In ongoing efforts to combat antisemitism, one of the most insidious charges we Jews have to fight against, especially currently in the U.S., is that Jews are all “white and privileged.” This is an antisemitc trope used for centuries to fuel hatred — all Jews are rich (and control the banks).
How can we Jews today work to overcome these often deeply embedded prejudices?
We can commit to taking small steps that can have wider implications – and the new Netflix series “Hit & Run” starring Lior Raz of “Fauda” fame is just one example:
In episode 9 of the first season the character Naomi Hicks — played by black actor Sanaa Lathan — is being held hostage. (Saying who is holding her hostage would give away too much of the plot.)
One of the men holding her hostage fingers the Magen David necklace she wears and asks why she is wearing it.
She says she’s Jewish. Hasn’t he ever seen a black Jew before?
He says not like her.
And she says:
“Surprise. We come in all different colors in this country.”
I got so excited when I heard this last dialogue exchange that I paused the episode and rewound to get the exact wording.
Why did I get so excited? Because these few words need to be emphasized about Jews everywhere.
In addition to Ethiopian Jews, Jews whose families hail from Tunisia or Iran or numerous countries can be quite dark-skinned. And then there are the very light-skinned Jews who do not fit the Nazi-era profile of Jewish appearances.
(My light-skinned younger daughter on a Birthright trip to Israel had a stranger in the Ben Gurion Airport bathroom speak to her in what my daughter assumed was Russian. My daughter guessed at the language because she has been stopped in Los Angeles and asked where she is from. Eventually when she gets to her great-grandparents were born in Russia the questioner is satisfied.)
The point of this blog post is that each one of us can look for opportunities to educate people about the wide variety of Jews. Here are a few possible opportunities:
- When featuring a photo of various Jews on your website for your synagogue or Jewish organization, do not feature only “white” Jews. Feature a range of skin colors.
- When talking about the role of Jewish organizations that raise funds for impoverished people, make it a point to mention poor Jews as well as poor non-Jews.
- When talking about Jewish customs, include Sephardic as well as Ashkenazic customs. For example, if talking about what religious Jews eat on Pesach, mention who eats kitniyot (legumes) and who doesn’t.
- If asked for pictures of Jews, do NOT provide pictures of Jewish men with payot (sidelocks) unless this is specific to the material. In 1992 the traditional book publisher of my Jewish holiday book SEASONS FOR CELEBRATION – co-authored with Rabbi Karen L. Fox — wanted us to use clip art of Jewish men with payot for the illustrations in the book. Karen and I refused even though the publisher would not pay for other illustrations. We paid ourselves for an illustrator (Shabbat candlesticks, challah, etrog and lulav, etc.) rather than perpetuate this stereotypical image of Jewish men. Our book is still being sold on Amazon – imagine the book today in 2021 with those stereotypical images!
The message here is that Jews are NOT monolithic people – we come in many different colors as the show “Hit & Run” notes. And while the above recommendations may seem small steps to combatting antisemitism – as someone who grew up in a small town in the Midwest as the only Jewish child in her K-12 public school classes, I know how important it is to educate others about who we Jews are. Every little action on our part can help.
Kudos to everyone on “Hit & Run” who used this opportunity to go outside the box of portraying who an American Jew is.