A Run on Jewish Literature

I want to start by saying just how apt that title is- the…double entendre of it all. These posts will probably be a bit of a…run on, but I also hope they create a “run on” in terms of shopping. But that’s all aside…

I’ve talked about Jew Hatred before on this blog (HERE) and this post isn’t necessarily about that, BUT I think it’s important to touch on quickly and it ties into a project I want to work on. If you haven’t seen the latest attack on Jews by Kanye West, well consider yourself lucky. He said some truly horrifying things and the response has been both disheartening and heartening. I’ve seen both ends of the spectrum from condemnation, to trying to write him off. However, he has spurned folks to take very real action in the real world (displays in Los Angeles over the weekend) which once again proves that words are real, no matter the source they come from. Now, Jew Hatred is not a new thing, it’s a thousand-year-old thing that ebbs and flows in intensity and presentation but always remains. However, the Jewish people are working not only to call out all levels of Jew Hatred – both shady and subtle as well as overt- but also to educate folks about Judaism. 

I’ve always personally felt like the best way to learn about the Jewish people and Judaism and our history is by speaking to people, learning or reading their experiences and stories. Judaism is unique as every single Jewish person has a completely different story to tell. A completely different life experience. You could talk to me and to my Jewish relatives and we will have very different experiences, different views, different levels to our Jewish-ness. Sure, there are some things that may be similar, but in terms of life and experience- every single one of us is different. Which means that listening and learning is so important. 

In this attempt to listen and learn, we will often turn to literature…or at least I will. And boy is there quite a bit of it out there, mostly centered on The Holocaust. 

I want to interject really fast and say- there is nothing wrong with reading literature regarding The Holocaust. This was the most horrifying, devastating thing to occur to the Jewish People in modern times and a truly horrifying act for all humanity. It’s also something regularly referenced and used as a tool to try and stop it from happening again. Which I have conflicting thoughts about, but that’s a thought for another day. 

So, so much literature around one of the most devastating things in our Modern Jewish History. And it’s not wrong to read books about it. In fact, I encourage you to read survivor testimony, to listen to the stories and understand why any level of Jew Hatred is terrifying to Jews around the world. It’s a hard subject, but it is so important to read. 

HOWEVER, you have to be careful when consuming Holocaust literature. You have to be careful when consuming any level of Jewish Literature. And that’s what I want to do with a new project. There is a lot of good Jewish literature out there, A LOT, but there is also a lot of harmful Jewish literature that is DANGEROUS and could contain some level of Jew Hatred that you don’t even realize when reading. 

What brought this idea on is the news (that I’m not sure how new this is- I think it’s been talked about before, but we might only just now be getting new publishing news?) that The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is going to be getting a sequel of sorts. Now, a lot of us have read the book or seen the movie. A lot of us would probably think- great it’s shining a light on the Holocaust- and the story of this Nazi family experiencing the torture and loss of their son, killed in the same manner as all the Jews. BUT what you’re actually reading is a Nazi excusing book. A book that’s saying this Nazi family (outside of the commandant) had no idea of what was happening in the camps, that this little Nazi boy befriended and helped this little kid, and it HUMANIZED him. The whole book is about HUMANIZING this Nazi family, when at the same time the dad in the family was continually torturing, starving, and killing Jews in the camp that he was in charge of. 

But we don’t pick up on that when reading. Especially if we are not reading critically and we don’t have the history or the trauma in our lineage or in our people. This is often times one of those books that is recommended to young children as an introduction to The Holocaust, but how can we expect our children to understand the magnanimity of the Holocaust if, from the start, they are looking at the Nazi’s through a sympathetic or humanized lens?

And that’s just Holocaust literature. Do you know that there is more to the Jews than just being murdered? 

During this project I am going to be reading a wide variety of Jewish stories, both Holocaust and not Holocaust related. I am going to be reading fiction and nonfiction, trying to cover a variety of genres. And then I’m going to come here and I’m going to talk about it. I’m going to talk about the representation, I’m going to talk about the level of Jewish-ness in the book, how it fits with our history, how it fits with my own story, and more. I’m going to take each apart and dissect them. It’s going to be more in depth than my monthly wrap ups because I really want to get to the meat and potatoes of Jewish Literature. 

