Much anti-convert sentiment comes from the fact that our existence refutes the race science and blood quantum that has been built up around the Jewish identity in the last 130 years in order to justify Zionism.
Many Jewish people's sole connection to their Jewish identity is this genetics-based race science that they've forced to link them to Israel under the guise of being "Indigenous". What happens when that is debunked? What are they left with?
They see anyone who threatens this construct of phrenology as a threat to their Jewish identity, because what they've done is built their entire "self" around race science in effort to justify settler-colonialism as a project for the claiming of their homeland.
So, when converts object to Zionism, they call us "fake Jews", because our identities don't surround the settler-colony of Israel through the perversion of genetics. We threaten the security of the way they've manufactured their Jewishness to fit inside of a test tube.
Last month, the month of May, was Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month as well as Jewish American Heritage Month. Being an Indian Jew means that both aspects of May intersect for me in a celebration of history, heritage and culture. However, the feeling of joy that one would expect during such an honorary time is left vacant, replaced by fear and a sense of numbness.
It seems as though every week, a Jewish person is killed in the west as a result of a violently antisemitic hate crime. In the same vein, it seems that Asian American peoples are just as targeted. A typical week for me is as follows: I hear the news of two South Asian men being killed during the FedEx facility shooting. A few days later, I learn of a South Asian student at Hofstra having acid thrown on her. A week later, I am informed that a Jewish woman in France was thrown out of a window to her death. Another week passes, and I hear about a Jewish man in Baltimore being shot to death.
I measure my life in the brutalization of my people: I allow myself allotments of mourning that must be carefully timed so that I don’t miss my next college class, where we take notes on a lecture and pretend like everything is normal. I am only left wondering whether today’s news will detail the death of an Asian person or a Jewish person. It becomes difficult to exist in a way that is tethered to reality when you become desensitized to death on two fronts: Your Asian identity and your Jewish one. You are a medley of two peoples; this should be a cause for celebration rather than grief.
I am playing a game of catch-up: Skating through hundreds of news headlines of murder while waiting for the wave of anguish to hit. Neither of my communities has slowed down enough to feel the heaviness of what has been done to us, so existing between the lines of heartache makes the month of May blend in with every other death strewn period of time.
I spend my free time sipping coffee and hurriedly catching up on infographics on Twitter and Instagram, watching Jewish and Asian trauma put on display through colorful fonts, because all either of my communities hopes is that someone will notice and care long enough to try to make it stop. Our grief is aestheticized using Canva and Picsart, because what else are we supposed to do?
Part of me is angry at both peoplehoods; I want to ask what good a slideshow on Instagram does when we’re being treated like animals. When we even treat each other like animals. I want to convey the complexity of my pain in more than 250 characters, and I want it to exist without retweets and reblogs. I don’t want to put on a fake smile for the month of May when all I feel about who I am is numb. The words “amplify Asian Jews” in pretty pink letters on a phone screen become empty, because I don’t care whether or not you like my Instagram post, all I want is to feel whole.
So, I am left asking myself, is it safe to celebrate? I don’t know if pretending will save us any more than it will do irreparable damage. What does it mean to celebrate an identity when that identity is becoming defined by hurt? The month of May is one of mourning.
Today, Jerusalem Post published an article titled "Jewish convert actor Yaphet Kotto dies at 81" as a way to report on the news of Yaphet Kotto's death.
Yaphet Kotto was a renowned Black Jewish actor who had roles in movies such as Alien, The Running Man, and Blue Collar. His accomplishments as a Black Jewish actor in the White Supremacist framework of Hollywood number the stars. However, Jerusalem Post makes no mention of any of his life's work in the headline, and instead, chooses to identify him solely as "Jewish convert actor".
This is despite Kotto being a patrilineal Jew with origins in Cameroon; the only connection Kotto had to conversion was his mother's conversion upon marriage to Kotto's father; Kotto has enumerated several times that he is a patrilineal Jew. Not only was Kotto a patrilineal Jew, but he was also a matrilineal Jew due to his mother's conversion.
