1001 Holocaust Poems

At work, we’re in the process of reviewing applications for which students to accept into the college access program I work for. And nearly every  applicant’s graded assignment they shared in their application, was in reference to the Holocaust unit in their 8th grade curriculum.

Every student had a Holocaust poem. At least ten applicants said if they could go back in time they would want to interview Hitler.

And on the one hand, it’s great. Here is a whole generation of incoming high school students who have (at the very least) a cursory understanding of one of the genocides of the 20th century. Some students were even aware that the Nazis murdered queer people, people with disabilities, the Romani, political prisoners, and others.

download (3)Learning about the Holocaust teaches compassion, empathy and a tangible way to see how oppression can lead to justifying violence. Students have the opportunity to question their role as bystanders.

But on the other hand, there are not many Jewish students at the school where I work. And I’m concerned that the only exposure to Judaism, comes from a clinical view that labels Jews as victims. If the only way students hear about Judaism is through the Holocaust then schools are erasing Judaism and Jewish students from a larger historical conversation. Jews exist in the past, in this specific box of victim status. Jews do not exist in the present.

If we are not oppressed then we have no place in the history books.

This narrative is limited and harmful and keeps Jews as Others. You can care about the genocide against us because we’re White enough to look like you, but if we are not victims we are nothing. We do not have a history beyond the Allies liberating the concentration camps and (maybe) the foundation of the State of Israel. Students do not know to question the role of Jews today.

As Passover arrives at the end of the week, it’s important to know that Jews are not yet free in many places in the world and at the same time, that we are responsible for restricting the freedom of others. We are not just perpetual victims. We are also perpetrators against Palestinians and Jews of color.

I cannot stomach another Holocaust poem, knowing this unit of history, this poem might be a student’s only engagement with Judaism.

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When Women Hate Women

Although I feel there are is a lot of information to discuss regarding my travels in Israel, both about feminism and spirituality, I don’t believe I can even begin to engage in the larger themes I encountered before I address a specific issue of concern.

Nothing can be done for feminism in Israel, the Middle East, or America so long as women continue to hate women. My trip to Israel was funded by Taglit Birthright Israel with 39 college age students. Over dinner, my women’s college education became the subject of discussion. It started with the usual: “Why did you choose an all girl’s school?”

I do not bring up the point that it’s a women’s college not an all girl’s school (though I wanted to). Instead, I tell the girl, “There is a huge difference in how women speak when they are assured that their voice will matter. I always knew I wanted a  women’s college.”

Another girl chimes in. “I couldn’t go to an all girl’s school, I find girls too annoying. They’re so catty.”

What?

The other three girls at the table agree with her. Some of the boys at the table pretend to be engaged in other conversation, but I know they’re all listening with great interest.

I ignore everyone else and focus on the one girl who spoke. “You do know you’re just hating women right? Women are not annoying, they are taught to behave a certain way and that’s the way they behave. It’s all social constructs.”

From across the table, another girl speaks. “I couldn’t go to an all girl’s school, I like looking at the men in my classes too much.” She and her friend laugh and their laughter drowns out the awkward clink of my fork against my plate.

Before I can respond the girl next to me joins the conversation. “I have a friend who graduated from your school last year, she said there were a lot of lesbians.”

The boys on the other end of the table are all clearly paying attention now. “No,” I explain clearly. “That is a stereotype that there are more lesbians at an all women’s college. I’m a tour guide for my school and we get that misconception a lot. I don’t think you know what you’re talking about.”

“My friend graduated last year and she told me there are a lot of lesbians. I’m not talking about stereotypes. I’m talking about facts.”

The conversation goes off for a moment on how lesbians are more likely to choose all girl’s schools because there are more women there. I explain that it might seem like there are more lesbians because my college is very open about people’s sexuality and more people can express themselves in whatever way serves them best.

By the time the conversation ends, one of the boys makes a sweeping statement that if someone’s a lesbian it would be totally cool with him. I do not know if he is directing that comment to me and I ask him to clarify. He says he meant it generally to everyone. I wanted to laugh. He wouldn’t accept me as asexual. He wouldn’t accept me anything except straight and even that would be a stretch because I’m a feminist. I did not feel safe with the conversation.

I left the table soon after this.

I do not know where to begin. The majority of the sexist remarks came from other women! Sexism is frightening on so many fronts, but it’s never so terrifying as when women don’t even understand their own self-loathing. Women are taught to fear their sexuality, whether hetero- or homo- or somewhere in between or not at all. Women are taught to want to be men because women are annoying and catty. Who would want to be annoying and hated? Who would want to be a woman?

Not the women I met on my trip to Israel. Until women can wake up and understand that womanhood is not a lack, it’s not a disease and it’s not being subpar feminism cannot move forward. The patriarchy has women hating other women and fearing their sexuality because it divides us. Don’t let women hate women. Please, speak up in anyway you know how.