I am sobbing with terror and rage. Innocent people murdered in cold blood for who they were, victims of hateful bigoted rhetoric, rhetoric that targets me and my loved ones. I am feeling helpless and endlessly weary as this tragic cycle continues, as I fear I may be next. And I wonder why no one in my Jewish community appears to care.
Oh, did you think I was talking about the synagogue shootings on Saturday? My bad. No I was describing my reactions to the cold blooded murder of two African American shoppers in a grocery store last week by a white man who blew off their heads with a pistol and then told a horrified witness, “Don’t worry, whites don’t shoot whites”.
Or maybe I’m remembering how I felt back in September when a black man was murdered in his living room by a white police officer who mistakenly entered the wrong apartment.
Or maybe I’m having flashbacks to July 2015 when a white supremacist shot dead 9 Black Americans at a church Bible study.
Now, it’s not as though the Jewish community completely ignored these atrocities. There were statements of concern, condemnations, calls to attend rallies and sign petitions.
But this was the polite sympathy of outsiders. Decorous. Respectful. “So sorry for your loss”.
There is nothing polite or decorous about your reaction today. Today I hear despair and terror, unmuted rage, heart wrenching sobs. Jewish friends are calling and tweeting to check in with each other, mourn together. I’ve received condolences and offers for rabbinic counseling, “safe spaces” online to process my grief.
I have a message for all of you, my white Jewish friends. I feel no more fear, no more rage, no more terror than I did two days ago. No more than I have felt every day as a black person in this country.
For the past year, every Jewish organization I’m connected with has been examining its connections to racism and white supremacy. There have been workshops and meetings and conferences about “decolonizing” and “racial reconciliation “ and “ashkenomrativity”. There have been calls to recognize and include Jews of Color; why we’ve become positively trendy. For the first time in 25 years, I was beginning to feel that I was truly part of the Jewish community, that Ashkenazi Jews were making an honest effort to include people like me as part of the tribe.
I was wrong. Your reaction today made me see that. As I watch and listen to you today, I realized, “Ah. I get it. This is what it looks like when you actually care”.
A Jewish community that sincerely valued its Jews of Colors would have reacted with equal passion and sorrow to the black deaths in Louisville last week. Where were the supportive calls to your black Jewish friends, the counseling offers, the sobbing, the anger? Did you even notice?.
Did it ever occur to you that the rage and terror you are experiencing today is how I have felt my entire life?
It is not only that you have largely ignored the anguish of your black community members, it’s that you have once again directed the focus and outrage away from anti black racism and centered it on yourselves.
Believe me, I understand your pain. I understand how this terrible shooting evokes spectres of the holocaust, and Europe’s centuries of unspeakable anti Semitic crimes which drove your families to flee.
But as I wrote last summer:
“For Jews, Nazi symbols evoke a terrifying, traumatic past. For African Americans, they evoke a terrifying, traumatic, unending present. White Jews may be shocked at this undeniable evidence of US racism; African Americans merely see more of the same. Black people did not need to be reminded by hoods and swastikas that we live in a dangerously racist country.”
Yes, you are vulnerable. You have a right to your rage and your terror. But you do not have the right to ignore or diminish mine, to imply that yours is greater or more significant. There is nothing unique about your suffering.
And you can not continue to ignore that your Jewish community includes many who are doubly burdened; your black, Brown, indigenous, trans members who face the terror of anti semitism without the all encompassing shelter of white, cis privilege.
So as you attend your vigils and say Kaddish for the victims of Tree of Life, remember Louisville. Remember Mother Emmanuel. Remember Pulse Nightclub. Say a prayer for all the “beaten and butchered and betrayed and martyred children of the earth”. And try to remember that we are your family too.
A version of this post first appeared on Lesley William’s website The Cranky Librarian.