Thoughts On Race and Gates

A Lesson for Jews in Gates’ Arrest?
By Aliza Hausman

AlizaHausman

Did you hear the one about the black Harvard professor who got arrested breaking into his own home? No, this is not a joke. It was the beginning of a Shabbos lunch that left me traumatized.

It’s always the same. I feel safe, comfortable and carefree, and suddenly, punched in the gut, violated, uncomfortable, and all the cares of the world weigh on me. When I feel safe, I feel part of the Jewish community, but when I do not, I feel like an outsider on the outskirts, not fitting in.

My husband and I started speaking out about racism in the Jewish community when a friend asked us to speak at a synagogue in Washington Heights, in my hometown of New York City. As an interracial Jewish couple (my husband is white, I am Dominican), our friend was sure we’d have plenty to say. I wasn’t. But as I started to write about my experiences in Washington Heights (from both white Jews, who thought I was dark and foreign, to Dominicans, who thought I was too light and American), I filled four single-spaced typed pages. I knew from the stories of other Jews of color that this meant I was lucky. I learned still others had been even luckier.

When every inch of my kinky hair is hidden away under a head scarf, people assume there is no one in the room to offend with their racist comments. My husband and I have sat in stunned silence around a Shabbos table. Non-Jews, blacks, Mexicans … no one was safe, especially not me, a convert with non-Jewish family, a light-skinned Latina with a brown mother and African roots. Even our Jewish real estate broker told my husband and his parents that our new neighborhood would be better because there weren’t many Hispanics. My husband informed her there’d now be one more (me!).

Topics unsafe for the Shabbos table: skin color, class and especially affirmative action, which people have insinuated might be the only reason I got into college. These loaded topics can lead to comments like “Why are they always playing the race card?” and “Jews didn’t use slavery as an excuse never to work again” and “Their cultural values are the reason they can’t get ahead.” When you are the darkest person in a room full of angry white people, your eyes dart for the exit, looking for the best escape.

But something changed recently. When the arrest of black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Obama’s initial response came up at the Shabbos table, my husband was not silent. He highlighted the issues between people of color and law enforcement. He tried to get everyone to look at the situation from every angle. A conversation that started out, “Doesn’t everyone agree Obama was stupid for speaking out about this case?” changed because of my husband’s input.

The longer we’ve been married, the more my husband has seen racism up close. He has watched me be subjected to routine, tactless interrogations and commentary about my race, my culture and, of course, my hair, in the Jewish and non-Jewish communities. By seeing the world through my eyes, he has realized that even he is not without taint from the racism that pollutes us every day in the very air we breathe, no matter how much we fight it. And yes, we must fight it.

My husband’s new thoughts on racism are unwelcome outside of the classrooms we teach in. People have worried aloud that he is a race traitor. (I have been accused of the same for marrying him.) My husband says he has finally learned to really listen to the stories of people of color, especially Jews who are mistaken for the help at Jewish events, who must always defend their Jewishness and who ponder leaving the community altogether because the color of their skin makes things, like dating, harder.

I have been guilty of common mistakes. I didn’t listen wholeheartedly when Jewish friends of color discussed their dating woes. I wondered if they were exaggerating. I made it about me. After all, it hadn’t been harder for me to date in the community. My “exotic” looks drew in Jewish men. My black Jewish friends said that many white Jews dated them for an “exotic” adventure, but ended things with “Well, I can’t marry someone black.”

I couldn’t put myself into their shoes until a white Jewish friend told me point-blank she would “never date a black guy,” because it would kill her grandmother. “What if the black guy were Jewish?” I asked. Silence. She added further thoughts on interracial couples: black and Hispanics are less “jarring” together, as are whites and Asians together. She didn’t realize she was tearing my soul out from my body, telling me my marriage was “jarring,” and people like me should stick to our own kind, that white Jews and black Jews were not the same “kind.”

I wish the conversation had ended there, but like so many white Jewish friends, she began an intimate conversation about how blacks and Hispanics have unsavory cultural values. They assume I will agree with them, and they assure me quickly that as an educated, Hispanic woman, I am a “credit to my race.” I am not one of those people.