Thus, the headline in Jerusalem post does several things. First, it assumes that because Kotto was a Black Jew, he must have been a convert, it also implies that patrilineal Judaism is not a valid form of Judaism, that one's mother being a convert makes the individual in question a convert, and, lastly, it engages in anti-convert sentiment by othering Kotto in a headline about his death.
Several prominent Jewish online figures, particularly Black Jews on Twitter, have commented on the situation, identifying the anti-Blackness and anti-convert sentiment from Jerusalem Post.
Ultimately, Yaphet Kotto was a celebrated actor, and his Jewishness allows me to to say, "Baruch Dayan Emet"; Blessed is the True Judge, may his memory be for a blessing.
The images above are photos I took of a Zoom chat-box during one of my college courses today. Zoom is an application that allows for lectures, class discussions and other academic or business related education to take place through the Internet. Pictured above are messages sent by one of my classmates, reading: "f*ck the Chinese gov", "amen", and "China hates non-Chinese people". More violent words were sent, although I was not able to photograph them. Given the increased violence (verbal, psychological and physical) against Asian people across the globe, but particularly in the United States, such rhetoric presented in a formal classroom discussion setting sets a standard in fueling the xenophobia and racism that is already rampant.
I am beginning to realize that this quarantine creates a unique set of circumstances for the oppressed. Being in isolation from others as a marginalized person brings a special sensibility in that it distances you from the otherwise rampant and often violent social issues that you would encounter outside of your home on a day-to-day basis. However, I noticed that I am still feeling the exhaustion that accompanies oppressive systems. The onset of the popularity of the Internet in this age, especially for academic discussion and world news during the Covid-19 pandemic still allows for the oppression of marginalized groups, but now bombards them within their own homes -- homes that were previously considered a safe space from the overwhelming facets of day-to-day life. From racially charged classroom rhetoric to the recent reports that Covid-19 disproportionately affects People of Color, the home of the marginalized individual has now become a battleground just like the classroom and the world stage.
Now, the safety of our bedrooms and living rooms — or other places in our houses that were previously places that we would retreat to in order to seek refuge from the constant alienation that is enforced by the social constructs of race and racism — those places are just as much owned by the othering systems as they are by us.
This is an unprecedented occurrence that I do not believe has been discussed in in depth yet. Such a circumstance is bound to create psychological issues ranging from dissonance to feelings of displacement, in People of Color who feel themselves being attacked by news media outlets, their work colleagues, or their classmates.
Personally, I have been feeling much more exhaustion than when I interacted with such racist rhetoric in person. Before COVID-19, at the end of the day, I was always able to retreat to my room and see my friends in person — a bubble I created in order to protect me from the overwhelming aspects of real-time life. I had crafted my own space in which alien objects and unkind people were not permitted — surrounded by content, objects and other items that created a feeling of comfort. However, now that I have to turn my computer on every day, twice a day, for several hours, letting hundreds of people into my bedroom (through both the camera and the microphone), I find a new sense of discomfort settling in. My bedroom doesn't feel like my safe place anymore, now it just feels like another room in which I have to craft responses to the racist language and cruel words pictured above. Not only that, but the constant surge of media being poured into our homes, our minds and our hearts detailing the horrific attacks against People of Color, or the fact that People of Color suffer from COVID at higher rates — it all feels like too much.
And I want to be clear: this experience is not for white people. It isn't. The dissonance that People of Color feel due to current events is a special set of circumstances, feelings and mental states that white people do not have to interact with. With the continued generational trauma and racialized experiences that People of Color face and live with, this unique setting only presents a new set of barriers.
Being biracial comes with people outside of your family unit asserting that you aren't related to your family in any way. In my own personal experience, people often assume that my father is not my father because he and I are different races.
This process is a form of forceable detachment of child from parent based on race, and it can have psychological consequences.
