It was a discussion on a left-wing Jewish Facebook group I’m a member of. The discussion began innocently with the original poster talking about her lived experience as a Jewish woman insecure of her curls and how a private post that she had made on Facebook had inspired two other Jewish women who had been straightening their hair their whole life “to let their curls and waves free.” The Original Poster wanted to write a wider reaching article but admirably did not want to appropriate the “Natural Hair Movement”, the word “Natural”, or “equivocate between black hair politics in the US and Jewish hair politics in the US”.
The discussion began innocently enough with commenters brainstorming terms that would be more appropriate, but then the discussion devolved as some White-passing Jewish commenters aggressively and sarcastically asserting their right to the Natural Hair Movement as Jews. A Black Jewish woman pleaded “Please, please, please let Black people have this one thing?” The White-passing Jews however would not relent and made a mockery of her pleas. Eventually, the Black Jewish woman exhausted from the emotional labour she had for the last several hours endured, understandably frustrated, and with powerful eloquence exclaimed “You’ve spent a lot of energy talking over me this evening, aren’t you tired? Because I’m tired…Sorry. I’m done here. You want the word? Fine. Take it. I’m ride or die for White Jews on a daily basis, but when it comes to issues that matter to Jews of Color? Crickets!” And I thought to myself as I read how she was ride or die for me as a White-passing Jew, but that she rightfully felt as though we rarely fought for her, that I too am tired.
I am tired because of how true and powerful this woman’s words were and how inclusively challenged world Jewry is. Ashkenazi and other White-passing Jews are so ready to demand their place in intersectional movements which we are often excluded from, but are so rarely willing to fight for the particular double-injustice experienced by Jews of Colour. I am tired when it is within the Jewish community that Jews of Colour face such injustice that often their very Jewishness is held in doubt. I am tired knowing they I too have all too often fallen into this trap unaware of my own Ashkenormative bias. Most of all I’m tired of when White-passing Jews claim to be people of colour or to have had the same experience of racism thereby ignorantly erasing the experience of Jews of colour at the same time as forgetting how often we take advantage of our passing privilege. Indeed, this same Ashkenormativity leads us so often to only having conversation and memory about the suffering of European Jewry while the millennia of suffering of Middle East and North African Jewry as second-class citizens and the victims of pogroms under Ottoman rule is forgotten. By not remembering the suffering of MENA Jews we have enabled many “progressive” non-Jews to fabricate a false history where this suffering never existed due to its inconvenience to their anti-Zionist narrative.
I am tired. I tired because we too often use LGBTIQA+ identifying Jews as pawns for Zionism. We may vote in the Diaspora for LGBITQA+ rights far above even the average small L liberal, but when it comes to their rights in Israel it is enough that their existence is no longer illegal holding the beacon of light among the nations to such a low bar that the comparison is gay men hanging from cranes in Iran. I am tired when I hear that Tel Aviv is the friendliest city in the world through an act of cynical hasbara yet we are too happy to forget to mention that it took Israel until this year to allow LGBTIQA+ people to adopt, and marriage equality is but a pipe dream.
I am tired. I am tired whenever I enter a Jewish event without adequate access for Jews with disabilities be it Synagogues, conference centres or even social parties. Every Jew should be able to physically access the community. Indeed, every Jew should be able to access the community economically too, however with the elite prices of Synagogue membership, housing in Jewish areas, and Jewish Day Schools this too is not the case in our community and it is tiring to see and experience.
I am tired. I am tired because as a matrilineal half-Jew I have experienced racism within the Jewish community. One memory of this racism was of a “friend” taking ownership of a woman at one tear’s Simchat Torah celebrations in Sydney and saying that because I was “a halfy” I should stay away from her. Further, it’s tiring knowing that my non-Jewish father has had to endure racism from the Jewish community as a symbol of the creeping threat of “The Silent Holocaust” where interfaith relationships are seen as an existential threat to the very existence of the Jewish community. I am likewise tired whenever I hear the term “married out” instead of “married in” or when the first question we ask each other is “Are they Jewish?”. However, I am most of all tired of how we treat patrilineal Jews as not Jewish, creating walls fitted with Orthodox gate-keepers preventing people from accessing the community and a sense of belonging that we all have a right to, while they are still punished for being Jews with the same antisemitism we all receive. I am tired not only because of how immoral the way we treat patrilineal Jews is, but also because this, not intermarriage, is the real existential threat.