“Oh, it’s amazing your English is so good.” Hey, English is my first language. “Oh, you’re so articulate and educated for a Hispanic person.” So articulate and educated, a white college professor accused me of plagiarizing a paper, even consulting my other professors. I guess I didn’t expect to hear the same racist comments from Jews. I knew plenty about racism before becoming Jewish, having made an art of answering stupid questions about my skin color and hair. I just thought Jews were different in this way. I was naïve.

“How can a people that has experienced the Holocaust be so racist?” a young black prospective convert asked me, wringing his hands in total heartbreak. And on a regular basis, a white Jewish friend tells me “You’re too sensitive about race” and “I’m not racist, but…” So I have created a network of Jews of color, of white allies. With them, I know I can safely discuss the latest racist Jewish encounter that has left me raw, exposed, dying from the inside out.

When my husband and I feel safe, we still go out into that scary racist world and teach people (the non-Jews who call all Jews racist, the Jews who call all non-Jews anti-Semitic) about making this world safer for people of every color, every religion, especially our unborn Jewish children. These conversations are always painful, because change starts with getting out of our comfort zone, accepting that “everyone is a little bit racist” and, from there, becoming more sensitive and aware of our own personal biases in a way that will truly change the world.

Aliza Hausman, a Latina Orthodox Jewish convert, freelance writer, blogger and educator, blogs daily at Memoirs of a Jewminicana. This article originally appeared in the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles and is reprinted with her permission.

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Freeing the Captive

Pidyon Shvuim
By Lisa Alcalay Klug

A Jewish man and an African-American woman are both imprisoned, thousands of miles apart, under very disparate conditions. On this national day of mourning, Tisha B’Av, both deserve our attention.

Noam Shalit, the father of an Israeli soldier held by Hamas for more than 1,131 days, is asking that the U.S.’ scheduled aid package of $300 million to Gaza be delivered only after the release of his son. Gilad Shalit was abducted by Hamas in June, 2006. Noam Shalit recently testified before the Goldstone Committee, which is investigating illegal conduct by combatants during Operation Cast Lead on behalf of the United Nations, that Gilad’s abduction was a war crime according to the definitions of the Geneva Convention. The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported that the elder Shalit also testified the abduction of his son preceded all the other events in the Gaza Strip: “the IDF siege on the territory, the launching of rockets by Palestinian groups, and finally the Israeli offensive – and argued that that action had resulted in the subsequent actions.”

Gilad_Shalit
For the more than three years Gilad has been held in captivity, he has not been visited by the Red Cross. No one even knows what has happened to him. And at no point has Hamas been required to release this information as a condition of foreign aid.

Please take a moment to sign this petition , which urges the U.S. to make its upcoming $300 million gift to Gaza dependent upon the release of Gilad Shalit. This petition will be delivered to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Please also share this message with your representatives in Congress. Just cut and paste this note into an email. The entire process takes only a minute or two.

Noam Shalit, the father of an Israeli soldier held by Hamas for more than 1,131 days, is asking that the U.S.’ scheduled aid package of $300 million to Gaza be delivered only after the release of his son.

Gilad Shalit was abducted by Hamas in June, 2006. Noam Shalit recently testified before the Goldstone Committee, which is investigating illegal conduct by combatants during Operation Cast Lead on behalf of the United Nations, that his son’s abudction was a war crime according to the definitions of the Geneva Convention. The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported that the elder Shalit also testified the abduction of his son preceded all the other events in the Gaza Strip: “the IDF siege on the territory, the launching of rockets by Palestinian groups, and finally the Israeli offensive – and argued that that action had resulted in the subsequent actions.” And for the three years Gilad has been held in captivity, he has not been visited by the Red Cross. And at no point has Hamas been required to release this information as a condition of foreign aid.

Please urge President Obama and your colleagues to make the upcoming $300 million gift to Gaza dependent upon the release of Gilad Shalit.

Almost half around the globe, in California, a woman wrongly imprisoned is nearing death behind bars. Debbie Peagler is a domestic violence survivor who, thanks to a tragic miscarriage of justice, has spent more than 26 years in prison in connection with the death of her batterer. Now she is dying of terminal lung cancer that has already spread throughout her body. According to one of her attorneys, Joshua Safran, who has been working pro bono on her behalf for more than six years, Debbie’s condition is so severe, she may not live beyond the summer.

free debbie
Earlier this month, on July 10th, Debbie was found suitable for parole. In light of Debbie’s terminal illness, the State of California’s Decision Review Committee agreed to expedite its review of the Parole Board’s decision, and it, too, found Debbie suitable for parole. These are big steps, but Debbie is still behind bars.