When strangers, whose judgement we internalize, assert that you are not a family unit, over and over again, it begins to create a dissonance in your head with regards to your identity.
This forcible removal of child from parent is something that has been done on a physically violent level to People of Color throughout American history.
The difference with biracial families is that this separation typically happens on a psychological level rather than a physical one. However, sometimes that psychological warfare can involve physical separation or confrontation. For example, a Black family in North Carolina were recently accused of kidnapping a white toddler — when he was really their son. This lead to a police questioning.
Multiracial families are subject to constant public scrutiny — from laymen and authorities alike. Make no mistake, this is a direct attack on the multiracial family unit. Such force destabilizes families and creates internal frustration and anger at one's own racial makeup.
There seems to be a need to place every individual into a tightly-fitting box — a box of social norms in terms of appearance and behavior that one must adhere to. Multiracial families defy this box method of social categorization, and are therefore seen as a threat to the social order. It is beyond the comprehension of some that different kinds of people can love each other and be family to one another. People who are made uncomfortable by the existence of a breach of the standard social makeup of our communities therefore attempt to dismantle and break apart the families and place them into separate boxes, away from one another.
This is perhaps the reason why interracial marriages were illegal in the United States up until 1967, and even later in some states. The existence of the biracial identity is a threat. Not just to white communities, but to Communities of Color, too. Many Indian Instagram influencer dissuade romantic relationships outside of the South Asian community. They do this because they believe that it is erasure of People of Color. But the existence of biracial people is not erasure of anything. It is the birth of a new identity. These pleads to remove mixed race people from Spaces of Color are dangerous and threaten our existence.
There is a specific type of racism that multiracial families and children are subjected to. It begins with the dissuasion to marry, and then moves to the breaking up of the multiracial family, and then — what next? When the existence of biracial people cannot be stopped, what happens? Violence against biracial people for their mixed identities goes largely ignored.
This is a piece I created that is close to my heart. The Garden of Eden has always been a source of deep spiritual meaning for me.
Judaism is different than other religions in that we don't emphasize the concept of sin. Instead, we have the idea of a transgression against our fellow or against G-d. In the case of Eve -- Chava, in Hebrew -- she committed a transgression against G-d.
Because of this, she was doomed to pain in childbirth for herself and for all the women to come after her. I personally find there to be a significant amount of meaning in this part of the Torah (the Jewish "Bible") because of the role that gender plays. There is a reason that Chava was the first to pick the Forbidden Fruit and eat from it — and the snake has a role to play here, too.
I, personally, connect curiosity to holiness in the context of Chava. In Judaism, it is said that women are holier than men because of the way that G-d created them: women have a stronger connection to G-d. I believe that this perceived holiness in Judaism also correlates to a curiosity in women to learn and grow as Jewish people. There is a reason that women are said to be Holy Jews. Our Great Ancients witnessed the power of a woman connected to Torah and solidified the notion of the great desire in women to learn as a lesson about holiness. Many of the Jewish women I have known and loved in my life have committed themselves to a life of learning and connection to Jewish texts. These women also, whether officially or not, teach younger girls in the Holy ways of becoming modern Jews still connected to ancient tradition. Women historically and consistently find methods of learning and growing our religion in ways that stem from a genuine curiosity and love for Torah. Therefore, Chava, as a woman of G-d, was always going to have the curiosity and thirst for knowledge that is inherent to who she is.
Additionally, Chava was made from Adam's rib to be a companion for him, particularly. It is said that Adam had a first wife -- Lilit (Lilith), who refused to be subservient to Adam, so G-d expelled her from Eden. Understandably, given Adam's desire for particular traits of subservience in a wife, Chava must have desired some sort of independence or freedom from Adam. There is a saying -- "knowledge sets you free". The ability to learn and grow as her own person was perhaps an offer too great to pass up. Again, this is merely conjecture on my part, as is much modern commentary on Torah.