I want to be able to recommend books that I feel are worthy of your time to read, to give you some insight on Jewish life (both the highs and the lows) and Jewish history. This is how I learn, how I take in knowledge, and I know that it is for others, so I hope this helps. This is going to a long-term project, though I have no idea on posting schedules for these. I have already read several books that I will be diving into first, but if you have heard of any, know any that you would like my take on, please let me know what they are, and I’ll add them in (same goes for if you hear of any in the future). 

Rosh Hashanah 5783

Shanah Tovah U’metukah! Happy Jewish New Year! As Rosh Hashanah comes to a close this evening, the Ten Days of Teschuvah begin (actually they start with Rosh Hashanah and then end at Yom Kippur). This period of time is a starting off point to reflection, growth, and returning to being the best that we can be. It’s a chance to jump start your growth and goodness for the year ahead. It’s a process that is meant to be continued year-round, but specifically these ten days are spent making right with relationships and our community. 

Last year’s post is really detailed about Rosh Hashanah and what we do, how we celebrate and what my thoughts were going into the past year- all of which you can read HERE. I’ll just add a little fun fact for this year. On Rosh Hashanah we wish each other a GOOD new year, whereas in the English New Year, you with a HAPPY New Year. This can serve as a reminder that by doing good, being “good”, happiness will follow. 

I normally post my Rosh Hashanah post prior to the holiday beginning, having spent the month of Elul (the last month on the Jewish Calendar, meant as a time of deep reflection and introspection) reflecting on the year, however this year I delayed. It’s been a bit of a weird time. Nothing truly major, nothing truly bad, just a forced time of reflection that had me…not really wanting to share things. I wanted to do some deep inner work and make things right in and with myself before I felt comfortable looking forward and turning outward. 

5782 was a year full of so many highs, a few lows, and a lot of…meh. Not meh necessarily, just a lot of stressful situations that, to be honest, I could have easily avoided or saw my way out of. And I should have. I let a lot of “out of my control” things affect my own self and that is not something that I really liked about myself. It’s not something that is directly in my nature, until I’ve been pushed to a point, and there were a couple of times that I was pushed to that point (and I shouldn’t have been). 

But I’m a deep believer in something higher than us, guiding our way, and placing things in/out of our lives to continue to guide and show us the way forward. And, while 5782 held both good and bad, I feel like I really deepened my own feelings and truths about my thoughts, beliefs, and feelings about relationships. And that is how I spent my month of Elul- deep in introspection over the prior year. I’m not going to be sharing too many of those thoughts, mostly because they are private and not something I want to put out into the world. 

All that being said, I was thinking and reflecting all the way up until Erev Rosh Hashanah. I was trying to figure out where I wanted this year to take me, it’s a year of change for us after all in so many ways, and I what I felt would be best for me, my family, and our community. And when I heard that Shofar Blast, that awakening to a new year, I felt those familiar shivers and goose bumps, and something locked into place for me. It’s a new year, a Shanah Tovah (a good year), and I’m READY. 

So, what does all this really mean???

Well, I’ve got a new…word for the year- really a new mindset. I’ve always been a “find the good” kind of person, but I found that in 5782 I struggled with it a bit more than I have in the past. That may not actually be fair to say…I’ll change that thought. I focused more of my time and intentions and energy on the negative, on the toxic, than I should have, than I normally would have. That’s more accurate. 

So, in 5783 I’m choosing הַכָּרַת הַטּוֹב (Hakarat ha’tov) or quite literally “recognize the good”. I’m also choosing שִׂמְחָה (simcha) or joy. It’s simple- there is no place in my life for the toxic, for the negative, for the bad energy. I recently read a quote that really just…resonated with me and fed into this feeling of needing this to lead my year- “At this big age, I’m only interested in progress and peace. Anything that costs either has to go”- We the Urban. If it does not serve my families progress or peace, if it does not feed our joy, our lives, then it has no place. 

