The Jewish Question, 2022
Plus: funny pictures
There are some seriously funny Jewish takes on Instagram about the Met Gala, which is a thing that people dress up for and apparently happened last week.
In Seattle, last Tuesday night, the Keller Lectures at Temple De Hirsch Sinai hosted Bari Weiss in conversation with Rabbi Danny Weiner about fighting anti-Semitism and hanging on to the core values of liberalism.
On Monday night, Noa Tishby, Israel’s special envoy for combating anti-Semitism and delegitimization of Israel and author of Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth, spoke at the Stroum JCC. She’s plugging a Jewish American Heritage Month campaign to #showyourstar — check it out.
Miri Tilson and her mom, Fortun Azose, pose with author and activist Noa Tishby at the Stroum JCC Monday night.
And on Thursday night, The Stroum JCC along with Hillel UW and the Federation hosted an evening of music with Gili Yalo.
It’s great to see so many high-profile visitors holding in-person events at our institutions again!
The Jewish Question, 2022
Washington Ethnic Studies Now director Tracy Castro-Gill is out with another blog post about Jews. I’ll keep this brief, since I said almost everything I have to say about this topic a few weeks ago. This time, she and her “reasonable” Jewish friend Jeff Treistman discuss Zionism and “The Jewish Question.” Yes, this is the actual title.
Here’s a nugget.
We enter into this dialogue because some conservative, white Jews argue that the focus on indigeneity in ethnic studies is intentionally antisemitic and is used to consider Israel a settler-colonial state. Some Jews believe all Jews are indigenous to Israel and have a right to take the land back from Palestinians. While Jeff and I may not entirely agree on the term, “settler-colonial,” we do agree that the actions of the Israeli State are crimes against humanity.
Ultimately, the concepts of indigeneity and Zionism are being used to fuel the attacks on ethnic studies scholars of color and shut down ethnic studies across the country. The infringement on ethnic studies by conservative, white Jews insisting on addressing “The Jewish Question” in spaces that are meant to center people of color is also interrupting our movement.
Castro-Gill is switching from her prior use of the term of “Zionists” to “conservative, white” Jews. Gosh, it’s so hard to label these slippery Jews. Leaving aside the discussion about whether white-passing Jews are indeed “white” for the moment, let’s turn to the fact that most American Jews are not politically conservative, and those who are concerned about ethnic studies’ intentions may be so because they hold mainstream liberal values of shared humanity and equality. (Some probably are conservative, but I’m sure Castro-Gill has no more information on these demographics than I do.) Crucially, so many Jews are not even “white.” They are Arab, African, Iranian, and every color of the rainbow, all with their own experiences and relationships to Judaism. And while some of them may hold legitimate grievances against mainstream American Judaism for its “Ashkenormativity” or their synagogue president for mistaking them for the catering or janitorial staff, in theory and in practice, most of the time, Judaism considers its members as united under one tallit. This is religion at its best: it sees you for your soul, not your skin.
But to the point. Earlier, Castro-Gill claimed that Jews are claiming “people of color status” to shut down the work of ethnic studies scholars of color. Now, she is claiming that Jews are claiming indigenous status to shut down conversations on Israel/Palestine. From the sound of it, roomfuls of people of color hard at work keep getting distracted by some noisy white Jew who barges in every five minutes to remind them of the Holocaust.
The conversation is a bit disorganized and just too much to dissect here, though Treistman makes some good points that demonstrate his thoughtfulness on Jewishness and Zionism even if he comes to different conclusions than I do. Israel is criminal, he believes, but he stops short of saying it shouldn’t exist or that Jews don’t belong there.
This idea of Israel as a criminal enterprise is worth spending a minute on. Since Israel’s Independence Day was yesterday, a slew of reflections on Zionism are hot off the presses. Susie Linfield’s response to the Amnesty International report in Sapir comprises a balanced take and contains many astute observations, including this one:
…embedded within Amnesty’s report is an assumption that, though never overtly stated, is its bedrock: In this case, subtext is urtext. To wit: Israel not only commits egregious acts; it is an egregious project. Israel not only commits crimes; on the most basic, irredeemable level, it is a crime. And this, in the Amnesty view, has been true since May 1948, when the country was born in sin. Israel’s history is simply the inevitable working out of its wicked origin story; the stain can never be erased, except perhaps by national suicide.
