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A Liberation Workshop for Owning-Class Jews

From January 29 to February 1 of this year, Jo Saunders, the International Liberation Reference Person for Owning-Class People, and I led a workshop for sixty-four owning-class Jews from the United States, Canada, and England.

I thought it would be one of the more challenging workshops for me to lead. It did push me to keep thinking afresh about many issues—class, oppressor patterns, money, rich Jews, security, assimilation and upward mobility, anti-Jewish oppression, leading with an owning-class English Gentile, and more. But in the end it was one of my all-time favorite workshops and a place for me to be myself and at home.

I put out at the beginning that it was not an owning-class workshop for Jews, or a Jewish liberation workshop for people raised or currently owning class, but a liberation workshop for owning-class Jews. A key challenge in all Jewish liberation work has been to fully grab hold of and discharge on both the oppressed and the oppressor patterns—particularly the oppressor patterns—and not slip into the comfortable role of being the victim. Owning-class Jews, because they have been set up to be out front taking the heat,1 are a perfect group of Jews to find the courage to do this dual work.

One overall direction that Jo and I repeatedly put out, from each of our unique perspectives, was to reclaim the unity of the Jewish people and not have any one group of Jews get divided from any other.

The following are a few of my highlights from the workshop:

Jo has put decades of work into owning-class issues—capitalism, how the accumulation of money and wealth robs people of their humanity, oppressor material,2 the role of anti-Jewish oppression in setting up owning-class Jews to be on the front line to take the “hits” and be blamed. It was a joy to work with her and learn from her. Her fierce commitment to Jews, and to assisting them to place the blame for anti-Jewish oppression where it belongs, on the Gentile world, created great safety for everyone.

I loved seeing what can happen when a brave and courageous group of owning-class Jews try and face everything—with their Jewish, raised-working-class, currently middle-class International Liberation Reference Person (me) and their Gentile, English, owning-class International Liberation Reference Person (Jo) working together with them side by side.

There were large numbers of mixed-heritage Jews (over half the workshop), young adult Jews, and LGBTQ3 Jews. The Jewish community is increasingly upwardly mobile, and owning-class Jews are increasingly pulled to assimilate, so it made sense that there were so many mixed-heritage and young adult owning-class Jews.

We set up support groups based on wealth—Jewish millionaires, Jewish multi-millionaires, mixed-heritage millionaires, young-adult rich Jews, owning-class Jews who no longer have money, Jews with “merely” thousands, and so on. With the safety of being in these groups, and the clear direction that everyone is totally good and blameless, people could courageously face the huge terror attached to money and security.

Jo put out clear directions: to discharge toward giving away wealth, and to remember that our relationships with each other (and not money) are our only true security.

Being rich Jews and having been set up to be the most hated and ashamed, the often humiliated, and the sometimes killed had left this gang with a ton of terror, humiliation, self-disgust, and patterns of trying to hide. I worked with4 folks on facing these things. We also worked on “mental health” oppression. The terror underlying the accumulation of wealth has left many owning-class Jews afraid that if they really feel how terrified they are, they will go “crazy.”

We did intergenerational work on Israel and Palestine. I worked with a young adult who wanted to scream at us Jewish elders to get out of the way and stop telling him what to do. I had him discharge side by side with a Jewish elder who wanted to shout at this young adult Jew, “Read your history more, and don’t ignore all that we Jewish elders have learned in doing this work.” I got excited about doing dual work side by side on the oppressions of young people and elders. Both these oppressions are impacting our ability to do effective Jewish organizing.

Jo and I met with the Israeli Palestinian peace activists at a meal table. We looked at how as owning-class Jews they might take what we were doing at the workshop—loving and being totally proud of owning-class Jews, while at the same time working on the oppressor patterns—into Middle East peace work. Three U.S. owning-class Jewish families paid for almost the entire campaign of Netanyahu;5 U.S. owning-class Jews foot6 much of the bill for the settlements,7 and so on. And anti-Jewish oppression gets totally enmeshed in the Middle East conflict to keep everyone confused and blaming Israel and missing the actual sources of the oppression. Someone asked, “How do we never blame owning-class Jews in our organizing work, and love them deeply, while at the same time help them face how they are totally terrified and then set up by the Gentile imperialist world to play these awful anti-Palestinian oppressor roles?”

Key work was done with the mixed-heritage owning-class Jews. I worked with someone who had made a strong commitment to owning-class liberation but not to Jewish liberation. To commit to Jewish liberation, and being a full part of the Jewish people, had felt to her like a betrayal of her Gentile parent. The whole workshop welcomed her home to the Jewish people with a resounding recitation of the Shehecheyanu prayer8 (being thankful for this new, powerful moment).

We had people translating up in front into Hebrew and Russian and shared lots of Yiddish songs and words. We also had a celebratory, full-of-singing-and-dancing unassimilated Kabbalat Shabbat.9

At the beginning of the workshop, the group looked like one of the more assimilated Jewish groups I had worked with. But after a few days of discharge, it became clear that this gang of owning-class Jews was actually deeply connected to Jewish culture. The connection had just gotten hidden until they knew they were safe and welcomed to be fully themselves and also fully Jewish in every way.

The young adults asked to hang out10 with me late at night, and for two nights almost thirty people were packed into my bedroom—laughing raucously, telling stories, and playing games.

I love owning-class Jews. I was honored to work with Jo Saunders. She is a powerful ally to the Jewish people. I am proud of all that we did. My thanks to the organizers and the non-owning-class Jewish allies. I look forward to bringing all that I learned, particularly about work on oppressor patterns and Jews and money, into all of the rest of our Jewish liberation work. Yesher Koach,11 owning-class Jews. You are mine forever, from strength to strength.

Cherie Brown
International Liberation
Reference Person for Jews
Silver Spring, Maryland, USA
Reprinted from the RC e-mail
discussion list for leaders of Jews

1 “Taking the heat” means being the targets of blame.
2 “Material” means distress.
3 LGBTQ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer.
4 “Worked with” means counseled.
5 Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel
6 “Foot” means pay.
7 Since 1967, Israel has established over a hundred settlements in the West Bank, along with dozens more settlement outposts not officially recognized by the authorities, on land taken from the Palestinians in breach of international humanitarian law. This has violated Palestinian human rights and prevented a viable Palestinian state.
8 The Shehecheyanu prayer is a Jewish prayer recited when doing something for the first time in a given year.
Shabbat is the Jewish day of rest—on the seventh day of the week, from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown—on which religious Jews remember the Biblical creation of the heavens and the earth in six days, and the Exodus of the Hebrews, and look forward to a future Messianic Age. Observing Shabbat entails refraining from work activities, often with great rigor, and engaging in restful activities to honor the day. Kabbalat Shabbat is the part of the Friday evening service that precedes the regular evening prayer.
10 “Hang out” means spend relaxed, unstructured time.
11 Yesher Koach is an idiom meaning “Good job!”


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