Now, that does not mean that bad days do not come. It does not mean that we do not struggle. In fact, this year (5783) is going to be full of challenges for our family, but it means that either I will toss out of the negativity- treat it with a light laughter, turn it into something humorous, OR I will cling to the good moments when the bad come. 

None of this is really new to me- I’ve always been someone who tries to find the good, find the happiness, in fact this is something I touched on last year when my word was “mechaye” – something that gives great joy or life. This has always been who I am, but sometimes it can get a little lost in the everyday and this is my way of bringing it back to the forefront a little more. 

Beyond that – my goals for 5783 are in flux right now. I have things that I want to accomplish, as I do every year, and I feel like this year could really be a big year for those goals. Both boys are in school, so I have a bit more free time- though I’m rapidly filling it with commitments. However, I’m trying to keep an open mind to really welcome any new opportunities that knock on our day and find new ways that I can help those around me and in my community. 

So, with all those words said…I really just want to with everyone a Shana Tovah U’metukah- I hope 5783 is everything and more. 

Pesach 5782

***A little aside here at the outset- I don’t really know what this post is going to be, what it’s going to say, or anything really, I’m just putting some thoughts to paper (as it were) and sharing. I do this from time to time when it feels right and right now, I’m clinging to my culture and me Jewish-ness.***

We are currently, as of the time that you are reading this, right smack dab in the middle of Pesach. And it has struck me that while Pesach has always had a big role in my childhood/early adolescence, I’ve never really spoken about it. More so in a passing “oh it’s the holiday that celebrates the freedom of the Jewish people and we don’t eat bread”- which is more for others benefit than actual statement of what the holiday represents. It’s the basic phrase that I’ve answered for more years than I care to admit, the easy way to please someone without overloading them with information and leaving them confused or not caring. 

And in truth, it’s a basic answer. It details what the holiday celebrates and how we honor that celebration. But in reality, Pesach is so much more than that and its meaning and importance from ALL of my childhood Jewishness is much deeper than a simple sentence can convey. So, let’s unpack all of that.

First off, what is Pesach? And I’m going to call it Pesach, even though the English is a word much more familiar- Passover. At its core, Pesach tells the story of the Jews liberation from slavery and Pharoah in Ancient Egypt. It is a celebration of our freedom. As ridiculous as it is, I always like to point to the movie The Prince of Egypt because this movie tells the most basic, easy to understand story of Pesach. The Jews were slaves to Pharoah in Egypt, building his temples, his homes, doing back breaking labor for nothing. Pharoah was a truly horrible leader to his slaves, killing sons so that the population was controlled. The story of Moses birth, then upbringing in Pharaoh’s home is one told again and again. His eye-opening experience finding out he is one of the Chosen, a Jew. His task given to him by Hashem, to free the Jews. 

Moses goes to Pharoah and asks him to “Let his people go”, however Pharoah refuses (whatever will he do without all that free labor to build his grand temples and homes?). Of course, his refusal then leads to the 10 Plagues, with the final plague being the death of the first-born son of every non-Jew. At this, Pharoah tells Moses to get the Jews and get out. The Jews leave quickly, not even allowing enough time for their bread to rise (this is important) and make their way out of Pharoah’s Egypt. But of course, Pharaoh, in his grief, chases after them, cueing Moses parting the sea and the Jews escaping to safety. They then wander the desert of Egypt for 40 years before finding their way to Canaan, Israel. 