Debbie’s freedom now lies in the hands of California Governor Schwarzenegger. Under state law, he has 30 days to affirm or veto the Parole Board’s decision and thereby decide whether Debbie will spend her last days with her family or behind bars.

Because the Governor often reverses Board of Parole decisions, DEBBIE NEEDS YOUR SUPPORT NOW MORE THAN EVER.

Please take three minutes to go to http://www.freebatteredwomen.org/Alert_Deborah.html, Then drop down to parole issues. Please call or email Governor Schwarzenegger or send him a free fax and urge him to release incarcerated domestic violence survivor Deborah Peagler.

Please also express your support by reaching out to First Lady Maria Shriver. You can reach her at

State Capitol Building
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 445-2841
Fax: (916) 558-3160

Please also express your sentiments to the Governor’s Legal Affairs Secretary’s office at this address:

Governor’s Office of Legal Affairs
State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 445-0873
Fax: (916) 323-0935

It’s now or never. Every fax, email, and phone call matters.

Thanks to attorney Joshua Safran for bringing this to our attention.

Lisa Alcalay Klug is the author of Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe and the founding editor of Tolerant Nation.

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Grey Goose vs. Black Bear

The bridge between Russian-Jewish relations is paved with rail drinks.
By Vicki Boykis

Often, when I am at one Jewish gathering or another, people ask me where I’m from. These kinds of questions have been particularly loud lately, with Obama’s visit to Russia, which ended with him being ejected out of the country in a cannon.

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Usually, they ask me because I’m wearing my “Ask me about my post-Soviet Jewish Troubles” button. “Oh, so gledd yu esked mi,” I reply perkily, dusting it off. “Ai em from Ruhsha. Mai famili eemigrated ven de Soviet Union kollapsed een 1991.”

“Oh, how was that,” the unsuspecting party usually asks sympathetically, associating Russia with refuseniks, Natan Sharansky and vodka made of 50% rubbing alcohol.

“It was pretty bad,” I say, conveniently omitting the fact that I was only five years old and the most stress I faced when leaving Russia was spilling airline food onto myself one hour into our trans-Atlantic flight.

“You know, I hear people are immigrating back to Russia. Things are getting better there for Jews,” they usually say, pointing their rail drink at me. (Side note: why do Jewish events always have rail drinks? Why not spring for the Grey Goose every once in a while? More fun + more hora!)

I stop to think about this. Can Russians and Jews live together, forsaking a 500-plus year history of Russians murdering Jews periodically in a number of rather creative ways? Sure. My mom and dad do. My dad is Russian, my mom is a Russian Jew. They threaten to periodically kill each other in a number of creative ways, but nothing rivaling the forced army conscription of the 1820s or Stalin’s clever and mischievous Doctor’s Plot, which thankfully never came to fruition as Stalin’s heart created a plot against itself and killed him. Besides, my mom never threatens to learn Hebrew, move to til the Holy Land and found the Histadrut. So, they coexist, if not peacefully.

Translation: Type of student: Jew.  Ah yes, the nose.

Translation: Type of student: Jew. Ah yes, the nose.

But, while there is a growing Jewish community in Russia and the former Soviet republics (just ask the Chabad operating in Moscow or Tanya at jewlicious.ru, who worked at Hillel in Kiev), I can’t help but think that everything is bad news (Russian black) bears for Jews still there. The strongest evidence yet? Russians dressing up monkeys as Jews in a Moscow circus. I mean, the costumes are cute. But couldn’t they have at least chosen giraffes? Emil Draitser, who has written extensively about his childhood growing up Jewish in Stalin’s Russia, explains,

“An American assumes you are a good guy,” he said. “You have to work hard to actually prove you are a bastard. In Russia, it is the opposite. They assume you are a bastard.”

The same is doubly true if you are Jewish.

