Archive for the ‘Racism’ Category

In a way, I think I’m lucky to be writing about “Living the Legacy” as a student. It’s a new free online curriculum created by the Jewish Women’s Archive to explore the role of American Jews in the Civil Rights Movement, including both the men that are usually studied and women who are sometimes overlooked in order to create a “gender inclusive history.” Looking through the website, the lesson plans and teaching strategies look completely familiar to me: jigsaw discussion groups, a mix of Jewish and secular primary sources, and use of technology to enhance learning, among other elements. Having attended a Jewish day school for my whole life, “Living the Legacy” seems to me to be another unit in Jewish history class.

Not that that should belittle it in any way–I think that “Living the Legacy” is an incredibly rich, thorough resource, and one that teachers, especially in schools like mine, should consider taking advantage of. It is clear that Rosenbaum put immense effort into the planning of lessons, as she has succeeded at creating a diverse curriculum that encourages analytical thinking rather than portraying Jews as consistently benevolent and without fault.

Take Unit 3, Lesson 2: Growing tensions I: Black-Jewish Relations, about the tensions that began to sprout with the inception of the Black Power movement as many whites, and therefore Jews, were forced to leave many civil rights organizations, and Jews accused blacks of anti-Semitism and began to resent affirmative action, for example. The lesson plan starts out with a discussion about the similarities and differences between black slavery and Jewish slavery in Egypt. Next, groups of students in the class are assigned primary sources to read and discuss, followed by a class discussion about the similarities and differences between Jewish and black involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. Following this, the class watches a clip from PBS’ Jewish Americans about slavery, immigration, the Ocean Hill/Brownsville school boycott, and Julius Lester’s radio show, and then discuss a long list of questions. Finally, the lesson concludes with students participating in a poetry slam. Ignoring the fact that this seems to be a lesson plan long enough for three classes, what I like about this lesson is the fact that it encourages students to empathize with both Jewish and black people rather than simply Jews.

I guess what I like best about “Living the Legacy” is that even after attending a Jewish school for 13 years, I’ve never really spent time studying specifically Jewish and black relations, so this is a topic that I can honestly say I’d be interested in learning about. Which I think is a good sign, seeing as the curriculum is aimed at students in grades 8-12. Overall, I’d say that “Living the Legacy” is definitely worth exploring, even if you’re not an educator or student, because of the vast quantity of primary and secondary sources it has on file and the thought-provoking questions it raises. And, of course, the fact that it brings up a lot of female figures who are sometimes overlooked in other curricula.


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Name: Sophia Henriquez

Age: 16

Place of Birth: New York City

Neighborhood: New York City

Denomination: Reform

Race: Caucasian

Ethnicity: Hispanic

Sexuality: Heterosexual

Profession: Student

“So, who are you interviewing next?”

“Sophia Henriquez from Peer Leadership,” I answered.

“But I thought your project was about Jewish feminism,” my mom replied, her face scrunching into a contortion of confusion that accompanies assumptions proven incorrect.

My mother is not the only one who responded like this when I mentioned that Sophia was my next interviewee. With a common Hispanic last name and a self-identified Latina, she is not the most likely Jew and that makes her a fighter for her religious identity, someone who goes the extra mile to prove to people that she is, in fact, Jewish not in spite of but in conjunction with her last name.

Sophia is not only Jewish, but Christian as well. She has grown up embracing diversity. After going to camp with her when we were younger, we have reunited in the Peer Leadership classroom, a place where high school juniors and seniors are taught to acknowledge differences and use them to construct individual identity. I knew she would be an ideal candidate for this project when she said during a lesson on family identity that what she loves most are the traditions her family has created, traditions that stem from a fusion of practices generally thought to run parallel, but to never intersect. This is precisely the beauty of the Henriquez interfaith and interracial household: it proves that this intersection is possible and that Judaism has a place in it.

I meet Sophia in the Senior Inquiry classroom. There are teachers bickering in the background and the din makes her assert her responses just like she asserts her unique and occasionally unaccepted identity. As with many young Jewish women, the first example that comes to mind when I ask Sophia to describe her religious upbringing is her Bat Mitzvah. The least genetically Jewish of all the women in her immediate family, she and her sister were actually the first ones to have Bat Mitzvahs.