So, how do we celebrate this joyous event? Well by not eating any Chametz, or leavened bread, and by hosting a Seder. First, the foregoing of the leavened bread. We abstain from eating any form of gluten (this includes bread, pasta, flour tortillas, ANYTHING that expands when contacted with water) for 7-8 days (depending on how you practice). You are supposed to cleanse your house of all Chametz and do a full cleaning so not even a crumb is left. It’s important to note that there are varying levels of practice, as with anything else in Judaism, and how one practices does not reflect how Jewish one is.  However, no matter how you practice, the tradition of the ridding of Chametz, the eating of Matzah, is to ritualize and remember the breaking away from slavery. The idea of cleansing the house of Chametz, then going forward to 7-8 days with only Matzah (or unleavened crackers) is to symbolize our effective breaking of ties to Egypt. Eating the Matzah (while not always fun) is a symbol of our journey as Jews in the desert. 

As with any other Jewish holiday, Pesach is steeped in ritual. Aside from the cleansing of Chametz and eating Matzah, we also have a Seder. The seder is a very orderly, ritual reading of the Haggadah, telling the story of the freedom of the Jews, feast. This feast has a strict and precise order and details out everything from how many glasses of wine will be consumed during the formal portion (it’s 4), to the washing of hands, to the game of finding the Afikomen. It is a joyous, happy occasion and often times one full of laughter and a true sense of community. As part of the seder we invite both those we know and those we don’t know to join our table as a way of honoring that we were all strangers at one point. Typically, there is a Night One Seder and a Night Two seder as we celebrate the first two nights of the weeklong holiday. 

Starting the second night of Pesach, Jews typically “Count the Omer”, in which we count and pray on the days between Pesach to Shavuot (the next holiday). This is a 50-day period that links the freedom of Pesach and the handing down of the Laws at Shavuot. There is also Yom HaShoah, falling 5 days after Pesach, which is the Day of the Holocaust. This is a day of mourning for the Jewish people to commemorate the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust. 

Pesach for me is a holiday that I have the fullest, fondest memories of. Of course, giving up gluten for a week is…well torture, it is also one of the few very physical ways to honor that struggle that our ancestors went through to gain our freedom. A freedom that cannot be taken away, no matter how much struggle we have been through since as a people. But I also have some of the best memories of family seders as a child. We always did a night one Pesach Seder with some really close family friends and their extended family. It was a loud raucous night full of singing, laughing, and some great readings of the Haggadah. There was always a spirited hunt for the Afikomen, and the evening ALWAYS ended with a second, third, whatever round of Dayenu. I always loved the holiday of Pesach as it is not only a story of freedom, but also a celebration of finding home. Of having community in each other. Of struggling and triumphing together as a people. 

They Saved Themselves…

I’m going to preface this post (rather this series of posts), with a bit of a disclaimer. I never thought that I would be here talking about this level of Jew Hatred. This is something that I’ve shared about on social media and maybe briefly mentioned on the blog, outside of talking about Holocaust sites that we’ve visited, but never something I’ve outrightly discussed. There are several reasons for this that we will get into in another post, but I feel like I’ve reached a point that I can no longer NOT talk about it. I’ve been feeling this pressure within to talk about it more for the past year or two, but it’s really starting to reach a crescendo. 

I want to start this off by saying that almost every single Jew has experienced some form of “othering”, of hatred, SOMETHING. Every. Single. Jew. It’s actually not hard to believe when you realize that Jews make up 0.19% of the world population. I’m not going to spit facts at you this entire post, but that’s an important one to know. Ask any Jew that you know, and they’ll talk to you about some incident. In fact, a recent number has come to light that in 2021 an average of 10 antisemitic incidents were REPORTED a day. 10 A DAY. And that’s just a) what’s reported (often they go unreported) and b) what can actually be reported. In just the weeks following the hostage situation at the Synagogue in Colleyville- which we will be getting into in this post- I’ve seen numerous incidences both in a micro aggression commentary sense, but also in physical attacks. In NYC a woman yelled holocaust and Hitler slurs at two young Jewish children and spat on them. An op-ed in the Wall Street Journal talked about how the only Jews that had to fear antisemitism are those that are “outwardly Jewish” or “frequent Jewish institutions”. This is beyond false and actually very dangerous rhetoric. Two instances right there in two weeks; examples of both physical (though mild as most are truly physical assault rather than just spitting on someone which is still bad and disgusting) and micro verbal nonsense spewed in a “reputable” news source. 

