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The new obsession that is adding yet another needless split within an already divided American Jewish “community”

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The play True Colors: A play by and about Jews of Color, challenges “white, yes, that’s how we look – white, Jews to engage, support and protect our fellow Jews?” (Photo: buildingjewishbridges.org)

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In one of his commentaries on the Book of Leviticus, the medieval French Jewish sage Rashi stated that “all of Israel is arevim (responsible) for one another”. The statement that has been interpreted to mean that each Jew, as an individual, is responsible for the spiritual welfare of his or her fellow. But the history of the people going back to biblical times is riven with division and treachery such as the sale of Joseph by his brothers into captivity and the division of the kingdom between Israel and Judea. In every era major conflicts arise within the the Jewish people such as those between the Sadducees and Pharisees in antiquity, the various sects that arose during the life of Jesus such as the Essenes, Zealots and early Christians, and Karaite and Rabbinic streams in the middle ages.

The 17th century cult surrounding the false messiah Sabbetai Zvi is known to have scandalized and deeply wounded numerous local Jewish communities in Europe and Turkey. Many of these divisions arose simply out of the role of the scripture as opposed to the oral law or over where the leadership of the dispersed communities in exile lay. Therefore, while I will never engage in the vain pretense that we need to maintain “Jewish unity” where there has never been any, the convoluted stoking of tensions between Jews of different races serves to bring a new level of needless hatred within the broader Jewish household.

Parroting the politicized social dynamics of race relations in the 21st century, progressive Jewish activists of today are consistently now making a distinction between “Jew of Colour” (JOCs) and “white Jews” and pitting the former against the latter. Where are such expressions being made?

In the likes of such Jewish media as the Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA) which claims that “US Jewish recognition of Jews of color took decades of sweat, blood and tears”. T’Ruah, a major Jewish progressive religious organization, has published a bibliography on race including such luminaries as Ibram X. Kendi, an author who has a long documented hatred of white people and who states that it is not sufficient to not be racist, one must be actively anti-racist. Kendi recently attacked US Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett as a “white colonizer” for adopting two Haitian children. These are the statements of a person with obvious racial animus, especially given that a disproportionately high 23% of adopted children are black while an overwhelming percentage of them are sent to white parents for foster care (63%) and private domestic adoption (71%). A full 40% of all adopted children are adopted transracially, including 84% of international adoptees (such as Barrett’s two children).

Transracial adoption is often the only avenue for impoverished children to escape a life of crippling poverty and despair. In the 1970s the National Association of Black Social Workers publicly opposed transracial adoption, but eventually relented in cases where black parents could not be found. Some estimates hold that a whopping 70% of those adopted within Jewish homes are transracial cases, and many Jewish commentators praise it as a way of helping to provide for the poorest among us while also giving some childless couples the chance to raise a family. But for racial activists within the Jewish community even the best intentions and most selfless goodwill of welcoming a stranger’s child as one’s own are contemptible.

Why? Because in their mind being Jewish at all is not “other” enough.

Ashkenaz Jewry of Europe, while statistically prosperous in the United States, has one of the longest records of religious and economic repression in their history when living in nations such as Russia, Poland, and Germany. While some non-Ashkenaz communities in places like Greece were decimated by the Holocaust, the vast majority of victims of the genocide did come from the various Ashkenaz nations. The non-European Jewish communities in the Arab World, Persia, Ethiopia and Yemen faced their own forms of social and religious ostracization of varying intensity. But we should not be in a contest over who had it worse.

This is not to say that there is no racial division or banter within Jewish communities. As a child of a Ukrainian father and Iraqi mother of two vastly different Jewish traditions, it is something I encountered many times in both my life and those of friends from multi-ethnic Jewish homes. According to my late mom and multiple relatives I’ve talked to the match was not favoured by my paternal grandparents, and in fact tension between her and my in-laws may have played a role in their eventual divorce. But what was uncommon in that era (the 1980s) is becoming increasingly ubiquitous.

In 1999 estimates held that in Israel 24% of marriages were between partners of “mixed” ethnicity, while such marriages had a rate of divorce (24%) between that of Ashkenaz (30%) and Sephardic (20%) marriages. I also know that no less than three of my cousins on the Ashkenaz side married spouses from families hailing from such communities as Morocco, Uzbekistan, and Yemen. As far as intermarriage in general with spouses that are not Jews at all, before 1980 the frequency of such cases was only 17% of Jewish marriages according to Pew Research Center. By 2013 it was 58%, a sign that whatever one’s religious view on intermarriage it is now becoming a supermajority of Jewish marriages.

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The notion that Jews of color are having to struggle for recognition is idiotic, because in the past of course, as a proportion of the community they were much smaller. It goes without saying that when many of those that immigrated to the US in the 19th and 20th centuries from Russia, Germany, and Eastern Europe that the vast majority of families were monoracial. Due to the limited options that many families had in Europe due to poverty and legal restrictions, many Jews had to marry within close familial circles leading to the prevalence of many inherited genetic illnesses.