The snake, on the other hand, used this to his advantage. I am choosing to call the snake a "he" because the Hebrew in Bereishit (Genesis) uses male conjugation when referring to the snake. The snake is said to be a sly creature in Judaism — one that can be deceiving and manipulating. The snake utilized the Holiness of woman to punish her. I would like to take this in the direction of claiming that the snake could serve as a metaphor for traps set by society for women to fall into, but perhaps that would stretch the narrative too far. Regardless, the snake knew exactly what he was doing in that moment. The snake preyed on Chava's natural curiosity and potential desire for independence to get her to eat the fruit.
The punishment of Chava as doomed to pain in childbirth is one I find particularly fascinating, especially because last semester I took a college course on our historic and modern ideas of hysteria in women as they apply to medicine. In that class, I learned that the reproductive tract of women (the uterus, especially) comes under scrutiny and punishment as being the source of a woman's wickedness (or hysteria). Historically, women who were experiencing emotions or behaving in ways that were outside of society's expectations of what a woman should be, doctors would abuse a woman's vagina and declare that she needed sexual intercourse and to carry a child in order to be cured of "hysteria". Therefore, when the punishment for Chava is pain in childbirth, but for Adam is only working the earth to acquire bread, I draw the conclusion that gender -- or the female sex -- play an important role in punishment.
There is also some sort of irony rooted in two individual and different punishments. If Chava was created from Adam's rib, doesn't the fault fall on Adam? It seems convenient to me that Chava is widely known in almost every religion to be the "sinner" who "convinced" Adam to partake, as well. Because of this, I have written "from man" on the left side of the painting in Modern Hebrew. On the right side, I have written "transgression": it reads "transgression from man". Modern Hebrew was a particular choice on my part versus our beautiful Ancient Hebrew (as is in the Torah).
Our modern ideas of gender often feel combative with Torah concepts. However, I have been able to find a great peace between the two. Just because there is contradiction does not mean they are incompatible. Everything I am saying is conjecture, and yet I still find great meaning and beauty in the Garden of Eden -- some of that is because of my conjecture. I have a deep respect for Chava and for her bravery, even if she misstepped. I respect Chava because she was manipulated, received the most significant punishment (in my opinion as a woman), yet accepted the punishment from G-d -- she accepted that she had transgressed. In doing so, she imparts a great lesson on us, as Jews.
Chava teaches us a crucial lesson about transgression, I believe. Although Chava did not mean malice in her transgression, she did something that challenged G-d. And she owned up to that transgression, even if it was actually rooted in good, in curiosity. It is our responsibility, as Jews, to consider the whole picture, and think about when it is right to transgress for reasons we believe to be true, and to own up to the consequences of that transgression. I connect this personally to women's rights. If I were to stand up to sexism and misogyny in ways that I know did not conform with what the authorities in my life dictate, I would receive punishment. However, it is my willingness to bear that punishment in knowing that what I did was not rooted in evil, but rather in good. Judaism teaches us to constantly question authority (with respect, of course). We must not accept the status quo -- we must always be curious, of a better world with more knowledge, just as Chava was.
To remind us that Chava isn't just a "sinner", as she is viewed by many Abrahamic religions, I have painted the Hebrew letter shin on her face. The reason for this is best explain by Yehudit Katz of Israel, who commented on a Chabad.org post about Hebrew letters:
"I'm trying to learn as much as I can about the letters and especially about shin. Its interesting to note that Hashem tells us to write upon our hearts His directives in the Shema and that the shape of the letter shin is exactly depicted in a cross-section of the heart. In the heart muscle, this shape is the electro-physiological pathway that causes the heart to pump and keep us alive- it receives oxygen-depleted blood in the smaller right vessel, and forcefully pushes oxygenated blood from the larger left chamber to the body. When Hashem explains to us how to love Him (draw close to Him), He specifies to love Him with our 2 hearts- levavecha; with our vital physical energy- nefashecha; and with the empowerment of the uniqueness -me'odecha-which He created each one of us."