For me? The first time I experienced it was when my family moved from TX to CO, and I started a new school. I was the “weird girl who talked funny and didn’t celebrate Christmas”. Oh, and I also was the girl “who had that weird birthday celebration at the school” aka a Bat Mitzvah. This othering is not unusual by any means (and nowhere near close to some of the other things I’ve experienced), but at 11/12 in a new community and a new school it had an impact. Later in life I’ve experienced some micro aggressions and truly horrifying things said to me that I will not repeat (because they are truly horrifying). I’ve always kind of written them off as people coming from a place of ignorance or not understanding. But honestly that’s a lie and it’s a dangerous mindset to have. I see so many comments, words of ignorance, and statements becoming commonplace that are actually scary to hear as a Jewish person. 

The reality is that people are quick to write off the Jewish community. In terms of social justice, they are considered “white”, but in terms of white supremacy they are the antithesis of “white” (and in reality- Jews are NOT “white”, but at most white passing). The history of the Jews is long and storied and since it involves SO MUCH it must have been exaggerated or falsified- even though there is documented proof. There are always “bigger issues” to contend with OR “not enough information” to comment on what is happening. And, as a Jewish person, it is hard to watch my very people, my community, my home be wiped to the side as quick as dirt being swept on the floor. 

Sometimes it’s easy to see, like in the most recent incident that made international news- a gunmen entered a synagogue, took 4 hostages for 12 hours before finally being killed by the FBI without any other casualties. 

First off, this is an annual occurrence. There is some form of massive violence against the Jewish community every year. We see it in Synagogue shootings, hostage situations, stabbings in Kosher supermarkets. And these are the “major” events, the news making stories, this is not counting “minor” physical assaults and verbal attacks that Jews face EVERY SINGLE DAY. But we’ll focus on these major ones for the sake of conversation (just remember- Jew Hatred is not limited to these annual major occurrences, but rather happens every day). 

Now, let’s get into the specifics of this most recent hostage situation because I feel like they paint a pretty accurate picture of the state of Jewish Hatred. 

First, I personally saw the news break from an Israeli News Organization. I then saw the Jewish community rally and share details before lastly seeing our standard news outlets sharing information. I don’t have cable so I can’t say what the coverage was in that sense, but I will say I first heard and saw the hostage situation NOT from our American Mainstream Media. 

Second, the ONLY people I saw sharing it, talking about it, updating others was the Jewish community. This is going to sound a bit like a call out, and maybe it is in a way, but I didn’t see ONE person who was NOT a member of the Jewish community share. It was like crickets outside the Jewish community. The sad fact, is that a lot of the folks that were talking about it, sharing it (again- within the Jewish community) were sharing it and the fact that they KNEW that they would get no support from outside the community. That’s SAD. When there were finally comments being made from outside the community, they were…stilted to say the least. I saw everything from a “praying for the hostages” to “please don’t let this lead to a rise in Islamophobia” to the White House not even stating (in their initial comment- I know Biden later released a full statement condemning Antisemitism and what not) what was going on- just that the president had been “briefed about the developing hostage situation in the Dallas area”. Let me make something absolutely clear here- this is one of the things that HURTS the Jewish community when it comes to Jewish Hatred. Not immediately saying exactly what it is is a detriment, ESPECIALLY when it is BLATANTLY clear. 

When the hostages escaped (and we’ll get to that next), the FBI’s initial statement from the Dallas Special Agent in Charge was that this was “not specifically related to the Jewish Community”. Yes, read that again. We’ve learned a lot in the days following this hostage situation and there were some rumors, but we’ll put that aside for the purposes of this (and we’ll get to them- I promise). If we look at what we knew when this statement was made what we KNEW was that this man had taken these hostages in a Synagogue with the intent on getting someone (who also hated Jews and wanted the jurors at her federal trial genetically tested to determine if they were or were not Jews) freed from Federal Prison. He had the Rabbi call another Rabbi in another state to continue pushing his case for freeing this person. And the FBI made a public statement that this was “not related to the Jewish community”. Let that sink in. This is a government organization. A federal government organization saying something directly opposite of what we all saw. And, while most of us can see the flaw in that statement, there are people who, because this is the FBI, will believe it. 

