I participated in and helped organize the Jews and Allies United to End Anti-Semitism table at the Takoma Park (Maryland, USA) Folk Arts Festival. We were one of dozens of local community groups that shared information about our organizations. We had a huge eight-foot banner draped over the side of our table: “Jews and Allies United to End Anti-Semitism.” A sign on top of the table had written on it, “How have you noticed anti-Semitism recently?”
About seventy-five people came by our table during the course of the day. They would walk by and read our sign. Some immediately came over. Some raised a fist in support. When someone hesitated, a member of our team would go over and reach out to them.
We shared a few key ideas with people who stopped by the table: 1) that we were Jews and non-Jewish allies together, and that Jews, compared to some other oppressed groups, are not supported by an independent ally movement; 2) that anti-Semitism is often made invisible, or when it is talked about, it is distorted (for example, by U.S. conservatives); 3) that anti-Semitism functions to divide liberation movements, and 4) that we are a project of Re-evaluation Counseling, and listening is a primary tool of our work.
There was a huge range of conversations—from talk about Israel, Zionism, and anti-Zionism, to talk about anti-Semitism on college campuses. Some people told us eye-opening stories about anti-Semitism. Some said that they had never noticed anti-Semitism.
Several veterans in wheelchairs came by. One showed us his Jewish star and said he was amazed that we were there. A teenage boy came over on his bike and said, “I’m Jewish.” He told us that the young people at his school call him a “kike.” He was happy we were there and pleased to get the pamphlet, Anti-Semitism: Why Is It Everyone’s Concern? (See ordering information on our home page.)
A team member told someone, “I’m your Catholic ally,” and the man gasped and said, “You mean you’re not Jewish?” Most people assumed we were all Jews, some saying Shalom or Leshana Tova. Our non-Jewish team members enjoyed letting folks know about non-Jewish allies.
Maryland/Washington, D.C., USA
We held an interesting and successful Jews and Allies United to End Anti-Semitism event in a coastal town in Kent, England (across the English Channel from Calais, France). It is a town with few Jews and huge support for Brexit and anti-immigrant policies.
The event, led by a white Ashkenazi Jew and a Black Gentile, was inspired by recent widespread controversy about anti-Semitism in the British Labour Party—a classic case of attempted derailment of a “progressive agenda” coupled with confusion about the nature of anti-Semitism and the Left’s denial of its existence.
We strategically invited some of our friends and activist colleagues to the event as well as some members of the local Labour Party. It was a diverse group, ranging in age from nineteen to early seventies. It included an Irish Jew, refugees from Eritrea and Sudan, British-born African-heritage people, an Asian Muslim, and white people of Irish heritage. Most were women. In preparation for the event we spoke to each person individually about why we wanted them at the event, how anti-Semitism “coats” personal relationships, and how the manipulation of anti-Semitism can weaken the women’s liberation and anti-racism work they do together.
At the event, people were asked if they had grown up around Jews. This led to a fruitful discussion about where we come from, how we get messages about each other, what it means to be a Jew in a country where Christianity is the state religion, and how invisible we can be as Jews. We looked at feelings that come up when we say the word “Jew.” This was followed by a panel of Jews and allies sharing what ending anti-Semitism means to them.
We ended by lighting Chanukah and Shabbat candles and eating challah and doughnuts. People’s highlights included the power and hope of seeing our unity across differences, and how we supported each other and each other’s issues even while focusing on a specific oppression. All loved how safe it was to share personal stories and beliefs, and that they could be “corrected” without being made “wrong.” The Labour Party activists commented that what was missing from Party discussions was personal reflections and feelings. All expressed an interest in meeting again to deepen the conversation and the connections.
The following are thoughts from the Jewish member of the team:
This was a profound experience for me. I was brought up just after the Holocaust with the message that Gentiles were dangerous and not to be trusted, that their friendship wasn’t real, and that they would ultimately abandon me. One way I dealt with this message was to defy my parents and deny that anti-Semitism existed. It has been eye-opening, and terrifying, to acknowledge how fast the cycle of anti-Semitism has turned in the seven decades of my life.
In creating this event I had to notice that allies are willing to stand with me, that I have plenty to say about anti-Semitism and how it intersects with all oppressions in both personal and political spheres, and that I have Gentiles in my life who will engage with this issue.
Our Toronto Jews and Allies United to End Anti-Semitism team has been reaching out to organizations and communities with which we already have relationships, to explore where and how we might make an impact.
One team member is leading a four-part series, “Jews and Allies United to End Anti-Semitism,” at the synagogue where she is the rabbi.
Two team members were part of a brainstorming and planning meeting for the Downtown Jewish Community Council (DJCC). It is a council of Jewish schools, youth groups, prayer communities, congregations, and social service agencies. The DJCC wants to play a more active role in addressing the rise of hate and white supremacy and in finding opportunities to do trainings and partnership building. Team members shared information about the work of Jews and Allies United to End Anti-Semitism and are exploring the possibility of offering a workshop series to the DJCC.
