What are your tension points?
What values do you possess that may also conflict with one another?
How can we hold the world up with two hands, acknowledging the very quote from rabbinic text: “Everyone must have two pockets, so that he can reach into the one or the other, according to his needs. In his right pocket are to be the words: ‘For my sake was the world created,’ and in his left: ‘I am but dust and ashes.'”
I have been considering tension points that I hold in my daily life. For instance, I fight for climate change and renewable energy, yet I wear clothing that is produced in sweatshop factories, adding to the waste and decay of textiles and ruination of our environment, and this process must be called out.
I also think a lot about how as a white Jewish person, I carry intersecting identities. On one hand, my skin affords me white privilege to not get stopped by the police— one among so many other privileges. On the other hand, I am Jewish and carry the weight of antisemitism that is on the rise and most recently commodified into a cheap Swastika necklace sold in the form of fast fashion.
I have always connected to Judaism through fighting for justice. I believe white Jewish people especially must be at the forefront in ally-ship to the Black Lives Matter movement, as we also face prejudices and hate. However, we must recognize that these prejudices that white Jewish people face are not merely along the same scope of discrimination and racism that BIPOC face daily.
It is also significant to state clearly that Jewish people are not a race, we are an ethno-religion. We are most definitely not a race because Jewish people of color exist, and to not mention the racism and antisemitism that is faced from a Black Jewish person, is to disregard their existence in the Jewish community.
Yet, we cannot be fighting for our Jewish identity in silos, away from the Black Lives Matter movement and picking and choosing when it is convenient to educate someone about antisemitism, but not educate someone about racism. The two are ever so interrelated. When you fight against antisemitism, you fight against all evils and all marginalized groups. When you fight against antisemitism, you fight against bigotry.
I urge you to take time this Shabbat to reflect upon your personal tension points and what you can do as one individual to address the conflicting values you have.
Don’t Mask the Issue: Our Responsibility as a Jewish Community to Wear Masks
When was the last time you did a mitzvah, or a good deed, for yourself and community?
As COVID-19 cases are spiking, creating new epicenters in the United States, so many facets of life are uncertain when cases will truly be flattened, not suppressed.
As we are entering a “green phase,” how is our mind responding? Does this channel an off-switch signaling that wearing masks is equivalent to rejecting fashion rather than a statement on public health?
Sure, masks are uncomfortable and perhaps can cause breakouts on your skin, but these reasons are no where near equivalent to contracting the novel Coronavirus.
I believe there is a lot of peer pressure surrounding social norms and social cues, especially among young adults. This is creating a normalization of dangerous behaviors. As offices are re-opening, I saw online that one company allowed their employees to use colored bracelets determining their comfort level with being back at the office socializing with others.
I propose that we as a pluralistic Jewish community must build new social norms and define boundaries as everyone’s own perception of risk may be completely different from the next. But right now, we need to start with normalizing mask wear.
One question to ask ourselves is: is it worth it? Is not wearing a mask, hugging a friend goodbye, shaking hands, and inviting larger groups over worth the outcome?
As a Jewish community, prayer and togetherness is significant to our roots. We preserve our minds and bodies through resting on Shabbat. We atone for our sins during the high holidays, owning wrongdoings. Now, there is a new prayer for wearing mask and the religious significance that is circulating on the Internet:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְ‑יָ אֱ‑לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ עַל שְּׁמִירַת הַנֶּפֶשׁ
Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha-olam, asher keed’shanu b’meetzvotav, v’tzeevanu al sh’meerat ha-nefesh.
You are bountiful, Infinite our God, majesty of space and time, who has sanctified us with divine commandments and has commanded us about protecting life.
What if every time we wear a mask as a Jewish people we remember this prayer, the Jewish meaning of a mitzvot, and channel the gratitude we are blessed with wearing our only precaution and safety? Research found that at least 30,000 deaths could be prevented by October 1st if 95% of people wear a mask.
Let’s install mask-wearing in and beyond the Jewish community as a mitzvah for ourselves and everyone in our circles.