I drew the shin to represent G-d's love for the Jew, and the Jew's love for G-d. This is something both physical and spiritual, and it is something I am sure that Chava had until she died.
(I am in no way endorsing you to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Please do not do that. Really.)
I grew up, largely, as a Modern Orthodox Jew. That is the closest to where I believe I fall on the spectrum of Judaism, still. Modern Orthodoxy is a sect very close to my heart, especially with being a girl. I want to talk a little bit about Orthodoxy and the relationship to women it has. When I was first introduced to Orthodoxy, I felt a little bit out of place, mostly because I was ignorant of the traditions of the sect in relation to women. What I saw as sexist and misogynistic then, I see today as beautiful. (Maybe this blog post is a little bit more about my evolution as a Modern Orthodox Jew than it is about the actual sect itself.)
I think the aspect that startled me the most was the mechitza, which is a physical divider that separates men and women during prayer. As a young girl, I felt that this was unfair that we were separated, a belief that slowly faded and was replaced with respect for the mechitza. I used to think that the mechitza was an affront to feminism, and I made this very clear to my educators. But can I tell you something about Modern Orthodox Jewish day school teachers? They are the kindest people you will ever meet, and are ready to ponder any subject with you. And I was met with responses filled with respect and explanation. The mechitza is not about being a barrier, but about being a liberating element, especially in private prayer. The mechitza serves to ensure that concentration is kept on conversation with Hashem, and not on the opposite gender. Given the fact that I used the mechitza throughout middle school, I am very glad to have had it now, because middle school boys can be a handful during the Amidah (silent prayer) — let me tell you! This ability pray amongst one gender also cultivates a sense of community in girlhood, which is something that I am so glad I was raised with. I cannot tell you how much I looked up to some of the older girls who knew every page in their Siddurim (prayer books) by heart. And they would help me, too, when it was my turn to lead Shacharit (morning prayer services); they would help me turn to the right page at the appropriate times, and guide me in prayer. The ability to build strong, female relationships as a young girl is crucial to the development of the Jewish woman. There is something so ancient and primal in Judaism about connecting with other women that I am eternally grateful I was able to experience. This article on Chabad.org also offers some insight into the mechitza.
Another aspect of Orthodoxy that bothered me when I was first introduced to it was a certain prayer in the Barkot Hashachar (morning blessings) that reads in English for men, "Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has not made me a woman" and for women, "Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has made me according to His will". I could not believe my eyes! How dare men pray that they are thankful they are not women! One of my esteemed Jewish teachers (a scholar of great honor, by all accounts) noted that the intention behind this blessing is not to hurt women, but in fact, is quite the opposite. This quote from My Jewish Learning summarizes it best: "the blessing is not intended to disparage women or imply that they are inferior, but merely to express gratitude for the fact that men are obligated to perform more religious commandments. It must be admitted that the...explanation is not a modern invention, but it appears explicitly in the earliest version of the blessing". It is an acknowledged fact (of sorts) in Orthodox Judaism that women are closer to Hashem, they are made by Hashem to be holier by nature. Thus, women do not have to perform as many commandments — why would we need to if we are already holier? The idea here is that men are grateful in some respects to be created as less holy than women, because they get to fulfill more commandments (and thus mitzvot). In this way, the prayer is actually respectful of women because it acknowledges the sacred and unique bond that women have with Hashem that men lack (from creation onwards).
