#JewishPrivilege

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A couple weeks ago while at a social distanced barbecue , a friend of mine texted me that #JewishPrivilege was trending on Twitter. Immediately I assumed it was started by anti-Semites who wanted to accuse us of having excessive privilege due to our supposed influence, wealth and success, control over the banks and domination over the world. Indeed, when one takes a look at David Duke’s Twitter feed, he uses #JewishPrivilege in this way.

After this campaign was launched, Israeli writer and activist, Hen Mazzig launched a counter-offensive, ultimately encouraging over 100,000 people to describe their “Jewish Privilege” to the Twitterverse, by demonstrating all the suffering we have had to endure due to our “Jewish Privilege.”

Mazzig wrote, “#JewishPrivilege is when my grandparents were violently forced out of Iraq and Tunisia for being Jewish with only the clothes to their back. Along with 850,000 other MENA [Middle East and North Africa] Jews they arrived to Israel with nothing, only spoke Arabic, and lived in a tent/tin shack for years. I want all my Jewish followers to share the ‘Jewish Privilege’ them and their families experienced.”

Actress Sarah Silverman wrote, “My dad getting (beaten up) everyday at school 4 being a (dirty Jew) to kids in NH throwing pennies at me on the bus to pastors in Florida calling for my death and telling their congregation that knocking my teeth out and killing me would be God’s work. #JewishPrivilege

One Twitter user wrote, ” I am a member of #JewishPrivilege. Let’s just say that I’ve been hated for being born Jewish. I’ve been called the (k word) and have had to avoid putting up the Star of David in my neighborhood because of Antisemitism and the rise of Neo-Nazis. I didn’t ask for this bs”

Many others tweeted what it was like growing up without grandparents, cousins, etc due to their #JewishPrivilege.

While I applaud this incredible counter attack, and flipping the script on the anti- Semitic effort to bring #JewishPrivilege to the limelight, there is one aspect of it that rubbed me the wrong way, and didn’t feel quite right.

The implication of these many tweets is that it is tough and brutal to be a Jew. Or, as Jews who moved here in the early 1900s reportedly said when they would get fired for not working on the Sabbath, Es is shver tzu zayn a Yid, or, “it is difficult to be a Jew.”

And the painful truth is, being a Jew has not been a cake-walk throughout history. To make a gross understatement, it has, at times been challenging.

But that does not take away from what a gift it is to be a Jew, and what a privilege it is to be a Jew. As Jewish singer Moshe Storch sings, “It’s Geshmak to be a Yid,” loosely translated as, “It’s AWESOME to be Jewish.”

To be honest, when I first saw the hashtag, I thought to myself, “truth be told, it really is such a privilege to be a Jew. Not in the anti-Semitic way, that I use my Jewishness to get ahead in society, take shortcuts, and get out of trouble in a way that other groups cannot. But it is a “privilege” in the sense that being Jewish is an incredible honor and merit that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.

Why? What is so great about being a Jew?

To do justice to that question would not just require a totally separate blog post, but a totally separate website exclusively dedicated to the topic. So this is but a tiny glimpse into an answer to that question.

So, in a couple sentences, what is so great about being a Jew? For one, it’s immensely enjoyable to be a Jew. The Talmud describes how G-d gave us a gift, and its name is Shabbos. Once every week we enjoy “early retirement” as we put away everything–our phones, computers, stress from work, and bask in the tranquility of our day of rest. We reenergize, connect with ourselves, our families and our friends. It quite literally is a sanctuary in time. On Shabbos we are meant to experience delight. We dress up, eat delicious food for three meals over twenty four hours, and enjoy and sanctify the delights of the physical world that the Almighty gave us.

Secondly, as Jews we were gifted the Holy Torah, an instruction book for life. Life can be confusing– how fortunate we are to have a guidebook for how to live meaningful and holy lives. We strive to grow and to learn, and daily study of Torah is an overflowing wellspring of continued inspiration that helps maneuver the daily hurdles that emerge in real life.

Thirdly, as Jews we are given a Divine mandate to be a Light unto the Nations, to be a reflection of G-d’s light to humanity. This perhaps is the greatest privilege of all.

On this topic, Rabbi Efrem Goldberg writes very beautifully about his understanding of Jewish Privilege:

For a Jew, privilege doesn’t mean access, opportunity, or favors. It means responsibility, an awesome responsibility to set an example, to live elevated, meaningful lives, to repair the world in His image, to be of service to others. It means to rise above how we may be treated by others and to treat all with dignity, respect, and honor… Being privileged should make us feel obligated and bound to live more ethically, act more sensitively, conduct ourselves more honestly, and proclaim our faith in the Almighty with pride and distinction, and never with shame or embarrassment…we must recognize that a Jew never focuses on his own entitlement, but rather thinks how his resources can be better used to advance good in the world, including for the “underprivileged…Privilege is not a luxury, it’s a legacy; it isn’t a free pass, it is a weighty proposition. Privilege shouldn’t breed entitlement, it should demand exceptional behavior. I’m proud of my Jewish privilege and I hope my children will be too.

About the Author
Rabbi Daniel Wolfe recently became the Director for JewPro, the Young Adult Division of the Jewish Experience of Denver, Colorado. For the last three years prior, he was a campus rabbi at SUNY Albany for Aish New York. He holds a BA From Brandeis University, double majoring in Politics and Near Eastern and Judaic Studies. He enjoys writing, and maintains an active blog.
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