L’Shanah Tovah! Happy New Year to all who celebrate Rosh Hashanah!
It was the Jewish New Year on Monday October 3rd, but it hasn’t felt like a celebration to me in years. I grew up in a Conservative Synagogue and I associate synagogues and Hebrew services with solemnity and pretending to be Jewish enough for these holy days.
But this year I attended services through Mishkan Chicago. Mishkan believes:
“that when we gather together, where ever we are on our journeys as Jews and as citizens of the world, we create meaningful connections- with ourselves, with others, with Jewish wisdom and with God. That’s what Mishkan is all about.”
This is Judaism in the world, as I’ve never experienced before. There were people of all ages, and different races, and a multitude of other invisible aspects of diversity in attendance. For the first time I felt I could own my Jewish identity, and not just because there was a rainbow flag on the wall. Nobody had to say “you’re included”; it was all through peoples’ actions.
I think a lot about the Jewish narrative that says Jews are victims. My Hebrew School education and family education taught me that Jews must always live in fear and watch our backs because we are Other no matter where we live and therefore unsafe. On one level, history has shown centuries of pogroms, and massacres and torture and conversion of Jews. But Ashkenazi Jews (Jews of European descent) must also content with our current history as oppressors of Palestinians as well as discrimination and erasure of Jews of color. Previous synagogues I attended would discuss standing with Black Lives Matter (and take action to stand with Black Lives Matter), but would not even open the discussion of standing with Palestine. I struggle with my Jewish heritage and reconciling being both victim and perpetrator while having no one to talk to about these issues.
The Rabbi at Mishkan put into words all my thoughts and contradictions about Judaism, victimhood and our place in standing for justice for all people. Her analysis of the Torah portion is that when Sarah gives birth to Isaac and demands Abraham discard his second wife, Hagar, and her son Ishmael, Sarah acts out of fear and insecurity. Sarah does not act justly and neither does Abraham in turning Hagar and Ishmael out. The Rabbi’s interpretation of the text is that this insecurity is the same insecurity that allows Jews today to create an apartheid state in Israel. It is our fear of being victims that drive us to victimize others. It wasn’t right with Sarah and Abraham and it isn’t right today.
Yes, Jewish history is full of persecution. Our main narratives are “we were slaves in Egypt” and “we are survivors of the Holocaust.” Yet, we are so much more. We are people in the world with varying degrees of power and privilege, but a responsibility to lift others up. We’re not responsible because we’re Jews, but because we’re humans. For me, being a Jew means standing for justice. It means have been victimized (and some of us still are) but I will do what I can to ensure no one else goes through the same experiences.
Attending services at Mishkan reminded me that when I joke about one day becoming a Rabbi, it’s not actually such a joke. I hope to one day stand on the bema and be that welcoming, that inclusive and that truthful about Judaism and all its contradictions.