Showing up for America

Just as the ADL has observed, anti-Semitic incidents have been on the rise since Donald Trump took office, and the murder of innocent souls in prayer at a synagogue has made this clear to the world. I cannot even wrap my head around what happened in Pittsburgh, because if I do I will have to admit that it could have been me. Or worse, my mother, my husband or my child.

Mixed in my emotions of this week following the synagogue massacre and multiple incidents of vandalism at synagogues across America, has been guilt. Not just the classic Jewish guilt- I should go to shul more often, etc. (I really should, tsk, tsk), but also white guilt. My pain and our communal pain has brought home all of the racist violence that communities of color and the indigenous community have long suffered in America. Churches and mosques have been victimized by white-supremacist extremists, but far more common, Black and Latino communities are plagued by racially-motivated extrajudicial killings and the destruction caused by the system of mass incarceration in America. The persecution of immigrants to this country should worry us all. White privilege and white supremacy are the core of these problems, and the solution lies in our ability to work together to fight them.

The American Jewish community is mourning, worrying about how to protect our Jewish loved ones, and encouraging each other to #ShowupforShabbat to be comforted in community. We have opened our synagogues to non-Jewish allies, which is a new experience for most of communities. What we are really doing, though, is we are circling the wagons. We are afraid, so we are turning inward because in the past very few other communities have come to the aid of the Jews.

Showing up for Shabbat is a good plan. I will be there with my family and allies but I think the elephant in the room is this new question: Will America show up for us? I would like to challenge Jewish leaders to ask it differently: Can the Jewish community show up for America? The answer requires more of us that linking arms and singing Hinei Matov at shul (absolutely no shade, I LOVE catching the spirit at shul).  

Showing up for Shabbat, we examine what it means/feels like to be a Jewish in America in 2018 with the rise and emboldening of anti-Semitism. Showing up for America requires us to open our eyes and our consciousness to what it means to be a white Jew in America. I have been reading, listening, and writing as I examine my own whiteness. I am not preaching here, but processing out loud.

History proves that racism and anti-Semitism do not go away on their own, and that alone, we are powerless. Together, we can resolve to change the system- with our vote, demanding systematic and legislative change, through education, and culture change that starts at home and at shul. White Jews need to make the mental shift, to see white-supremacy as the root of anti-Semitism and to see the places where we benefit from and take part in this racist system. Erase the idea that not using the “N” word and having black friends and family is enough. We need to create community relationships and honest discourse around these issues. So that, not if but when something happens, the communication lines are open and we can ask our friends, “What do you need? How can we support you?”

Gun violence is an issue we can and should be fighting together. Not in theory or in solidarity. We need to actively pursue partnerships and ways to move forward- organizing our communities around lobbying and voting to ban automatic rifles, and legislate gun sense to keep guns out of our schools and neighborhoods. Police violence falls in this category. As a white Jew, I do not suffer from police harassment and racial profiling that lead to abuse and violence, but as long as black folks are being killed by police, I need to see every black child as my own- and feel their mother’s fear every time they leave the house, knowing the risks they face outside. I remember this feeling of terror during the second Intifada in Israel and I now feel this fear as I get my child ready for shul on Shabbat. 

Mass incarceration and the criminalization of marijuana is another issue that, as white Jews, we are privileged to ignore and benefit from. As immigration laws and enforcement become stricter, separating families, incarcerating children, and deporting community members, we must recall our ancestors- immigrants and undesirable citizens whose rights were slowly stolen away under the cover of “national security.” If we are not showing up for black and brown America in this way, how can we expect them to show up for us or understand us? This requires that we examine our whiteness, our place in this racist power structure, and then reach out to start what may be uncomfortable conversations at first, collaborating with our natural allies.

White supremacy is our shared enemy and we need to realize that the images we have of the KKK burning crosses and Nazis in uniform are a thing of the past. Today’s white supremacist is organizing on the internet and they are dressed in plain-clothes, all around us. Black people know this because they experience micro-aggressions and flat-out racist treatment every day. If this is news to you, here is a list of things white people need to stop saying to black people and you must immediately read The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (seeing the movie doesn’t count). When white Jews become conscious of this tangible racism in the air, we can end these behaviors in ourselves and call it out when we see it. This is how we begin to breakdown the very system that led to this increase of anti-Semitism because it stems from a steady stream of racist reality in America. It is also how we prepare ourselves to truly show up for America – and organize honestly, with integrity.

We are stronger together, but we need to examine ourselves and take active, uncomfortable steps to open dialogue.  Start your education with this video interview with the brilliant and powerful Yavilah McCoy.


About the Author
Shira Pruce is an activist and communications professional. After living in Israel for 13 years, she has recently moved back to New Jersey. She is former director of public relations for Women of the Wall, and has advanced the work of MASLAN- the Negev’s Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Support Center and the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, to name just a few. She received her BA in Women and Gender Studies at Douglass College, Rutgers University.
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