Thanks to the more open legal and social environment in the United States, now there is a Jewish population that, while shrinking, is also much more varied in its ethnic extraction. All of these things have happened without the racial demagoguery of modern progressive groups like T’Ruah. But rather than accept that change that they should see as positive is a cause for celebration, they are proving themselves to be nothing but natural critics.

There are now more organizations, journalists, and community news sources than ever dedicated to pointing the finger at “white Jews” for being intolerant, condescending, and in other ways racist to their non-white peers.

Here are some such examples:

  • Jews for Racial and Economic Justice whose senior leader Leo Ferguson delivered a 2018 seminar in which he claimed “we will interrogate the ways white Jews are complicit in structural white supremacy, while both white Jews and Jews of Color are simultaneously targeted by white supremacists/white nationalists”.
  • Jewish Currents, a journal with distinctly far left overtones that in May 2020 alleged the following: “Even as some white Jews struggle with their relationship to whiteness in an era of resurgent antisemitic white nationalism, the systemic white supremacy of the US permeates our Jewish communities. For example, discussions of synagogue security after white nationalist murders like the Tree of Life shooting are complicated by the fact that the same police forces that many Jewish communities would call in for protection are state enforcers of the white space that do not represent safety for Jews of color.”
  • The Forward which has published the work of Nylah Burton, who wrote an article in 2018 titled “White Jews: Stop Calling Yourselves ‘White-Passing’”. In it she berated her “white Jewish” friends for objecting to her characterization of them as such and their privilege from such designation. In response it was later revealed that Burton, despite her pretensions to being a “JOC” is not a Jew of any color. She admitted as much when she stated in a further article cataloged by her critics that she was not born to a Jewish family, raised by Jewish adoptive parents, nor had she converted.

Far-left Jewish groups parrot the divisive hateful “Jews are white racists” rhetoric of radical activists like Tamika Mallory, an admirer of Louis Farrakhan.

This attitude toward the largest category of Jews parallels that of race-based leftist politics (as opposed to Marxism’s traditionally class-based politics) concerning Hispanics and Asians. For example in 2018 a 26 year-old named Esteban Santiago went on a shooting rampage at the Fort Lauderdale International Airport. Suddenly every description of him included the label “white Hispanic”. George Zimmerman, the half-Peruvian man who shot and killed Trayvon Martin in 2012, was also called white by many commentators. Because of the rash of lawsuits by opponents of affirmative action on behalf of Asian-American plaintiffs, in 2018 The Atlantic wrote about “The ‘Whitening’ of Asian Americans”. This is despite a Harvard Business Review article that same year that found that Asians are the least likely group in the US to be promoted.

Putting the problem back into the Jewish perspective, it’s not as if there had not been negative periods and episodes in the history of relations between Ashkenaz Jews and the other ethnic groups. Such tensions played a painful role in the early years of the State of Israel. In 1959 a riot broke out in the Wadi Salib neighbourhood of Haifa where North African immigrants were being housed in relatively poorer conditions compared to the more prosperous Hadar HaCarmel area after a Moroccan immigrant was wounded by police and rumoured to have died. In the early 1970s a new group of radical Mizrahi youth in the Musrara neighbourhood of Jerusalem were radicalized and created the “Black Panthers” modeled after the black American movement founded in Oakland a few years earlier. It won a seat in the Knesset in 1977 but ultimately, the majority of Mizrahi Jews didn’t want revolution but rather opportunity.

At the time Mizrahi Israelis remained several leagues behind their Ashkenaz peers in metrics of education, health, employment, and social standing. In a nation only a couple decades old with a large population of recent immigrants from all over the world and during several regional conflicts, in the early stages those that were considered the wrong type of Jew were excluded from the elite of society. Since then, while no prime minister has as of yet been of non-Ashkenaz descent, nearly every other senior cabinet position has been occupied by one.

More importantly, in everyday life the interaction between the different groups is much stronger. And as mentioned, inter-ethnic marriages and families are no longer unusual. New racial tensions have developed concerning other immigrant communities like Ethiopians and Russians, and the secular-Orthodox divide has always existed. There still are stores, places of worship, and neighbourhoods that are predominantly used or affiliated with one ethnic group simply due to the tradition of the members such as the Tunisian synagogue a block away from my aunt’s house in Acre where I used to pray when visiting. To put this into perspective, it is no more unusual than the various Little Italys, Greektowns, and Chinatowns found in many urban centers in North America. Inter-ethnic relations are not yet at the point where they are a forgotten issue but are definitely on the backburner.

We should bear this process that continues to happen in Israel in mind while assessing the state of modern American Jewry. Do small slights and snarky remarks really mean that our social circles are hopelessly intolerant? American Mizrahi Jews are by no means being held back by an Ashkenaz hegemony. There will always be those that focus on reopening old wounds and causing new strife where there is none, but it would be foolish to trust that they seek to actually improve the lives of the people they are pitting against one another.

Ray McCoy is a freelance writer and investigative researcher from the Midwest. He has been published by The Federalist, American Greatness, National File, and the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research. 

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

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