Similarly, I am tired of the way we treat Jews of Choice. I am tired when I see them treated as less then or second-class members while going through the conversion process. I am tired when I hear of Rabbis holding their conversion as leverage for favours, using it as revenge, and even occasionally removing their Jewish status after conversion if they don’t hold to a standard or tradition asserted by one Jewish denomination.
I am tired. I am tired because as a left-wing Zionist my Zionism is often shouted down as inauthentic. I am tired when those who hold to progressive views of Jewish statehood are called “Kapos” likening us to the Jews who enabled the concentration camps. I am especially tired every time I hear activists of JStreet, the New Israel Fund, or Peace Now or the many other Pro-Zionist, Pro-Palestinian organisations debased as “self-hating Jews” and are locked out by more conservative Zionist organisations that hypocritically call themselves pluralistic like Standwithus and CAMERA. I am tired when these Pro-Zionist, Pro-Palestinian organisations are accused of enabling anti-Zionists without seeing that anti-Zionists accuse these organisations of enabling Zionism. It is especially tiring when progressive Zionists attempt to find a middle ground and for the trouble of holding out an open hand are accused of so-called naivety that will lead to another Holocaust with the levelling of Israel. I am tired because such accusations feel no less anti-Semitic than when anti-Zionists accuse us of recommitting the crimes of Nazis against Palestinians.
I am tired. I am tired at the constant subjugation of women within the Jewish community. I am tired of the condescending phrases used to justify women not being allowed to be Rabbis – the only way that they can have access to a decision-making space on the religious laws of women’s issues and rights – because they are too holy, or that their strength is the understanding needed to raise children rather than the knowledge required to understand the Talmud. I am tired when I speak to Reform and Conservative women Rabbis and the prejudice they face by even their communities that have long allowed women Rabbis. I am tired every time I hear someone say how uncomfortable or weird a woman Rabbi is. And I very tired when I hear that despite making up two thirds of the Jewish nonprofit workforce in the United States, the gender pay gap is below the national average of 77% at 67%. This is exhausting.
I am tired. I am tired whenever I go to a Jewish event that isn’t Kosher barring Orthodox Jews from attendance, or when Shabbat is seen as an inconvenience to Secular Jews so again Orthodox Jews are prevented from accessing a space in the Jewish community. I further tired when non-orthodox Jews don’t acknowledge the particular prejudice experienced by Orthodox Jews who visibly present as Jewish. Likewise, I am tired when Reform Jews are called Christians and that their practices are seen as less than rather than as a tradition in its own right. Indeed, I’ll never forget the words of one Rabbi who would happily accept donations from the parents of Reform Jews yet in a shiur happily exclaim that the Reform Jew is an oxymoron because reform Judaism apparently is not Judaism.
I am also tired when I see people criticise the mainstream organised Jewish community without praising these mainstream organisations when they do good work, or for the constant good that they have always done in inclusivity and engagement. I personally have benefitted from so much opportunity that I would’ve received in no other community. However, the above examples of our intercommunity exclusivity are exhausting because they are silent threats that cause incredible hurt and humiliation to individuals. To watch this hurt and humiliation, and to feel this hurt and humiliation, and to stand there quiet and powerless in the face of this hurt and humiliation is tiring because not only is it unjust to exclude and appropriate the experience of Jews of Colour, LGBTIQA+ Jews, Jews with disabilities, economically disadvantaged Jews, half Jews, patrilineal Jews, Jews of choice, Progressive Zionists, Women, Reform Jews, and Orthodox Jews and other Jews who experience exclusion due to an identity not mentioned above– I am tired because as long as we are actively separating ourselves we will find it ever harder to unite and activate for Jewish rights within the non-Jewish secular society.
The Jews are tired because when a Jew does not feel like they belong in the Jewish community, they don’t know if they will find a place to belong anywhere, and that is everyone’s right.