One team member attended a community-wide conversation about anti-Semitism convened by two groups that are concerned with Israel and Jewish affairs. The conversation was almost entirely focused on how to increase security at Jewish institutions. The team member shared some of the theory and approaches of Jews and Allies United to End Anti-Semitism that are very different ways of responding to anti-Semitism and working to eliminate it. Her courageous words opened the door for others to speak up and share additional experiences and perspectives. She then set up a face-to-face meeting with the leadership of one of the sponsoring groups, and two members of our team plan to attend the meeting.
Our team participated in the Global Climate Action Summit held in San Francisco, California, USA, in September 2018. We helped organize a Shabbat service before the Rise for Climate march and conducted a workshop on “Jews Supporting Climate Justice,” among other activities. We plan to involve the contacts we made in our next steps.
Berkeley, California, USA
In Great Britain only 0.5% of the population is Jewish. Many people have never had the opportunity to meet a Jewish person or to know anything about Judaism.
Some non-Jews who participate in Re-evaluation Counseling asked if they could visit a synagogue that I had played a role in refurbishing. I invited them to a Saturday Shabbat service and afterward showed them around. They had questions about the synagogue, religious services, and Judaism. They had the experience of being welcomed into a synagogue as non-Jews and could reflect on their preconceptions and what more they needed to learn and understand. We want this group of allies to become more aware of the anti-Semitism in their daily lives, to make friends with Jews, and to meet members of the synagogue and build honest relationships with them to the benefit of all.
After the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, on October 27, 2018, our Jews and Allies United to End Anti-Semitism team knew it was important not to stay silent and isolated. Together we (a white Jewish woman and a Catholic Latina woman) led a gathering in our community for Jews and allies. We started by focusing on our deep connectedness. Each Jew shared about an ally they had noticed since the shooting, and each ally said something about a Jew they loved. We spoke about how much more connected we Jews are to our allies now, compared to times of anti-Jewish violence in the past. Also, there are many more interfaith families and mixed-heritage Jews in our Jewish communities.
We set a tone of safety that allowed people to more fully and openly face what had happened in Pittsburgh. The Jews and Allies group kept the focus on unity and stayed together the whole evening. We were pleased that we unapologetically placed Jewish liberation at the center of the evening while also creating space for allies to be welcomed, included, and treasured.
Oakland, California, USA
Twenty-three people attended a “listening session” at my synagogue led by three Jewish members of our Jews and Allies United to End Anti-Semitism team. We started by explaining that having someone listen to us helps us understand ourselves—what we feel, think, need, and so on. (It’s not necessary that we agree with what our listening partner says.) We asked people not to refer later, without permission, to what was said in the listening turns.
We listed three main forms of anti-Semitism—overt, often violent oppression; subtle anti-Semitism that permeates the culture; and how we as Jews internalize negative messages that affect how we feel about ourselves and other Jews.
We asked people to imagine a world without anti-Semitism and how our lives would have been different without this oppression. Next, people paired up to listen to each other in response to a question. They did this three times, and after each session we gave them a chance to share in the larger group how their turns had gone. The following are some of their comments:
• “I never knew why I felt so bad about my curly hair—I thought it was ‘just me.’”
• “This was the first time I realized that I’m not the only one who deals with these feelings.”
• “For the first time I was able to see the connection between two different incidents in my life.”
• “I’m so glad you gave us the instruction to just listen and not comment or engage in back and forth conversation with our partners. It was so good for me to have to ‘shut up’ and listen—and actually get to know this other person. Thank you.”
• “This is so important. We need to talk about anti-Semitism and keep talking about it. After an anti-Semitic incident on campus I gave copies of the pamphlet Anti-Semitism: Why Is It Everyone’s Concern? to deans at the college where I teach. I also spent four weeks reading and discussing the pamphlet with my class.
• “I am involved with progressive political groups in which no one will acknowledge that Jews are an oppressed group.”
In closing, we announced upcoming events, one of which was a discussion session the following month at the synagogue, of Anti-Semitism: Why Is It Everyone’s Concern? We encouraged people to do a weekly check-in with someone and ask each other, “What was it like for you as a Jew this week?” A number of people said they would like to meet again. We plan to offer additional listening sessions or possibly an ongoing support group.
Western Massachusetts, USA
Our team of Jews and Allies United to End Anti-Semitism, in Minnesota, USA, learned that the local Jewish Community Action organization was hosting a forum, ”Anti-Semitism and White Nationalism: Understanding and Undermining the Politics of Exclusion.” There was a morning session for Jews and an afternoon session for allies. Six Jewish members of our team listened to people as they arrived and asked them for their thoughts.
A group of allies attended the afternoon session. I talked with some young Jews of color. One said he thought the session wasn’t for him—but after being listened to, he stayed and became fully engaged. It was a small step but an important one for us.
Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota, USA