Let's move towards the subject of tzniut, or modest dress; most of the information here, if not from my own head and opinion, comes from My Jewish Learning. Modesty is seen as a beautiful quality in both men and women, but for the sake of my own purposes, my focus is on women. In more traditional sects of Judaism, women dress only in skirts or dresses that pass below the bottom of their knees (no shorts or pants), with sleeves that pass their elbows and a neckline that not not exceed one inch below the collar bone. Tzniut also involves wearing a head-covering, which can be a scarf, a traditional Jewish head-covering, or a wig. The most modest women will shave their heads and wear a wig, but most pin their hair up under the wig. I want to start with head covering, or wearing a veil. The reason for this dates back to ancient Jewish texts, and is seen as the utmost observance of privacy among women. This privacy is seen as tiferet (glory) within Judaism. To give you a better understanding, the Assyrians made a law saying that women could not wear veils, so that women would be on public display. Thus, the veil is actually fighting the idea of objectification and rejecting the tired notion of the male gaze. So, there is a certain liberation in the head-covering, and in modest dress in general. By dressing modestly, you're not letting men stare at your body or objectify you, you are fighting the modern status quo. Modesty in Judaism stems also from what My Jewish Learning terms a "highly refined sense of shame". Thus, a part of modesty is the rejection of Adam and Chava's mistake of nudity. The aspect of shame and being able to be proud of your covered body is important in Judaism. Furthermore, modesty and privacy, these ideas intertwined with shame and pride, connect to principals of living. To be tzniut also means modesty in attitude: it means respect, appropriate behaviors, and sanctity of humanity. In this way, tzniut is something that our modern world needs much more of. Instead of frowning on tzniut, I choose to see it as a path to personal freedom and self-peace, especially in a society that chooses to degrade and hurt others with inappropriate language that lacks self-restraint (you can check out the comments on my last post for more on that). Women are holy beings, our bodies are holy—Btzelem Elohim—and tzniut is one way to preserve that holiness. I'm not saying it's the right way for everyone, but for Orthodox Jewish women, it is often is the path chosen, and it leads to refinement and beauty in dress and in behavior.
These are just a few points in traditional sects of Judaism relating to women that are often misunderstood. There are many more. But to me, these points, these traditions, are proof of the beauty of Judaism. They stand out to me as incredibly sacred. I hope you learned something from this. Be sure to visit the provided hyperlinks for source information and further clarification. Chabad.org is the site I would recommend for any questions relating to Judaism, as well as My Jewish Learning; they are two of my favorite resources, and becoming familiar with them can serve to better your knowledge of the magnificence of Hashem's blessing of Judaism on this world.
The five images above are some items my friend and I saw when we visited some antique stores in downtown Sherman, Texas today. I was browsing around, looking for gift for a friend, when both of our eyes fell on the same thing: the first image. The caption under the black caricature reads "Once I was a wish and I grew in a hen Now I am a little slave Made to wipe your pen".
After seeing this, we looked around, and only needed to look a foot away, for we saw more of these caricatures. These things are called golliwogs, and are the result of the anti-Blackness of a white children's author (Florence Kate Upton).
Being a non-Black, multiracial family in the South, my family has always been exposed to such memorabilia in Texan stores and shops. We routinely encounter Nazi and Confederate flags for sale, among other racist media and items. This is a common element in [antique] stores in the southern United States.
Anti-Blackness is not something of the past: it is a living, ever-present form of White Supremacy. Those dolls do not symbolize something of a forgotten age, as so many white and non-Black buyers would like to think, but a manifestation of perpetual systemic oppression.
I want to go back to that first doll. Remember the caption? "Once I was a wish and I grew in a hen Now I am a little slave Made to wipe your pen"; the font is Comic Sans on Microsoft Word: released in 1995. I compared my own typings of the exact words in Comic Sans with the caption, and it matches up perfectly. This means that the antique store employees wrote that caption on a computer and printed it sometime between the late 90s and today. It was a contemporary anti-Black choice, as is selling the dolls in the first place.
I am Jewish. I have attended secular schools of the public and private variety, Modern Orthodox Jewish Day Schools, and a Pluralistic Jewish Day School. One type of school I've never attended is a Christian school.
I just started my freshman year at a Presbyterian college in North Texas. I know, cowboy vibes are very much present in that statement. Most of my readers are from big cities, like New York, Dallas and Houston. It's probably hard for my audience to picture what it's like to be a Jew in attendance at a Christian school with less than 1,300 people on campus. Well, let me paint it for you.
