a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Don’t be So Sensitive

Posted on: April 23, 2012

I love my JOC community.  I’m always learning, always experiencing and always appreciative of the people and families who have come before me.  Being a Jew of Color isn’t always easy.  In fact it can be extremely difficult-especially if you’re in a small community.  Finding your footing as a new Jew is hard, but when you’re a new Jew and Black it can be even harder.  Which is why I was so disturbed that Aish’s Dear Emuna told a black convert who was experiencing racism and bigotry in her community to  careful not to be overly sensitive to racist remarks.  Emuna encouraged the girl to ignore racist remarks and tells her, “Finding a good husband is difficult for everyone. It is harder for a convert and even harder for someone in your particular circumstances.”  what particular circumstances does she mean?  If being black and Jewish is a “circumstance” then it’s clear that simply ignoring ignorance and bigotry isn’t the answer.

What are your thoughts?

6 Responses to "Don’t be So Sensitive"

What gets me is this line: “Right or wrong, good or bad, that is the reality and perhaps you can cope with it better once you have a clear perspective on the situation.”

You know, when I almost moved back to NYC from Chicago in 2007, while I was viewing a cramped basement apartment and trying to let the leasing agent know it was far too little apartment for far too much money, the landlady leaned in and told the agent, “You need should show him some more so he has a little perspective.”

I didn’t need to see other shitty apartments to know I living in that apartment was going to be a bad deal any more than “black convert” doesn’t need to hear more racist comments to know that it’s terrible advice to tell someone to live with them without responding to them because they come from allegedly otherwise (and that’s a pretty huge otherwise) Torah-faithful Jews.

Racism deserves a response. Everywhere. Every time. Period. Anything short of that simply enables racism to happen. Frankly, I think Emunah’s response is one step short of condoning racism in Orthodox circles. For what? On the basis of not making waves?

Yet again, I shake my head in sadness at the Orthodox community’s ability to justify hateful behavior toward other human beings as long as the person acting hatefully keeps kosher, davens three times a day, and knows the boundaries of the eruv.

Personally, I think when we act hatefully towards another person, God couldn’t give a shit less how otherwise pious we are. Not loving your neighbor as yourself is as Chillul Hashem as it gets.

Just to be fair…

I study with many Orthodox Jews, and the majority of my interactions have been very positive, both with the Orthodox rabbis and students I have met and befriended. There are many people-strangers even-who made a point of making me feel welcome even though I am (nonJewish) Hispanic. And they generally assume I’m Jewish too.

That said, I have heard or seen underlying prejudices–not constantly, but it is there and it is a problem that needs to change. Once someone was outright rude to me because of my race, and I’ve heard some insensitive or ignorant assumptions come out in conversations and actions. But its not just Orthodox Jews who said or done something off, and to me the positivity and most importantly the potential to improve, trumps the negativity I’ve witnessed.

I agree with you that Emunah handled Taken Aback’s question really really poorly. It seems she was trying to handle a problem she didn’t know how to approach, other than the “safe” catch-all answer: avoid conflict. Her inability to realize the problem worries me, but there was a comment from Aliza Hausman about giving people second chances and being surprised, and having seen that change of perspective in people myself, I think she’s right. There are many Orthodox Jews who are committed to what Judaism stands for.

I also agree with you 110% that racism (and other -isms) needs to be confronted, but there are different ways of doing it.

I totally agree with you Jaime and thank you for your reply. I haven’t seen Aliza’s response (she’s one of my favorite JBC/JOCs).

I don’t think that any group/groups of people are immune from racism and prejudice and I think a lot of it comes from a place of ignorance, and a huge lack of misunderstanding. I definitely didn’t mean to say that only Orthodox Jews have this issue-especially since I’ve personally experienced some pretty ear-burning things in Reform Communities. I believe that even the most vile comments can sometimes come from a place of ignorance, and on the other hand some people are just bigots. I don’t think that Emunah is a bigot, though it sounds like some people in Taken Aback’s community are. I think my issue was that she, as you said, doesn’t know what Taken Aback feels or will every feel because she’s not a person of color. To say that she shouldn’t be sensitive is, in some ways, trying to remove or take race out of the equation-which cannot happen. Race is something that cannot be erased, it’s always there and ignoring it or pretending it doesn’t exists leads to the problems.

Bottom line, I completely agree with what you’re saying and think Aish and Emuna handled the response poorly. She would have done better to look for JOCs as a resource and had them respond from their perspective. I’m sure Aliza would’ve been happy to relay her experiences and her thoughts being a JOC.

I didn’t see that you were replying to another commenter when I replied.

:)

It doesn’t sound like it was meant to be racist or hateful. Mrs. Braverman probably felt like it’s nicer to say ” for someone in your particular circumstance” than “for someone is who black”. Did she choose the best words? I don’t know. Maybe there is no nice way to tell a woman finding a husband is going to be extremely difficult.

As for the rest I really don’t know how to deal with the situation. I don’t generally have to deal with negative remarks as a convert. I get a lot of remarks from Non-Jews but that’s entirely different.

@Michael-I’m with you, my friend. How funny that a realtor/broker/whomever tried to convince you to fork over lots of money for a hole in the wall, but hey that’s New York for you!
@Dena-I’d love to see it that way, but unfortunately I cannot. I remember when I first started writing that someone told me that if I wanted to be Jewish I better be prepared to answer a lot of questions, because we (Jews) like to ask questions. I agreed with her because I do think that people are genuinely curious about me when I go into a synagogue. While the questions are annoying when they border on racism/bigoted, I have to react-which I don’t think is me being “too sensitive”.
I think the problem with Emuna’s response is that she doesn’t or can’t put herself into the writer’s shoes. She doesn’t want to think that people would think or Gd forbid say such horrid things, especially Orthodox people so she clearly is misunderstanding…

In a work situation if you came to your boss to say that your co-worker was saying the things that that woman heard and the boss told you to stop being so sensitive you could sue.

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