This sense of criminality, paired with selective amnesia about history and geography, is not unique to Amnesty. It’s everywhere.
Now, “the Jewish Question.” Castro-Gill references her conversation with me. When I was asking her about ethnic studies’ relationship to the Jewish community, I did ask her about the Jewish question. I regret using these words, because I meant question in a general, lowercase sense, like “issue.” How did she understand the issues Jewish Americans have around ethnic studies and how it sometimes portrays Israel? The formal Jewish Question traces back to the emancipation of European Jews in the 19th century and what society was supposed to do with them. This “question” settled on two answers: erasure and liberation. It ultimately saw these answers expressed as the Holocaust and the creation of the State of Israel.
Herzl discussed the “Jewish question” in 1896:
I consider the Jewish question neither a social nor a religious one, even though it sometimes takes these and other forms. It is a national question, and to solve it we must first of all establish it as an international political problem to be discussed and settled by the civilized nations of the world in council.
We are a people—one people.
By obtaining sovereignty in their historic land, the Jewish state would get Jews out of the hair of Christian Europe and provide assistance to the Ottoman Empire, which was in charge at the time and had an overall good relationship with its Jewish communities. “This guard of honor would be the great symbol of the solution of the Jewish Question after eighteen centuries of Jewish suffering,” wrote Herzl.
Zionism as a liberation struggle? It can’t be. Castro-Gill time and again minimizes both our historical oppression (wasn’t the Holocaust just white people fighting white people?) and our liberation struggle (Zionism is merely settler-colonialism, and if that doesn’t make sense, let’s try colonialism by proxy).
In her words:
Why do some white Jews, in particular, insist that their experiences with oppression and genocide are somehow unique? There are far more examples of genocide among people of the global majority than white Jews. Each racial and ethnic group has stereotypes they face that can also be amplified by interrogating how they benefit from them. One notable example is the model minority myth about Asians.
What? How did we get from genocide to an Asian math myth? To say nothing of the sheer magnitude of the Holocaust.
This could all be mitigated with some basic education, but radical ethnic studies is not interested in that. In California, ethnic studies is heading toward approval as a graduation requirement to get into the UC system. The proposal includes classroom-based solidarity and activism. Whether or not you think that’s what school is for, it’s not hard to imagine it going wrong for Jewish students. We are not permitted to enter with our oppression, our “lived experiences,” our pride. We can’t stay out of it, because it sucks us back in. We can’t get too involved, because then we get pushed out.
If Jews want to be part of an ethnic studies curriculum, they can’t try to be excused from having their identity pulled apart and examined for how it is used to oppress others, so why do white Jews, specifically, continue to insist there is a “Jewish question,” that is somehow different, or outside of other questions about identity, power, and oppression?
Why do Jews always resist full conformity? Why do Jews refuse to hand their identities over to people who know nothing about Judaism to have them pulled apart and examined?
Is there a new Jewish question?
Or is it the same as the old one?
This week’s parasha is Kedoshim
Candlelighting in Seattle is at 8:10 p.m.
Sephardic Jewish Heritage Tour to Spain: October 19-27, 2022
Come and experience the history of Jews in Spain: explore museums and world heritage sites, walk through the old cobbled lanes of Jewish neighborhoods, take in the splendid architecture, eat delicious food, drink Spanish wine, all while learning about the Golden Age of the Jews of Sepharad on this unique family run Jewish Heritage Tour to Spain.
For more info go to www.norakaplan.com
Zoom info session on Wednesday, June 8th at 1:30pm with Professor Moises Hassan. Register at Sephardic Jewish Heritage of Spain :: Qesher
In-person info session in Seattle on Sunday, June 12th at 3pm. Contact email@example.com to attend.
Shout out to the Seattle Jewish Film Festival executive and screening committees for both helping SJCC steer the large SJFF ship and keeping it afloat this year by volunteering as admin support, reaching out to filmmakers, and many watching over 100 films each. Honorable “menschns” all! Thank you —Pamela Lavitt, Director SJCC Arts+Ideas and Festivals
Remembering the kindness, beauty & dedication of Roberta Corets z”l on her Yahrzeit & Mother’s Day. —Marilyn Corets, Adam Mihlstin & Brooke