Now the FBI has come out and corrected that initial statement and most people are talking about how outrageous and false that statement is, it’s still a damning heartbreaking statement to make literally on the heels of the entire Jewish community praying, daring to hope, and sitting on edge for the entirety of a Sabbath day. 

In the days following the Hostage situation we started to get a clearer picture of the events, which makes the entire situation clearer, more heartbreaking, and more damning. 

First, we hear confirmation that the hostage taker had the Rabbi call a Rabbi in New York to push his agenda forward. Not every rabbi knows every rabbi, and they are most definitely not connected in this sense to the justice system. The entire concept of “Jews control the Justice System” connects to an antisemitic trope of “Jews control the world”, which is…quite obviously false. False as it is, this is a narrative that is pushed forward quite regularly.

Second, we hear that 3 out of the 4 hostages escaped through their own self-defense tactics, knowledge, and training, rather than being “freed” or “rescued”. This is one of the most important factors to look at, after we look at the fact that this is obviously an attack on the Jewish Community, and we need to recognize what led to that. When the 3 hostages noticed that the attacker was getting more agitated, they used the training that they had received not long before this attack to escape. The Rabbi threw a chair at the attacker and the Vice President of the congregation had lined both himself and the other hostage up with the exit. These were tactics they had learned through a self-defense that they took in response to a rise in Jew Hatred and Jewish attacks. They saved themselves. 

They saved themselves. 

This is what Jews have been doing for thousands of years. 

Now, I’m not going to comment on what/how the FBI operates. I am sure they have trained tactics and five million different options, and they just try different things to do what they need to do. I’m not going to comment because I am just not aware and have not done any training for those situations. 

What I will comment on is the lack of awareness/sharing/” justice”, as well as what the commentary WAS when it happened. 

I saw a lot of the Jewish Community, once the hostage situation had ended with the hostages escaping, saying that they didn’t even think to look outside the Jewish community for anything. Where previously we would look to those outside our community to share information, bring situations to light, stand in solidarity, speak up…in this situation none of that happened. It wasn’t even expected. A lot of the community didn’t even hope for it. In fact, a lot of posts that I saw were “we know we have to do this ourselves”. What a dark place to be in. When you are trying so hard to say, “look here we are, we’re under attack, please just say something, anything” and to be rebuked, to be met with crickets. It’s heartbreaking. We don’t exist outside our own community. 

Think about this, your community is under attack, your family is under attack, you’re shouting to the world that this is happening, and you’re met with silence. Or, maybe more frustratingly, you’re met with “well let’s not turn this into this” or “well how did this one part of the issue happen”. Because that’s what happened. Outside our community it was a cry of “don’t let this lead to hatred in the other direction”, or “how did he get in the country?”, and “obviously something in gun control is flawed here”. All of these are things that need to be looked at, obviously. All of these are valid points. All of these are important questions. But there weren’t a lot of questions or headlines about the obvious…he attacked Jews. He thought that these Jews, this small community of people, had the power to accomplish his goal. So much so that he not only attacked them but had them call another separate Jewish community to push the agenda further. And yet, somehow, this is not really being talked about beyond our community. In fact, I’m not really seeing any real headlines at all at this point (we’re a few days out when I’m writing this). 

As I said the day after the attack, I don’t want false platitudes, I don’t want just a share and move on (though even that would be nice in some ways- show you care, ya know?), the Jews know how to fight and take care of themselves and their community…obviously. We’ve had to learn. We’ve had to learn the hard way. Because it was SILENT. It was silent during the attack, it was silent after, and it seems like it will continue to be silent. 

And that’s heartbreaking and enraging. It’s not ok. I am not ok.