She describes her mother’s influence, “My mom wasn’t a force on [my sister and I having Bat Mitzvahs] because she didn’t have one herself and neither did my grandmother so it was very individual for my sister and I because it was always a question of where we belonged.”

Sophia is a representative of what happens when you choose religion and religious practices. She puts choice back into religion and tradition. She took the initiative in having a Bat Mitzvah. This initiation is the most mature step to take in a ceremony that has the intention of a coming of age.

Just as she defined her desire to have a Bat Mitzvah, she defines other rituals on her own terms. Flexibility with Judaism is vital for this reform Jew from Stuyvesant Town. Her take on religion is beautiful and modern, containing elements of acceptance and comfort. As someone who is a part of two religions, she is able to take Judaism into a greater context.


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A few hours ago, my plane landed from one central diaspora locale to another. I just returned from Boca Raton…specifically Century Village, an almost all-Jewish retirement community with buses coming back and forth from the built-in synagogue daily. I, like anyone under the age of 85 there, was visiting my grandparents who fit the cookie-cutter stereotype of the bubbie and zadie. They identify as ethnically Jewish. They are Conservative. They are white. They mingle exclusively with people who look and think like them. If you’re in Century Village for too long, you can forget that these people are far from representative of the overall American-Jewish population.

Lucky for me, I found this blog to keep me in check. A Mixedjewgirl World where “an Afro-Jewish Sociologist tackles race, class, gender, religion, and sexuality” is basically a handbook for how to become both racially and culturally aware concerning Judaism, which is too often portrayed as homogeneous in concentrated communities like Boca, but really is not. This super-cool and knowledgeable blogger has some seriously bad-ass thoughts on all areas of intersectionality.

Here’s some:

Clueless is no excuse

1 ~ Reach out to other Jews across difference because you will find our commonalities exceed our differences by far.

2 ~ Do not assume that Jewish history and the current Jewish population is comprised most significantly of Jews of European culture ancestry.

3 ~ Consider that within the customs and traditions of the Jewish people, there is a great diversity of language, culture, custom and color. Be willing to reach for and stay connected to the diversity of the Jewish people.

4 ~ Do not assume that because a person has dark skin that they must be a convert. This is not necessarily true or fair to individuals that have been Jewish all of their lives.

5 ~ Learn to value the “inner” Jew in yourself so that you can better appreciate it in others.

And here’s more.

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<b>Off</b> <b>and</b> <b>Running</b> Jewishness is often associated with whiteness. Statistically speaking, this association makes sense, seeing as over 99 percent of American Jews are identified as white. This was not the case half a century ago when Jews were being barred from universities and “white” required the addendum of “Anglo-Saxon Protestant.”

Judaism is a culture for some. It is a religion for all who identify as Jews. Judaism is not – in my opinion (and many disagree with me) – a race. When Judaism is confined to a race, especially when that race is white, many Jews are excluded and discriminated against. Judaism is an aspect of one’s identity – a choice rather than a racial obligation. When individuals are told they have to “look Jewish” to “be Jewish,” they lose the chance to claim their own identity.

In American Jewry, this is especially pertinent concerning trans-racial adoption. Avery Klein-Cloud, an African American Jew, co-wrote Off and Running, a documentary of her search for personal identity that opens today in Manhattan.

The Times reviews,

All Avery understands, by her own admission, is how to be white and Jewish. Raised in an observant household in Brooklyn by Tova Klein and Travis Cloud, a lesbian couple with two other adopted, nonwhite children, Avery is a gifted athlete and a loving sister. But when she reaches out to her birth mother in Texas, her need to connect with the past jeopardizes her future and distances her from the only family she has ever known.

I will definitely be seeing this documentary, seeing as a text that depicts “the complexities of transracial adoption without forcing [the] film into a predetermined, inspirational box” is crucial to the development of Jewish identity and acceptance.

And how is this a Jewish feminist issue?, you might ask. Adoption is a manifestation of reproductive choice. Reproductive choice is a feminist issue. This film is a manifestation of women in the movie industry, which is a feat seeing as – according to WAM – only 15 percent of movie producers, writers, and directors are women. This documentary is written, directed, and produced 100% by women!

Last, but most definitely not least, this is a coming of age story about choice, identity, and equality. I’d say Jewish feminism is totally behind that.

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