Pulling Each Other Along

I attended the White Ashkenazi Jews1 Eliminating Racism Workshop,2 along with a hundred and thirty other white Ashkenazi Jews.

Before the workshop, Dvora3 consulted with many leaders of the global majority (Jews and non-Jews), and they all gave her the same advice: have people work on their relationships with each other. So that’s what we did. We worked on how our experiences as white Ashkenazi Jews affect our ability to connect with each other, and with Jews and non-Jews of the global majority.

The many demonstrations helped remind us of the rainbow of Jewish lives. A couple of them were with women from mixed African-heritage/white Jewish families. Listening to these women, I realized how much I still don’t understand about actually living with racism in one’s face, affecting where one can live, work, play, and so on.

I found it useful to counsel with Jews of owning-class heritage. Working on owning-class material4 frees me up to build relationships of all kinds. I counseled consistently on “better than/worse than” recordings.5 These recordings affect my relationships with everyone. I could work on how they were intertwined with early experiences of watching adults deal with racism.

I was born in rural Kentucky (in the Southern United States). Dvora’s loving welcome to Southern Jews contradicted a big division among U.S. white people that comes from how Northerners dramatize feeling less racist and “better than” Southerners.

I joined a topic table for white Southern Ashkenazi Jews. We were asked to say something good about being a Jew from the U.S. South. At first I couldn’t think of anything; my mind was full of how hard it was. My family had faced heavy anti-Jewish oppression.

Eventually I remembered something good—that the raised-poor and working-class white Protestants in our town helped my Jewish father recover from “mental health” oppression. My dad, who fled the Nazis as a boy, spent eighteen months in a psychiatric hospital as a young adult. His job in Kentucky was his first full-time job away from the supports that had helped him transition back to ordinary life. He was appreciated in Kentucky for his warmth and spunk, and our neighbors’ love helped him build a sturdy foundation for himself at a crucial time.

I was glad to be at the workshop with a hundred and thirty other white Ashkenazi Jews committed to ending racism. I knew that we were just a small sample of our much larger communities. Dvora reminded us how we are all standing on each other’s shoulders, and pulling each other along at the same time.

L’shalom (In peace),

Reprinted from the RC e-mail
discussion list for leaders of Jews

1 Ashkenazi Jews are Jews of Central and Eastern European descent, who generally identify as white.
2 Held in Maryland, USA, February 28 to March 2, 2014
3 Dvora Slavin, the leader of the workshop and the Regional Reference Person for South King County, Washington, and Hawaii, USA
4 “Material” means distress.

5 Distress recordings

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