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“One of the Best Workshops I’ve Been To”

In October 2015, I attended the Black Gentiles and Jews Workshop. It was held in Maryland, USA, and was led by Barbara Love and Cherie Brown.* It was one of the best workshops I’ve been to in my sixteen years in Co-Counseling.

I was a member of the Black leadership team, and we met with Barbara on Thursday afternoon before the full workshop started. Barbara held out an expectation that, for me, framed the entire workshop. She posed the possibility of being at the workshop all weekend and being completely outside of the victim role—building relationships with people, including with white Jews, from a position of power. She reminded us that restimulation is a choice, that we can decide to not be restimulated, and that this was what she wanted for us–not just at the workshop but in general.

Barbara said that figuring out the “hook” (where we get restimulated) with white Jews will move us as Black people forward by light years (very fast). If we can get out of the victim role, we are home free (safe, without problems). I realized in my mini-session after this talk that if I could take the same non-victim stand that I take with Jews with other white people, it would make a big difference in how internalized racism plays out for me. Barbara ended with encouraging us to show the same jubilation to see the Jews as we tend to show with each other. She asked us to look at anything that would get in our way of feeling the same level of joy and warmth and caring about them.

In the Thursday evening class, Barbara and Cherie put forward another key piece of perspective. The theme was “daring to go deeper.” Barbara said her commitment was to create the conditions for us to actually dare to stay in there with each other, to face what needs to be faced to have each other for real—not just think about how nice it would be to have each other. Cherie said this was our moment and that we should dare to risk something with one another. She hoped we would have some really “juicy” restimulations.

Barbara and Cherie modeled what we were going for (attempting) in how they had built their relationship and how they worked together at the workshop. They talked openly about how as they’d planned the workshop they had battled the “hook” that comes up between Black Gentiles and white Jews. It was helpful to have a model of two powerful women fighting the same fight that all of us were there for.

The workshop was mostly Black Gentiles and white Ashkenazi Jews, with a solid group of Jews of the Global Majority. We came in pairs—one Black Gentile and one white Ashkenazi Jew. I came with a white Ashkenazi man with whom I counsel regularly. Another white Ashkenazi man that I’m close to came to the workshop solo after his partner had to cancel, and I ended up doing several of the partner activities with him as well. It was useful for me to experience the workshop from the perspective of strengthening relationships in which I am already deeply invested. It grounded the work and was powerful leverage when facing my own oppressor material (distress). I left the workshop feeling much closer to both of them and with a sense of having teammates in this fight to end both of our oppressions.

One of the things we did with our partners was a relationship session with another pair. It was so useful to appreciate and love each other openly, to talk about what gets hard, and to hold out expectations for each other. I especially appreciated the chance to have my two partners tell me how I could be a better ally to them. I felt another step closer to each of them after doing this work together.

It was wonderful to have the group of Jews of the Global Majority there as allies. Some of them I was already close to, and some of them were new to me. But it made such a difference to know that all of them were on our side as we fought toward each other. I look forward to more chances to think about them as a group and about how the intersection of racism and anti-Jewish oppression affects their lives.

One of the biggest contradictions (to distress) for me was that it was clear we were all reaching for each other with everything we had, and fighting hard against our confusions to have each other more. It takes a lot of honesty and integrity to face, head on, where we are compromised by our oppressor material—which is what is required if we are really going to end racism and anti-Jewish oppression. For me, it was deeply reassuring to be with this group of people exhibiting so much honesty and integrity in this area. Knowing we were doing that together made it possible for me to go further in challenging myself to face even harder distresses.

I loved being led by Cherie and gaining a deeper understanding of how anti-Jewish oppression operates. Key for me was a reminder that I need to face what’s happening in Israel and Palestine and discharge what I need to in order to be a strong ally to Jews on this issue, while also challenging the racism. I realized that Jews can’t avoid the restimulation of this issue, and therefore I don’t get to avoid it either.

Cherie also emphasized that the moments we get hooked with each other are “gold” and are the key to our liberation. She said that we wouldn’t always be able to find each other in those moments but that it’s not how long it takes for us to come back to each other; it’s that we do come back.

We had a nice long Shabbat celebration with music and dancing; lots of us dressed up for the occasion. It was wonderful—fun, festive, and joyous—all of us in celebration together. I loved it.

One last personal highlight was that on Saturday night a group of Black Gentiles, white Ashkenazi Jews, and some Jews of the Global Majority stayed up late having a sing-along accompanied by guitar and piano. We had a great time with hip-hop songs, pop songs, Israeli songs, songs from the sixties, and more. It was another rich and joyful celebration of our similarities and differences.

I can tell that this workshop is having a deep and lasting impact on me. I have a much better understanding of how anti-Jewish oppression operates and what it takes for me to stand up against my own vulnerabilities there. I feel more closely allied with all the white Jews in my life and have a bottom-line understanding that we are on each other’s sides. I also have a better sense of how to stand shoulder to shoulder with white Ashkenazi Jews as we take on our mutual liberation.

Thanks to Barbara and Cherie for leading us so fiercely and with such love, and to everyone at the workshop for bringing their full selves there. I can’t wait to be with you all again.

 

Shani Fletcher

Dorchester, Massachusetts, USA

(Present Time 184, July 2016)


Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00