Cable news was recently reeling from the two-week suspension of TV icon, Whoopie Goldberg, after her remarks regarding the Holocaust and racism against Jews.
I’m not going to delve into the validity of her statement, where she was coming from, the Black and Brown Jews she forgot about, and her understanding of race and racial marginalization, and persecution. I’ll leave that for others. I want to talk about something she said later that evening on the Stephen Colbert Late Show that struck me, profoundly.
Whoopie attempted to apologize and explain why she feels her experience with racial tension in America is different (perhaps more difficult) than what a Jew may experience. She explained
that because the color of her skin gives her race away, it makes her vulnerable to persecution from a stranger on the street. Therefore, you can’t compare her experience to that of her Jewish friends because “you can’t tell who is Jewish... they don’t look Jewish.”
Hold up, Whoopie :) you just conveniently canceled my husband and the large and growing portion of the Jewish community who will always wear a kippa/yarmulka and tzitzit and are clearly identifiable as Jews. And though our experience in South Dakota has only been positive, in other parts of the world, those who wear traditional Jewish attire, can find themselves as targets of unprovoked attacks.
Not only has our personal experience only been positive, we love it that Mendel is so identifiably Jewish. He can hardly walk through the Costco, HyVee, the library, and Washington Pavilion without getting a “Shalom” or “Good Shabbos” from a Jewish passerby he hasn’t met before, and so many non-Jewish people will come up to him and engage in meaningful and friendly conversations about Judaism and Israel. His Kippa, and tzitzit is the greatest built-in marketing, if you ask me.
I can’t wait for my little Levi to start wearing a kippa of his own so that I too can be more identifiably Jewish when I go around town with him and hopefully make some more Jewish friends.
But I digress, Whoopi’s comment about Jews not being identifiable, hit me hard. Maybe she is right?
And how do I feel about that?
Do I like that I can attempt to hide my Jewishness at times?
When I think I might be served better if others didn’t know it?
Do I sometimes rely on my whiteness and religious anonymity to keep life simple and undramatic?
Should I be doing that?
I believe Whoopi’s comment on the Colbert Show is a moment that calls for internal introspection for all of us.
Are we loud and proud Jews?
Do our neighbors, coworkers, and friends know us as loud and proud Jews?
Do they see us joyfully celebrating our unique heritage and holy traditions?
This reminds me of the young child, a member of our Juda Enrichment club, who signs all her school work with a beautiful Star of David near her name. She does this on her own initiative. Good for her!
And of the young Jewish professional in town, who when we moved here, we kept hearing from everyone we met, “Oh! _____ is Jewish, we know her.” "Who is this woman that everyone who has crossed paths with her, knows her as a proud Jew, we thought?"
These people inspire me.
Purim is coming up. Queen Esther in her time, temporarily hid her Jewishness, upon Mordechai’s advice, up until she realized that her fellow Jews survival was on the line. And then she spoke up. Loud and proud. May we all take the strength from Esther to be proud of our Jewishness, because any repercussions that may come our way, are small and insignificant in comparison to the great awesomeness of being a Jew. We are fortunate to have a rich history and heritage, and following our lead, everyone who knows us can rejoice in our uniqueness, as they discover their own.
Thank you, Whoopie, for the opportunity you gave me, to grow.
Living life and raising Jewish children in South Dakota has always been an incredible and enriching experience for me personally and our family as a whole. Follow along with me as I candidly share my journey of discovery and learning. I’d love your feedback, your thoughts on my writing, and what you would be interested to hear more about.
As my children grow and mature, I’ve come to a point where I can no longer dig my head in the sand.
They are starting to get it.
They are quite different from everyone else around them.
In my children’s eyes, shockingly, not everyone knows Hebrew, the Aleph Bet. To my children’s surprise, their swimming teacher (we love you, Kylee) has no idea what Chanukah or dreidels are. And to their confusion, their neighbors play with toys on Shabbat, that due to Sabbath observance, they typically leave for another day.
Isn’t the whole world Jewish? They think.
And what is Halloween? Why are children dressed up on a random Sunday evening? Why are they celebrating something that looks a bit like Purim in the fall? And wait what?! We give them candy, but they don’t give us?
I find myself attempting to delicately balance giving over a joy and pride in the Torah and our traditions, and simultaneously fostering an understanding and acceptance of others who are different. How do I instill the most important value of Chabad, total love and acceptance for every person, regardless of level of observance, belief, and practice, and yet at the same time, foster a love and passion, sense of importance, to our time tested values and mitzvahs that I hold so dear.
How to explain to very curious youngsters how something so special and important to our family is not the same way to everyone else. And oh my, how do you teach tact to five and six year olds?!?
I’m no parenting guru, (though I do avidly follow a whole lot of them!) and I can’t say I’ve figured it all out. But one thing I did learn is that it’s ok to listen to yourself. Follow your gut. Take a moment and try to pinpoint what it is you know is best for your children, and TRUST yourself.
Over time I’ve learned that it is ok to allow the words to come as they come, and realize that I, and every loving parent, truly does know what is best for their child, what they need to hear at any given time, and the best way to guide them.
And finally, when they see me live by example, treasuring my traditions and life while simultaneously respecting and unequivocally accepting others who live differently, there won’t be confusion. It will be as clear to them as it is to me.
L’chaim to all my fellow parents, grandparents, and friends in my children’s village. (It really does take a village!) Like the Rebbe said countless times to parents concerned about their child’s life choices and Jewish observance, “Be a living example.” That’s all we need to do.
Rabbi Mendel Alperowitz Blog and Mussie's Musings
Serving the spiritual needs of the South Dakota Jewish community. Based in Sioux Falls and travels the state.