It's a tremendous challenge — it truly is. The total Jewish student body population is roughly 1%; a bit less than that, actually. As someone who has spent her youth studying the works of great Jewish minds (in Hebrew!) as a part of her core education, I have to say that coming here was (and is still) a great culture shock.
I was able to spot approximately three Jews on campus; and wouldn't you guess — I already knew all of them from previous Jewish organizations or schools. So, let's sum this up: no new Jews on campus that I can identify, no strong Jewish presence, and that doesn't even begin to mention the element of Christianity on campus.
My orientation at this college entailed a lot of (Christian) prayer and programs run by Christian clergy. Additionally, an optional Christian service was provided on the first Sunday I was in attendance. Most everyone here wears a cross around their necks, mentions Jesus in side conversation, and writes poetry about the Bible. Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but the truth is, it made me feel isolated. It still makes me feel isolated.
During one of the first orientation programs we had, the leader of the program had the entire freshman class congregate in a lecture hall (yes, it really is that small). He then asked the audience to stand up if he said an identity that they could relate to. He first said "all Catholics, please stand up", and went forth naming the different sects of Christianity, each one getting a bigger cheer from the audience than the last. And before he concluded, he said "all non-Christians, please stand up" (or something along those lines). Guess who stood up in that crowded auditorium after seeing the mass amounts of Christian pride demonstrated? Me. And a handful of other people. A handful. And by a handful, I mean less than ten. I felt a sudden course of humiliation run through me, my heart beating fast and my cheeks turning red. But I kept standing, because Shema Israel Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad.
That was the first time in a very long time that I was reminded of something: I am distinctly and solely Jewish. I use these two words to describe my Judaism in that moment because I was markedly Jewish and alone in that Jewishness. Yes, I know the spiel: all Jews are a community, even if separated geographically. But do you know how hard it is to be the Last Jew Standing? To look around and be alone in your identity? It's hard. It's really hard.
Yesterday, a girl in class publicly called my literature professor a “grammar-Nazi”, which warranted some amusement from classmates. I was reviled by this, and shocked that no one else was demonstrating the same level of outward disgust (except, maybe, my wonderful boyfriend who is an avid Jew supporter). And I remembered something: “Oh yeah, I’m shocked, because we don’t say that kind of thing in Jewish Day School, because we’re all the descendents of Holocaust survivors”. And it again, hit me. In a way more visceral than it does every day: I am distinctly and solely Jewish.
I’ve been wearing a Magen David lately, and I can’t shake the feeling of other people’s stares. As if their eyes are burning David’s shield into my chest, each point of the star sinking deeper into my skin and reminding me of David’s great struggles, his triumphs and his failures.
I actually just got off of FaceTime with a Jewish friend of mine who is going to school at NYU, and I had this horrendous pit in my stomach: jealousy. He told me that his school had over 6,000 Jews, and he even stopped in the street to hug a Jewish friend he had run into while we were talking. I felt this nostalgia for New York City; and not even that, a nostalgia for Jews. For being Jewish and not being alone. I still carry that jealousy with me, and I probably will, every day. But part of being a Jew is learning how to be a Jew in isolation. Part of being a Jew is learning how to be distinctly and solely Jewish. At least to me.
It’s hard, but there is good in being one of the few. I am trying to start a chapter of Hillel here with some Jewish friends, and maybe an Israeli Culture club with my boyfriend. I get to be a pioneer. It’s beautiful, but it’s kind of tragically beautiful, you know?
I was also selected as one of fifteen Jewish teenagers who submitted essays to the Kaplun Foundation to be a member of the Kaplun Foundation Teen Philanthropy Board: a group of Jewish teenage leaders who will congregate in Manhattan in November and will use allocated money to benefit a social justice organization of our choosing. It is a great honor to be one of the few, in this case.
