It’s Kate, the mediocre former athlete who most likely peaked in middle school! I wanted to start out column number two by thanking the few individuals who have reached out to me so far—I am really excited to talk with y’all and hear your stories. To everyone who has not contacted me, please, please feel free to do so. I promise I will have my eyes glued to my phone at any and all points of the day so I can be ready to respond to requests at a moment’s notice. So, if anyone wonders why my eyes look bloodshot and tired, just know it’s because I am very dedicated to my craft and not because I ran out of melatonin and keep forgetting to buy more at CVS.
Anyways, I’m going to forgo a seamless transition here and start telling y’all about some thoughts and conversations I’ve had this past week…
In thinking about what I wanted this column to be, I decided to turn inwards and interrogate identities relating to myself. Later, I will expand outwards to look at identities separate from my own, and then reel it back in to reflect on what I’ve learned. I’m not sure if this is something I’m supposed to reveal to ~~my readership~~ but there you have it, the entire trajectory of my column!
So, following this outline, this week I asked to chat with seniors Miriam Priven and Julia Doyle. Both are involved with facilitating a workshop on campus (one that I’ve had the pleasure of being involved with this semester) that is dedicated to interrogating aspects of anti-Semitism and Jewish identity.
The group was created and spearheaded by Miriam Priven, who felt there was a need and an opportunity for greater learning about anti-Semitism amongst Jews in her community. While she initially planned to create the workshop as her American Studies senior project, it was denied for credit because it wasn’t considered “academic enough.”
Miriam, being the bad-ass lady that she is, decided to go forward with it anyways.
The workshop encompasses two main themes. The first focuses on Jewish experience and the idea that anti-Semitism very much exists in the present and is not merely a relic of the past. For Miriam, it is important to understand how anti-Semitism is present in modern Jewish life and how it works in conjunction with racism and colonialism to uphold racialized capitalism. Exploring how anti-Semitism fits into this framework, such as painting all Jews as White (while a diaspora of POC Jews exist), or portraying all Jews as upper-class people with political power, can further an understanding of how White supremacy is upheld.
The second—and perhaps more difficult—aspect of the workshop is addressing one’s own internalized anti-Semitism. Miriam, along with co-facilitators Julia Doyle and Merissa Jaye, sought to introduce this complicated topic last week during the first workshop of the semester. When introducing ourselves to the group, participants each shared their personal relationship to Judaism.
In most cases, when people described their Jewish identities, they would say: “X” of me is Jewish in “Y” and “Z” ways. For example, when I explained my Judaism by using this format: I went to a Jewish pre-school, I had a bat mitzvah when I was 13, and my thoughts on Israel-Palestine became politicized when I was in high school.
Throughout the workshop, we discussed how this ‘format’ could be a result of our internalized anti-Semitism. Often, this can manifest in Jewish individuals by not feeling fully Jewish or completely included in Jewish communities or spaces. I’ve never seen myself as Jewish in every aspect of my life. I have always conceptualized and understood my Judaism as being confined to certain spaces (my temple, my preschool, etc).
This can undermine important work in dismantling oppressive structures, within both interpersonal relationships and wider institutions of power. As Miriam explained to us, internalized anti-Semitism “can actually harm us [Jews] and causes us to act in harmful ways toward ourselves and toward others. Some examples are Jews feeling frequently anxious or unable to trust others, Jews feeling that non-Jews don’t understand us and allowing that belief to keep us from participating in movements for racial and social justice, Jews feeling like it is hard or inappropriate to bring up experiences about being Jewish even in ‘lefty’ or ‘rad’ spaces, and Jews only focusing on protecting Jews from suffering while not prioritizing an end to all oppressions.”
Sound complicated? I thought so, too.
Julia Doyle, a participant from last semester, had a similar thought process when being introduced to these ideas.
“In the beginning, I was definitely dubious,” Julia said. “It didn’t seem like [internalized anti-Semitism] was something that was that important, until I realized it was the key to understanding [myself and institutions of power].”
Throughout the workshop, Julia said the group began to dive into understanding how anti-Semitism not only undermines Jewish solidarity with other movements but can also divide the Jewish community. Eventually, they started to break down a lot of internalized, hurtful ideas that kept many people from understanding their Jewish identity as a whole.
Learning and confronting these difficult topics, Julia said, also came at the best (worst?) time.
When Trump got elected, Julia felt this educational work was suddenly more pressing.
Miriam agreed. “Last semester,” she said, “it was so wild when the election happened in the context of this group. We had just done a month of workshops about structural anti-Semitism and the idea that anti-Semitism plays a part in the system of oppression that we live in. Then, suddenly, Trump was elected and these anti-Semitic acts started happening more visibly and in a more high-profile way than they had before. It was like we knew it was going to happen and [this workshop] was in preparing ourselves to understand it, how anti-Semitism fits in with the context of other oppressions [in Trump’s America].”
Furthermore, after the election, the rise of Steve Bannon, and the surge of swastika graffiti and reported hate crimes against Jews, Miriam realized the importance of building and having a community to process feelings surrounding Jewish identity and anti-Semitism. Besides an educational workshop, the group functioned as a built-in support system after the election. Without it, Miriam reflected, she wouldn’t have been able to process her internalized shame of Jewish people in history, or think through her understandings of resistance in the same way.
Miriam went on to say that, specifically within her Jewish community at Tufts, she feels like this education piece is a really important part of resistance, especially because “one of the ways anti-Semitism works is that I have a hard time understanding my own experience. If we don’t see ourselves and understand our histories in the context of other systems of power and oppression, Jews are not going to take action.”
This, among many, many other things, is why I think this group is important to many of its participants, and will become so important for me this semester. In talking to Miriam and Julia, I began to realize I have never really considered education and building community as a legitimate piece to my own acts of resistance.
In order to resist in a meaningful and intentional way, I think I must first unpack and understand myself and my experiences. Something that I’ve begun to understand in this workshop is that, as a Jewish person committed to social justice, I’ve never interrogated sources of anti-Jewish oppression. I’ve always thought this was because learning about racism, sexism, and homophobia was far more important and pressing, but I’ve begun to realize my failure to educate myself on anti-Semitism was perhaps a product of my internalized anti-Semitism. I viewed it as something of the past, something that affected my grandparents and not me. It’s taken two workshops for me to say this is totally untrue, and I’ve still got a lot more to learn.
This is not to say that focusing on anti-Semitism will take the place of other anti-racist, anti-Islamophobia, anti-homophobia, or other important work. I plan on exploring these educations separately as well to understand them within the context of this workshop, as a lot of aspects of the workshop itself are focused on looking at anti-Semitism within the context of a White-supremacist, capitalist, heteronormative, settler-colonial state. However, I now realize how important it will be for me, this semester and in the future, to hold myself accountable to continuing anti-Semitism education, along with others, with communities that will challenge my thought process while also providing a supportive space…
…and all of that is going to take a lot, a lot, a lot of work. Guess it’s a good thing I’ve got this column and some active, dedicated readers (shout out to my mom) to help me process it all.
Until next time,
Kate Hirsch the middle school athlete