So what do I say to the rail-drink-sipper? “Sure, things are better. But I wouldn’t want to move back any more than I want to drink the generic vodka available staring me in the face. Bring on the Grey Goose, bro.” I take a quick Russian sip, slam it on the bar, watch and hope.

Vicki Boykis is a trade economist with a penchant for Jewish Sorrow. She blogs at vickiboykis.com and Jewlicious.

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I Couldn’t Help But Wonder

By Lisa Alcalay Klug

In the words of one of my favorite fictional writers, I couldn’t help but wonder…

Is there really no such thing as bad PR?

Earlier this week, a Republican National Committee (RNC) web site began promoting the so-called “Obama Card.” It’s all part of http://www.gop.com/obamacard/ where you can supposedly shop with abandon, thanks to the reckless ways of Washington.

gopobamacard

Let’s say you’re ready to go do some damage with your plastic. Like a smart shopper, you throw a word into the search engine. Take “Jew” for instance.

Put “Jew” into the Obama Card search engine and what do you get? Several titles, including mine, Cool Jew. Oh, and a few others… like a little special somin’ somin’ in the lower left hand corner entitled, Jews and Their Lies.

RNC HATRED

Hello, RNC? This is your conscience calling. Isn’t this entire site one big whopper of a lie? There is no such thing as an Obama Card. And your shop is a fake filled with bigotry, pornography and… well, you take a look.

Just go to http://www.tinyurl.com/RNC.

Oh wait, what was I thinking? That doesn’t work. You have to add on a word. Try putting this in your browser:

RNC-HATRED.


Lisa Alcalay Klug is the author of Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe and the founding editor of Tolerant Nation.

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Could YouTube Have Stopped Hitler?

By Abraham Cooper and Harold Brackman
Simon Wiesenthal Center

In his recent acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature, Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio said this before the Swedish Academy: “Who knows, if the Internet had existed at the time, perhaps Hitler’s criminal plot would not have succeeded-ridicule might have prevented it from ever seeing the light of day.” So do the dramatic protests in Iran, dubbed by some “The Twitter Revolution,” make Le Clezio a prophet in his own time?

There’s no doubt that cyberfreedom’s promise is limitless, its palpable impact truly global. Evidence: Blogger Xeni Jardin, who visited a remote Guatemalan village with no television or even telephone landlines but with a few inexpensive cellphones, and a nearby Internet café. Village elder Don Victoriano absorbed news of Barak Obama’s victory over his Hotmail account: “If a black man can enter the Casa Blanca, maybe a Mayan person one day can become president of Guatemala.”

In the 1960s, technological guru Marshall McLuhan trumpeted the emerging “global village” in which “the medium is the message.” Today, it still is for those who see the Internet as the herald of a new interactive politics of citizen activism via social networking, e-mail petitions, virtual town meetings, and online organizing. Those who view Obama’s campaign as the coming of age of “the Net Generation” also point to other global manifestations–from Ukraine’s cellphone-driven “Orange Revolution” to South Korea’s “mad cow” protests against tainted meat imports orchestrated by text messaging teenagers.

In terms of historical hypotheticals, it’s possible to imagine digital technologies — from web sites to cellphones and text messaging — making a real difference. Just think if these options were available to Soviet dissidents and refuseniks who, back in the 1970s, were limited to communicate by secretly hand-written Samizdats. Maybe Glasnost and Perestroika would have come a decade earlier. Or just possibly there would have been a different outcome in Tiananmen Square in 1989 had Chinese protesters had been able to communicate — and organize — instantaneously.

Or maybe not. It remains to be seen if real tanks or thuggish shock troops like Ahmadinejad’s Basij militia can be ultimately trumped by virtual protests. Would YouTube posts from inside the Munich Beer Hall where Hitler launched his abortive 1923 putsch made the Nazis look ridiculous — or, more likely, create a cult following among young people in search of a strong leader? Would smuggled cellphone videos from Auschwitz have horrified and mobilized the German public or world public opinion to stop the factory of death? Not likely, given that images of mass murder actually sent back home by Germany’s “willing executioners” failed to change anything. There is little reason to believe that the Internet could have stopped genocide in 20th century Europe any more than it has in 21st-Century Africa in Darfur. (more)

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Dr. Harold Brackman, a historian, is a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

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Iran, From a Jewish Refugee’s Perspective

Roya Hakakian emigrated from Iran to the United States in 1985, seeking political asylum. Author, activist and filmmaker Hakakian discussed political upheaval in Iran on public radio today. Her interview is available online atWHYY’s “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross.

roya hakakian
Hakakian grew up Jewish in Tehran, an experience she recounts in her memoir Journey from the Land of No: A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran. Hakakian will return to “Fresh Air” next week to discuss her book with Terry Gross.

