Working-Class Jews

I led an East Coast USA Jewish Working-Class Workshop in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in March. About forty-five people attended -- mostly from the East Coast but also from the Midwest, Northwest, and South.

All weekend we kept building a place to be fully ourselves -- where we wouldn't be wondering if we were Jewish enough or working-class enough or wouldn't be looking for other Jews or working-class people in order to feel safe; where we would know we were exactly right, in exactly the right place, with exactly the right people, and could therefore discharge on being the unique working-class Jews we each were. Being pleased with each other allowed us to be ourselves and honestly show where we flourish and struggle.

As working-class Jews we are often pulled to "jump over" our distresses and function at a level beyond where we are internally. Many of our parents urgently clawed their way out of the working class, or encouraged us to do so. We watched their terrified attempts to move up the economic ladder. We need to stop placing the battle outside of ourselves, as if there is something external to overcome, and instead reach for ourselves internally. There is nothing more important than having ourselves.

We often feel overrun, overwhelmed, and beaten down. Our families were sometimes smashed in their attempts to make it out from under the oppression. Sometimes it looked like they didn't even try. Many of us have ended up grabbing ourselves by the scruff of the neck and beating ourselves into action, or feeling resentful of those who look like they have "made it" (such as our middle- and owning-class Jewish sisters and brothers). We must not believe recordings that tell us our families were failures, that we are failures, or that we can't have our lives the way we want them. Our struggles are not our personal problems (Jewish oppression so often presents itself that way). They are rooted in a history of systematic oppression.

I suggested that we reclaim our working-class Jewish identity, clean it up by discharging our grief and anger at losing so much of our culture, and rebuild. I asked the questions: "How do we remain Jewish and working-class in this historical period? What would you include in a rebuilt, working-class Jewish community?"

I would include:

1. Our being central and visible and acting on our significance -- seeing ourselves as key to Jewish and working-class liberation;

2. Putting human closeness, human needs, and human unity first and foremost in our lives and our communities -- seeing to it that economic justice and the complete transformation of society are priorities wherever we organize;

3. Always acting on our intelligence, integrity, courage, and revolutionary and ethical fervor.

I shared something Harvey said at a recent Israeli Jewish leaders' conference: "The truth of the matter is that the people of the world, quite correctly, expect much more of Jews because they're Jews. You're going to live up to their expectations. Reality has singled out Jews to play a special role."

Harvey was our most important ally. His relationship with us was characterized by great love, great admiration, high expectations, and a kindred revolutionary spirit. He understood us and who we really are. As we carry out the next phase of the RC project and social change, we get to take him, and his view of us, with us.

Dvora Slavin
Seattle, Washington, USA

Last modified: 2015-06-29 23:31:13+00