White Ashkenazi Jews Eliminating Racism

This March we had the second North America White Ashkenazi Jews Eliminating Racism Workshop. (Cherie Brown1 led the first one about ten years ago.) A hundred and thirty-one people came, from the southwest and southeast of Canada and from every geographical region of the mainland United States. Having so many Jews, from so many areas, gave us a view from many different perspectives of our strengths, our struggles, and the racism that had landed on us. We were two-thirds women and a third men, with a lovely representation of young adults, all class backgrounds, and GLBTQ2 folks.

My main goal on Friday evening was to set a tone of slowing down and connecting with each other. I saw this as key to our being able to discharge the hurts of racism. I also kept pointing us toward the incredible resource we had gathered in terms of numbers, attention, years of experience, commitment, and leadership.

I reminded us of how precious, blameless, and good we all were and that we deserved to be pleased with ourselves and each other simply because we existed—that we needed no more justification than that. I encouraged us to be kind, gentle, patient, and caring. I said that we didn’t need to accomplish anything that weekend except to increasingly bring ourselves to each other. It was a challenge for me to keep modeling that and reaching for people, and myself. It brought up big terror, but somehow by staying connected I was able to face the terror rather than disappearing or operating on top of it.

I was able to keep thinking, and showing my thinking, as I trembled through each class. I kept trying to make visible the process of my mind—where it flourished as well as where I was struggling. It looked like that had a big impact on how fully people could use my mind and each other’s minds.

I started Saturday morning with a demonstration with the person who had launched the RC work of white Ashkenazi Jews discharging on their identity. She had started it with the opening line, “My beloved Ashkenazim.” I invited her to start us again in that same way, which got people discharging well on what they loved about being white Ashkenazi Jews.

Then we moved to looking at how racism, our history as a people, and our early experiences of defeat were connected. The early childhood defeats, shaped by several thousand years of anti-Jewish oppression, were the seedbed of our racism and were also immersed in racism. Doing the early work3 can free our minds not only from the discouragement and powerlessness caused by our individual and our people’s defeats but also from the racism in our early experiences. I landed on what I thought was a key contradiction to our distresses: that we are worth this battle and deserve every person’s backing4 to fight it.

We moved from there to looking at the intersection of white racism and internalized anti-Jewish oppression. This included how anti-Jewish oppression has operated to keep oppressive societies in place and how our history of repeated abandonment, betrayal, scapegoating, expulsion, violence, and threats of annihilation left us with mistrust, isolation (particularly from our natural allies, other oppressed people), terror, panic, urgency, and a compulsive need to know and succeed, and set us up for5 the oppressor conditioning, including racism. I also reminded us that there never was, and never will be, anything wrong with us.

We worked on the “quasi-racism” amongst us white Ashkenazi Jews with regard to skin color and Semitic looks (big nose, curly hair, darker complexion), and on the racism in how we separate ourselves from and deny the existence of Mizrachi Jews (Jews of Arab heritage) and other Jews of color. We gained a better understanding of how this racism makes us see ourselves and our way of being Jewish as the norm.6

We also worked on our relationships with Gentiles targeted by racism, starting with the reality that we, as a people and as individuals, are wanted—by each other and by people targeted by racism. I decided to up the ante (offer a bigger challenge or contradiction) by offering something I had read in one of Tim’s7 articles: in my own words, that young people are thrilled with other humans, thrilled that they exist, thrilled that they are theirs, and thrilled to be with them. We get to reclaim that. I asked the question, “How has racism dimmed this thrill for you?”

Dvora Slavin
Seattle, Washington, USA
Reprinted from the RC e-mail
discussion list for leaders of Jews

1 Cherie Brown is the International Liberation Reference Person for Jews.
2 Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer
3 “Doing the early work” means discharging the early hurts.
4 “Backing” means support.
5 “Set us up for” means made us vulnerable to.
6 “The norm” means what is normal.

7 Tim Jackins’

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00