The National Mazkirut outdid themselves with the National Midwinter convention in Atlanta this February. The theme of the convention was “Judaism and Race”. The activities were well planned, the peulot were all engaging and informative, and I had a lot of fun.
There was one activity that still stands out to me; when Dov Wilker, YJ Alumnus and currently the executive director of the Atlanta branch of the AJC, spoke to the group about this thoughts on Judaism and race. Every person in the room was intrigued by Dov’s talk. He said one thing that really struck me; that he does not consider himself to be white.
At the time, I had thought that it was odd that he would think like that. If you look at most of us, we look like we are white. After convention, I continued to think about what Dov had said and I began to understand what he meant. Although many Jews are white, we are still a minority in the United States. Some Jews might have a long history of living in this country, but most of us come from families that immigrated to the United States in the last century, searching for safety from religious persecution or to find a better life.
As immigrants, Jews, like other immigrant populations, faced a lot of discrimination, specifically anti-semitism. Over the years Jews have contributed to, and have been fairly successful in being accepted into American society. However, just as black Americans have struggled to gain civil rights, Jews have had our own struggles to be accepted as equals in American society. It wasn’t so long ago that Jews were not accepted into Ivy League Universities, and were not allowed to join certain country clubs, or live in certain neighborhoods.
Today, Jews, like other racial minorities, have made great strides in being accepted into the fabric of America’s society, but like other minorities still facing racism and discrimination, we still face anti-semitism. Alarmingly, anti-semitism seems to be getting worse on college campuses, where the BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) movement against Israel increasingly has used anti-semitism against Jewish students.
So now I understand what Dov Wilker was saying to us at convention. Although Jews may physically appear to be no different than other white Americans, we are not accepted as though we are white Americans. We are still struggling to be fully accepted without having to face anti-semitism. Because of this, we really are no different than other racial and religious minorities, and in some respects may even have more in common with other minorities than we do with white America.
Kayla is the incoming Merakezet Pirsum and is working at Camp Young Judaea Sprout Lake this summer.