Social Media Is An Echo Chamber: How Do We Have Productive Conversations about Race and White Privilege?
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of my Instagram during this pivotal time in communicating an effective message to my followers. Who am I reaching when I say systemic racism exists in America and white people must wake up?
I’ve heard that social media is an echo chamber. What exactly does that mean?
Simply, it means that the people you follow, to the plant aesthetics you like, to the the foodstagram accounts are pretty similar branding– and really all your social media is doing is collecting and amplifying the same thoughts, memes, and voices, trapping conversing ideas on the outside.
Now, I am not saying there is a lot wrong with identifying your interests and narrowing the content based to your liking–what I am saying is that the messaging we post for example, Black Lives Matter content and unpacking white privilege, is not necessarily reaching a wide-range of voices. And further, this is not enough.
As a white person, the work of an Instagram post (albeit somewhat educational) is NOT nearly enough. See action steps below.
So how do we engage most authentically and have uncomfortable conversations?
Before answering that question, I must say that another barrier is a term I learned recently while on a jog listening to a podcast. The term is called preference falsification and basically means that people will refrain from stating their true preference and agree with the other to sound more socially acceptable.
Newsflash: we cannot resort to preference falsification. Now is the time to be honest and open-minded to uncomfortable yet crucial conversations.
Ok, so time to engage and break your Social Media Echochamber. Ready?
- CHECK YOUR OWN RACIAL BIASES
On a scale of 0-5, how comfortable are you talking about race? Explain and ask yourself why?
0 = I would rather not talk about race/racism.
1 = I am very uncomfortable talking about race/racism.
2 = I am usually uncomfortable talking about race/racism.
3 = I am sometimes uncomfortable talking about race/racism.
4 = I am usually comfortable talking about race/racism.
5 = I am very comfortable talking about race/racism.
- DIVERSIFY SOCIAL MEDIA PAGES Make your Instagram feed as diverse as possible, and engage with others productively. Really, schedule a zoom meeting or phone call.
- START A BOOK CLUB with the others for next-level engagement on race. I suggest reading– How to be An Antiracist by Ibram Kendi and White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. Read this article on white privilege https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/fall-2018/what-is-white-privilege-really
- GET YOUR FRIENDS TO VOTE! — a HUGE way to engage.
- DONATE My sister pitched in with friends for a 21st birthday by contributing money in donation to racial justice organizations. Try checking any of these out: https://nymag.com/strategist/article/where-to-donate-for-black-lives-matter.html
- PROTEST– take your racial justice advocacy to the streets!
- And lastly, note that rejecting white supremacy is not a checkbox, it is a conscious choice that takes critical thought and reflection to change the way our society has always functioned and won’t come easy.
What This Millennial Rabbi Wants the Class of 2020 to Know
Click here for a message from Rabbi Emily Cohen. As a college graduate at that height of the financial crisis in 2009 (which was similar in many ways to being a college graduate in 2020) Rabbi Cohen provides some reflections and support for today’s college graduates.
Let Go, like the App but in Real Life
My roommate downloaded an app called “Let Go”–it is where you take pictures of items you’d like to sell and see if you get any potential buyers. In my last week of living in Allentown, we sold all of our furniture.
Like a revolving door, the stools that outlined my kitchen counter top were gone. Our green plush couch left. And our TV stand sold; we were left with an empty eggshell of an apartment.
The funny thing about materials is that the attachment you hold onto a chair, couch, or stools was never about the items to begin with–it was always about the feeling connected to the items. The memories of relaxing on a couch contributed to my growing sense of ease and stability in a place I could call my home for two years.
When the “stuff” left, I knew it was my time to leave as well.
Two words resonated with me as I taped Home Depot boxes shut, and barely slept the night of my departure: Let Go.
If I am learning any lessons during this global pandemic it is to be flexible and to let go. If there ever was a time to be comfortable with the uncomfortable it is now.
Not knowing how to properly end a zoom meeting, sitting in a makeshift office space in your bedroom, and veering to the other side of the street when a neighbor walks by are slight inconveniences, but we adapt and persevere to these changes.
We need to let go of what was and accept what is.