Hakakian book cover

Hakakian recently published a piece at CNN.com entitled, “Pray for Neda,” in which she reflects on the significance of the recent fatal tragedy in Iran’s political upheaval, as an example of the Iranian people’s 30 year quest for freedom. Hakakian calls for a memorial campaign that spans all religions lines to remember Neda.

Pray for Neda

by Raya Hakakian

With Neda’s death, the Iran I know finally has a face. The sequence of her death is the sequence of our nation’s struggle in the past 30 years: The democratic future that 1979 was to deliver collapsing, then trails of blood — that of so many executed or assassinated — streaming across its bright promise. The film of Neda’s death is the abbreviated history of contemporary Iran.

If history is a contest among competing narratives and icons, let the image of a young woman lying on the ground endure as that of Iran today. Let it loom so large to wipe away the memory of the thugs marching American hostages out of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Let the scarf that loosens and falls off her head to expose her dark hair be emblazoned in our memories as the metaphor for the plight of Iran’s women.

Here in the United States, I hope you join me and thousands of my compatriots in a memorial campaign for Neda by asking your religious and spiritual leaders to include a prayer for Neda and other fallen Iranians of the recent days in this week’s services.

For 30 years, Iran’s regime has appropriated God. Let us reclaim God from those who deny a family the right to properly mourn the death of their child through our prayers and help bring peace to a tormented nation.

Read the full article here.

A 2008 Guggenheim fellow, Hakakian is a founding member of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center and a fellow at Yale University’s Whitney Humanities Center. Her most recent film, commissioned by UNICEF, is Armed and Innocent, a documentary about child soldiers in wars around the world.

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1095 Days and Counting

Pidyon Shvuim — The Mitzvah of Freeing the Captive
By Lisa Alcalay Klug

In a little more than two months, Gilad Shalit will turn 23 — if he is still alive.

Yesterday marked the three-year anniversary of Shalit’s abduction by Hamas. An Israeli soldier captured during a border raid on Gaza, Hamas is holding Shalit captive. He became the first soldier captured by Palestinian terrorists since Nachson Wachsman was abducted in 1994; tragically Wachsman, z’l, was ultimately murdered. Shalit served in the IDF’s Armor Corps, and at the time of his abduction, held the rank of corporal. The IDF has subsequently promoted him to staff sergeant.

Hamas has barred the International Red Cross from seeing Shalit, demanding that Israel free 1,000 terrorists in exchange for his release. Israel has agreed but negotiations have deadlocked on the number of so-called “heavyweight” prisoners. Shalit holds French citizenship, but both France and the European Union have also been unable to secure his release.

When he was 11, Shalit, wrote a story about two enemies, the shark and the fish, who become friends.

A new YouTube project shows people all of all ages reading his story, in a multi-lingual campaign initiated by the Consulate General of Israel in New York that stresses the universality of this issue.

In 2008, the French town of Raincy and the city of Paris named Gilad an honorary citizen. Rome did so in April, 2009, when Mayor Gianni Alemanno said that the Shalit affair does not concern the state of Israel alone, but the whole of humanity. This week, both Miami and New Orleans followed suit and claimed Gilad as their citizen as well. At a recent rally in Tel Aviv, Israeli singer/songwriter Aviv Geffen called him “everyone’s child.” As Geffen sings, Gilad belongs to all of us.

Please join efforts to appeal for Gilad Shalit’s release. Express your support to President Obama. Write your representatives in Congress. Ask your city to embrace Gilad as its own citizen. Spread the word and share the message. Pray for the release of Gilad ben Aviva and keep this issue alive. Release Gilad Shalit!

Award-winning journalist Lisa Alcalay Klug is the author of Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe and the founding editor of Tolerant Nation.

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