Social media has seen an uptick in thoughtful and passionate pleas from white Americans to their white friends and family to reflect on their own racial biases, confront racial injustice and stand by black Americans who continue to fight for equitable treatment in the United States.
And, while the authors don’t always explicitly invoke Jesus and his teachings — though many do — from the language and tone, you can understand they are coming at this from the perspective of white Christians, a group which enjoys a high level of privilege in America.
As a Jewish person, I have often felt conflicting emotions while reading some of these writings, especially those claiming “we” (meaning white people) could never understand what it feels like to be oppressed and targeted for who you are.
My defensiveness would be unleashed, and I would find myself screaming inside:
“But, I do understand!”
“What about antisemitism!”
“I too am afraid!”
From what I have heard, I am not alone.
There is a defensiveness amongst the larger Jewish community, particularly in Ashkenazic circles, which is made up predominantly of Jews whose family heritage can be traced back to Eastern Europe.
We often feel our own struggles are ignored, wondering if they are dismissed because we are white, and therefor can’t understand or appreciate the struggles of BIPOC in America, or if they are dismissed because we are Jewish and people don’t care about us.
So, we get defensive, proclaim the whole world hates us anyway, and refuse to see the realities in front of us.
But, this attitude of believing that because the world doesn’t care about us, why should we care about them, is dangerous.
Judaism is not a one-race religion. We have practitioners from all backgrounds, and yes, that includes black Americans.
Imagine being discriminated against for the color of your skin in the world at large, and then find that same bigotry in your community synagogue, a place where you would think compassion and understanding would be abundant.
Imagine further that the world mostly views Jews as white, thus denying you your very own identity.
We as white or light-skinned Jews need to do better.
Working to end racism fits right in with the Jewish message of tikkun olam, or healing the world. As a Jewish mom to two boys who also happen to be white, this is a message I want them to embrace.
I want them to use their privilege as soon-to-be white men to help those who are treated unfairly, while calling on their own experiences as Jews to empathize with their struggle.
I want them to understand that combating racism and bigotry won’t always be easy, and may mean standing up to friends and classmates.
I want them to know working to make the world a more just place is as Jewish as learning prayers or practicing Hebrew.
PJ Library, which provides free, Jewish-themed books to children, offers a number of resources on talking to your kids about racism, most of these are applicable to families of any religion, but I appreciate them being made available through a program geared toward Jewish families.
As a parent, and long-time PJ parent, I have also noticed the organization’s own efforts to feature books with more diversity and show the world that Jews come in all skin tones. Our family loved this one, for example.
To learn more about PJ Library, and to enroll your child, please click here.
Disclaimer: As a PJ Library influencer, I am compensated for promoting this program. All opinions expressed are my own.