Finally, they took an arduous journey where many died. Some still wait to be brought home.
- Descendants of conversos, Jews forced to convert or die by the Spanish Inquisition and expulsions, harbor generations of trauma and secrets they don’t understand. Converts to Judaism today throw their lot in with a nation always hated, and often struggle to be accepted.
And now, these Jews who share this trauma of always being the other, have finally returned to the land they were forced to leave. Yet, current identity politics tell Jews around the world to reject this homecoming. They force us to choose between love of a homeland, the knowledge that Jews deserve a place of our own, and “modern values”, which say that Zionism is evil, and our quest to belong, racist.
Instead of allowing us our own narrative, our own trauma and story, this template forces us to deny it, to dissect it in language where people are divided by color and the idea that one can be only oppressor or oppressed.
In this black and white world where one is always wrong and the other always right, where one is privileged and the other disadvantaged, the Jew’s story — individual and collective — cannot exist. There is no space for it.
Because, when Jews succeed despite our oppression, when we make the best of whatever we are given – because that is what we are taught to do – we lose our “victim” status.
Our suffering, trauma and the grit it bears becomes something to mock when we don’t allow it to define us.
And we don’t allow it to define us. And so, we don’t fit the color gauge, the oppressor rules or the privilege test. (One might argue that no one truly does.) It is human to want to succeed, to not want to be defined by one’s oppression — or one’s color.
So, I refuse to engage in these conversations, to play by these rules, to force our people to give up one identification for another, to be victim or oppressor, to be black or white. I reject this attempt to pit Jews against one another, to divide us by color, and force allegiances based on made up values and newfangled language.
I reject all of this.
And I refuse to be told Zionism is racism, that supporting Israel means supporting oppression. I refuse to be saddled with other people’s sins, to let others define our story. We have a history, we have a present and if we want a future, we cannot let it be denied.
Nothing is black or white, not even people.