My nine-year-old and I were updating his PJ Library reusable wall calendar for January, when he noticed Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish holiday celebrating the new year of the trees, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, fall on the same day this year, Monday, January 17.
As we look ahead to Tu B’Shvat, we can be mindful of Dr. King’s work, how climate justice and racial justice are linked, and how we can bridge the Jewish values of caring for our planet and working toward a more just world together.
“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. King’s words continue to ring true, as we look back on his legacy and wonder if we have gotten closer to achieving his dream for an equitable world.
While Tu B’Shvat is traditionally a holiday focused on trees, specifically the trees of Israel, and celebrating the land, the festival can be used an opportunity for both Jews and non-Jews a like to consider the topic of environmental justice.
Tu B’Shvat is the perfect time to ask ourselves, and our children, do we have access to clean water? Can we breathe clean air? Do we live in a place that is safe from the impact of hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters? Are we close to parks, nature centers, and other places for appreciating the environment?
If the answer to these questions is yes, we can take the opportunity to think about how others might be living, and note how environmental inequality is very much an issue in the U.S. and beyond.
If you are not yet aware, I am Jewish, and like many in my community, I am hurt by the antisemitism that permeates social media.
Antisemitism always hurts, but for me, I am especially disheartened when those sentiments are shared by other minorities. Lately, anti-Jewish rhetoric has been shared by a few prominent Black people, as means to explain the cause of Black oppression.
Namely, a few Black celebrities and leaders, have stated that “White” Jews are trying to destroy America, and take over the world.
Before going deeper, I want to state that this type of language suggesting a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world is absolutely a White Supremacist ideology. They absolutely love when non-Jewish Blacks and White (Or White-Passing) Jews go after one another, because they are the ones who win when we destroy one another.
I also want to stress that while language or imagery depicting White people in general as oppressive to Blacks is understandable, and yes, many Jews identify as and benefit from Whiteness, singling Jews, another historically oppressed minority, out as the lone cause of Black mistreatment in America is not O.K.
Not too long ago, Jews were excluded from much of “White” society in America. Though not to the horrific extent of Black Americans, Jews were often banned from many places in America. College quotas, for example, were established to limit the number of Jews in attendance, giving rise to “Jewish” colleges, such as Brandeis University. Jews often had to hide their identities to gain access to certain areas, but also for their own safety. The ability to blend in with White Christians remains both a survival technique and a benefit for light-skinned Jews.
My own parents gave me and my siblings more “Anglican” legal names, even though we also have Hebrew names. I was told several times having a more “American” name on a resume would help me fare better on my job search.
Of course things have changed, and light-skinned Jews have in many ways reaped the benefits of White Supremacy. At the same time, White Supremacists actively promote the idea that Jewish people are doing evil things, and subvert the purity of Whiteness.
This idea of a Jewish plan for world domination is so old, it’s tired. Google the “Elders of Zion” to see how this all got started. While you are at it, Google the history of Jewish occupations and how they were banned from many jobs, except for ones related to banking, and see how antisemitic ideas related to Jews and money developed over time.
And, then there’s the issue of Israel and how antisemitism seems to be OK because the Israeli government often does some questionable things.
But, I am not here to get into a debate about Israel.
Because making Jews (Ashkenazi Jews especially), worried about the fragility of Israel is another tool in the White Supremacist arsenal that plays right into fears stemming from the trauma of the Holocaust, which was also perpetrated by White Supremacists.
They love to point out how “leftist” causes, particularly Black Lives Matter, are anti-Israel and antisemitic, seeding fear and doubt in the minds of White Jews.
And, yes, there may be some antisemitic people who are also fighting against racism. Just like there are people who are fighting antisemitism, but are still practicing anti-Black racism.
The sad truth is that social justice often doesn’t work as harmoniously as we would hope. Racism, antisemitism and other prejudice can infiltrate those circles as much as anywhere else.
As Tisha B’Av, a Jewish day of mourning and reflection approaches, I ask all of us, but especially those of us who identify as an “outsider” in some way, to come together to denounce hatred and bigotry.
United we can achieve great things.
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