My Judaism still blossoms, even when the rain does not fall; I have enough water stored in me from my years at Akiba, Yavneh, and other Jewish institutions (and friends) to last a lifetime, thank Hashem. I leave you with what I began: I am Jewish.
Shema Israel Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad.
(P.S.: This is about my experiences as a Jew and is not intended to reflect any malice towards those of the Christian faith).
A common occurrence that I have recently come to notice among the middle to upper class (to extreme upper class) girls that are somewhat within an earshot of my social circles is that they tend to thrift shop. And when I say thrift shop, I mean Good Will thrift shop. They don't go to the high-end white people stores that are branded specifically for them. This has always been a bit of a mystery to me — why would someone who could afford Nordstrom shop at a store intended to make the lives of poor people easier? The answer to this is simple: reinforcement of classism and thus racism. Many of the girls I am familiar with who do this will buy a shirt for $2-10, and then resell it at $30-$40 perhaps adding some paint to it or glitter before selling it. Several girls I know have started what they term "businesses" doing this.
Good Will is meant for poor people. The prices are low and the clothes are pre-worn so that people who cannot afford store-bought clothes have a place to access the basic human need of clothing at a reasonable price. Poor people in the Unites States are disproportionately black and Latinx, meaning that thrift stores primarily serve poor Communities of Color. When wealthy white (predominantly) girls move into this territory and begin to buy from thrift stores, the demographic the stores serve changes, and as a result of the new buyers, prices get jacked up and poor people cannot afford to shop there anymore. Whereas the wealthy white girls have a plethora of opportunities available to them and can shop at literally wherever their parents are willing to pay for yet continue to occupy a space that is not theirs. Because of this, the atmosphere of thrift stores change too, and instead of Communities of Color exchanging conversation in Spanish, it comes wealthy white girls posing for Instagram pictures in front of the "Good Will" sign. This physically pushes People of Color away from shopping at thrift stores. This is similar to the gentrification of poorer neighborhoods termed 'up and coming'.
The next level of this is the reselling. Rich white girls take the clothes initially intended for poor People of Color, that they bought at $6, and then resell the clothes on Instagram or Snapchat for upwards of $40, making a profit from the disenfranchisement of poor PoC. Branding such clothes with sharpie or glittered words reading "girl pwr" or "flower child" , these girls believe that this creativity justifies the reselling of the clothes and somehow makes the clothes their creation, forgetting the larger implications of such a process.
I was on ThriftShopChic.com, and found some interesting conversation on this issue, "I get that thrift stores aren’t going to “run out;” that’s not what I’m worried about. I am worried about what you accurately named as “hipster,” being that “cool kids” will go pick through the most “in style” clothes, leaving “ugly” stuff for others. Other people might even have more constricted schedules, which means they can only pop in at night after clothes have been picked through by people with the privilege of shopping at better times… maybe not. Who knows... But if you are working 9 to 5 or two jobs and your only nice work pants rip, do you even have time to go thrift that evening after your shift is over and risk not finding your size?... And if that’s a problem, it’s multiplied by ten for harder-to-find sizes. I wear plus sized clothes. A good name for plus sized professional wear is Lane Bryant. A pair of dress slacks from LB retail price could run $60-80. Ouch. That hurts, but I can actually handle that if I have to every once in awhile. Or, I could go to a thrift store, “get lucky” and find a rare, rare pair of dress slacks that fit me, and pay so much less. I would leave feeling like the universe smiled upon me, but there is an even greater chance that I actually DID take that pair from a woman who can’t currently afford the $60-80. Maybe I scored them as my third pair of dress pants, and she was looking for her first. There’s no way to know, but that is probably much more likely to happen for a plus size woman than for a woman with a more common pants size. Add on top of that the fact that obesity disproportionately affects poor people". An issue that this article excerpt identifies is the scarcity of clothing that fits. Maybe the rich white girls buying two jumbo bags of clothes to resell could have grabbed a top to fit an overweight woman working two jobs with barely enough cash to buy a blouse for work. Some food for thought.