More on the Owning-Class Jews Workshop

Almost two weeks have passed since the Owning-Class Jews Workshop.1 There have been ten report-backs on the RC e-mail discussion list for leaders of Jews but only two on the discussion list for leaders of owning-class people. I posted to the Jewish list, but some good old2 terror came up about posting to the owning-class list. Writing now on this list, I am more than a bit terrified to be this visible to y’all3 as an owning-class Jew. But I will act against the distress and do it anyway.

Our strong Gentile ally, Jo, used her first classes at the workshop to remind us that choosing the pattern of assimilation, the path of Jewish survival, was not our fault. Neither was it the fault of our parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents.

Money, wealth, excess, and profit all serve to double the terror that already comes with being a Jew. The more wealth we acquired, the more we got picked on.4 And while we gained financial riches, we assimilated and left behind the cultural treasures of being Jews.

Jo also reminded us how tricky it is for owning-class Jews to look at their owning-class oppressor material5 when they also have a history of being oppressed. Before heading into taking responsibility for the oppressor patterns, it helps to know how they got installed. What happened to make anything less than human come out of you or me? Mean Jewish patterns reflect meanness that came from the outside. And when we needed to escape, whether it was from ancient Egypt, czarist Russia, Nazi Germany, or anywhere else, wealth became a means. When we needed to survive in a new country, we figured out how to keep our families safe through material gains.

Jews acquiring wealth is a symptom of stark terror. Denying that we are afraid is an owning-class pretense. Generosity, open-heartedness, and mercy (which historically have not been directed at owning-class Jews) are part of benign reality. Benign reality is what we can recover with discharge. It is also the contradiction to the oppressor patterns. We (and all owning-class RCers) need to discharge on where we exploit people, where we act greedy and dishonest, and it’s safe to go there because none of us are bad people.

Jo offered a direction she has given owning-class RCers for a long time: “Discharge, and make your decision to give away the wealth.” Then she added, with characteristic love and lightness, “Don’t treat this as serious. It’s just money, and these are just patterns.” She also said that our next step is to look outside of the owning class and notice how much others want us back.

At many workshops I have observed other RCers getting restimulated and wanting to leave the workshop. At the Owning-Class Jews Workshop, I found myself engulfed in such a swirl of feelings for the first time. The workshop started on Thursday evening, and on Friday at 4:00 AM, I awoke with the words “I want to leave now” already formed in my mind. Feeling on the periphery was a restimulation of early family hurts and internalized anti-Jewish oppression.

A joyous Shabbat6 celebration pulled me in Friday evening, and I began feeling that I belonged in the center. When the feeling of marginalization started again on Saturday afternoon, I noticed it was similar to feelings I’d had in early grade school of wanting to be close to and favored by my teachers, since warmth and attention were lacking at home. In the future I will be able to recognize such emotional discomfort as an indication that a boatload of feelings are ready and waiting to be discharged.

I cherish Jo for guiding me to rediscover my love for and pride in my financially successful maternal grandfather. I had been showing shame and embarrassment about him for fear of being attacked for my owning-class Jewish affiliation. The workshop was a safe place to begin to discharge that fear.

I was thrilled that Cherie included a class on the intersection of owning-class Jewish identity and “mental health” oppression. At a lunchtime “mental health” liberation topic table, I shared my “mental health” story—showing myself as I usually do only with other “mental health” system survivors, suicide survivors, and psych7 hospital ex-inmates. I know from the appreciations I received that it was a good way to lead the sixteen participants, many of whom had not previously had sessions in which they’d told their “mental health” stories. At the table they had the opportunity to tell them, keeping in mind how Jewish identity and anti-Jewish oppression play out8 with an owning-class identity.

Our Jewish “mental health” stories are often tied to our Holocaust stories. During my first eight years in RC, I was certain that I didn’t have a Holocaust story. After all, my relatives had come to the United States between 1856 and 1905. Then I started wondering how I had chosen hanging as a suicide method. It didn’t take many sessions to remember that my earliest, most vivid images of hanging had come from Elie Wiesel’s Night,9 which my father had given me to read when I was ten years old. No wonder I chose hanging the three times I attempted suicide as a young adult. I survived an eleven-day coma only to survive hanging myself twice more. This sometimes strikes me as being as miraculous as any Holocaust survivor’s story.

Jo reminded us that class exploitation and oppression underlie all other oppressions. I also agree with Janet Foner10 that “mental health” oppression holds all other oppressions, including class oppression, in place—with its threat of drugging and incarceration should one step outside of the “norm.” 11

In the summer of 2014 I received some e-mails from a previously unknown-to-me distant cousin on my father’s side of the family who had done extensive genealogical research. One e-mail included about 150 names of relatives who had died in the camps.12 They were only the family members lost on my paternal grandmother’s side of the family. But although I only have a quarter of my family’s Holocaust history documented, I now have a family Holocaust history, which is more than I had before. I’ve felt confused about how to begin discharging this new yet old hurt. However, since the Owning Class Jews Workshop I have opened a door and found heavy discharge of grief with this statement: “I will never be able to meet any of my cousins whose grandparents and parents were murdered in the camps.”

Answering Cherie’s questions about degrees of assimilation was challenging, for I have practiced different degrees of assimilation at different times in my life. Regarding unassimilating oneself, I remember a family Passover seder13 when I was a teen. My beloved maternal grandpa, then in his eighties, had always clung fiercely to his acquired place in the owning class. I had never seen him “acting Jewish.” Suddenly he departed from the seder “order” and began chanting from memory in Hebrew. Everyone at the seder table was surprised and a bit embarrassed. This son of immigrants who had become a millionaire before 1929, lost it all in the Great Depression, worked to regain wealth, and joined a “no Jews allowed” businessmen’s club in the 1940s was a Jewy-Jew14 after all!

Diana Lieb
Asheville, North Carolina, USA
Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion
list for leaders of owning-class people


1 A workshop led by Cherie Brown, the International Liberation Reference Person for Jews, and Jo Saunders, the International Liberation Reference Person for Owning-Class People, from January 29 to February 1, 2015, in Washington, D.C., USA
2 “Good old” is an idiom that conveys a sense of affection for something.
3 “Y’all” means you all.
4 “Picked on” means singled out for mistreatment.
5 “Material” means distress.
6 Shabbat is the Jewish Sabbath, which begins on Friday at sundown and ends at sundown on Saturday.
7 Psychiatric
8 “Play out” means are manifested.
Night, by Elie Wiesel, is about the author’s experience as a teenager in the Nazi German concentration camps.
10 Janet Foner is the International Liberation Reference Person for “Mental Health” Liberation.
11 “The “norm” means what is considered normal.
12 Nazi concentration camps
13 Passover is a Jewish festival that commemorates of the liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt in about 1300 BCE. It takes place in early spring, beginning on the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of Nisan and lasting for seven days (in Israel) or eight (in the diaspora). A seder is the ritual feast at the beginning of Passover.
14 “Jewy-Jew” means unassimilated Jew.

 


Last modified: 2019-05-02 14:41:35+00