How can Jews talk about race? How can Jews not talk about race? Race is part of all of our lives no matter the color of our skin or Jewish background.
As we approach our upcoming Festival of Lights, our stories about the Maccabees and our nation’s triumph over religious and political oppression. These stories fill us with anticipation for the holiday, but what lasting effect do they have on us once Hanukkah is over? It seems Hanukkah begins to fade away as soon as it starts, and we find ourselves back in our lives, with very few lessons we can apply for the rest of the year. A year filled with news coming out of Israel and the rest of the Jewish world that breaks the hearts of all who hear it. Whether we are talking about the kotel, religious affiliations, conversions, or the different Jewish ethnic groups, it seems like our divisions are defining us as a people. It’s with these thoughts in mind that I look to the Hanukkah story for inspiration and insight. But it’s not the victory of the Maccabees that has the most to teach us, but rather the often ignored story of what happened after the miracle of lights.
For many years, I worked in the most special place I could imagine. A radical Beit Midrash (house of study) in Jerusalem- Memizrach Shemesh, the Social Action Beit Midrash, inspired by the traditions of Jews from Arab lands. At Memizrach Shemesh, we used Jewish texts, with a special emphasis on Sephardic and Mizrachi Rabbinic texts, as tools for awareness-raising and social change. We trained leaders, educators and activists in Israeli society with the perspective that good community workers need to learn before taking action. I directed Memizrach Shemesh’s Youth Leadership Department for a decade.
When I was eight years old, our family began looking into adopting a child. I was nervous and excited about the possibility of becoming a big sister. During the adoption process, I had a feeling that we would get to adopt an African American baby boy. It turned out I was right. A few months after I turned nine, my little brother was born and became part of our family.
It is interesting to grow up in an old world family with new world ideas. My childhood dinners were created by eyes looking back at recipes thousands of years old, but also forward toward the wonders the future might bring. I was told from a very young age that I was Jewish, but that was all the information I received from my family. Like many others raised in a non-religious household, by the time I was an adult, the only associations I had with Judaism were my grandparent’s food and language: Molokheya and Judeo-Arabic. What could be more Jewish than that?
At Sukkot the custom of Ushpizin, offers us a chance, to be as welcoming and as inclusive as we would like to be. Traditionally, the Ushpizin are biblical figures who we symbolically invite to join us in the sukkah, bringing their legacy in to guide us in the here and now. Whether or not you have a sukkah, we invite you to get in on the fun. We have created a list of global Jewish figures who we can invite to join us at the table during Sukkot (October 17-23). Have one ‘visitor’ join you each day, or have them all come together! We think their stories are worth celebrating and will remind us of how the historic diversity of Jewish life can enrich our modern lives.
What is Jewish music?