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Young Jews Challenging Internalized Oppression

This past July I attended the Young Jews Workshop led by Emily Bloch and Cherie Brown.1 Fifty-one people participated, most of them between the ages of sixteen and thirty-two.

Emily started the workshop by challenging us to have an accurate picture of our significance as young and young adult Jews at the center of both Jewish liberation and the RC Community. Cherie said that if we could really tell2 that we were at the center of this project, Jewish liberation would fly.3

On Saturday afternoon, the white Jews and Jews of the global majority met separately. Cherie asked the white Jews to look at where our internalized Jewish oppression gets acted out as racism. We grew up with the picture that being Jewish is being a white Jew. Emily talked about how bad we feel about ourselves as Jews and how this connects to racism. And we often let the oppressor role we play as white Jews be a justification for feeling bad about ourselves—for example, “I run4 racism or have racist thoughts, so I should feel bad about myself.”

Emily led us on thinking about our lives as young adult Jews. She asked us to raise our hands if in the past year we had done any of the following: moved to a new location, gotten a new job, started or ended a relationship, or graduated from school. A third to a half of the workshop raised their hands for each question. Ten people had done all of those things in the past year. Almost the entire workshop had done at least one of them. It was a huge relief to see such a visible representation of what so many young adults’ lives are like. In the past year I have moved, started two new jobs, and ended a relationship. One thing that is precious to me about us is that because our lives are often changing, we are always trying to think flexibly about them.

Internalized anti-Jewish oppression and young adult oppression play into5 our life decisions. We are encouraged both by society and by RC to try for “big lives.” However, we are trying for them on top of years of young people’s oppression during which we had no control over our lives. By the time we are young adults, we carry big hurts about wanting things and have a limited picture of what we can want. Although we finally have enough freedom and power to do something, we often carry enough hopelessness that we find it hard to do much of anything.

Many of us panic about every life decision, big or small, with a particular intensity around figuring out the “right life.” Many of us got a narrow picture of what our lives could be like, from families whose decisions were shaped by fear for their own survival. Our search for a life with integrity can be almost an obsession. We are trying to reconnect with the human part of wanting things that we gave up on.

Cherie reminded us that what is good for us is not in contradiction to what is good for everyone else. Fighting for ourselves is not in contradiction to saving the world. She said that people generally join movements because of human connections, not ideas, and that it’s hard to save the world if we don’t have any friends.

Alana Eichner
Washington, D.C., USA
Reprinted from the RC e-mail
discussion list for leaders of Jews


1 Emily Bloch is the International Liberation Reference Person for Young Adults. Cherie Brown is the International Liberation Reference Person for Jews.
2 “Tell” means notice.
3 “Fly” means make great progress.
4 “Run” means act out.
5 “Play into” means have an effect on.


Last modified: 2020-07-17 20:50:52+00