jews of color · Jews/Jewish/Judaism/Orthodox Judaism · news

Why I Never Read the Comments Section

Camp Be’chol Lashon near San Francisco brings Jewish summer camp to an emerging population of Jews of color. Diane Tobin, the camp’s director, read clues to a scavenger hunt with camper William Kahn, 11. Jim Wilson/The New York Times

A long time ago, I stopped reading the comments section of my articles and then eventually, the comments section of all articles. I saw that even the happiest and most light-hearted article could be twisted up and made vulgar in the comments section. People hide behind their computers and anonymity and they’re willing to write whatever awful thing comes to their mind.

I hope that the parents of the children featured in “Prayer, and Bug Juice, at a Summer Camp for Jews of Color” explain that to their children. I think very few of the people who wrote ugly, vulgar, racist, anti-Semitic and off-topic comments actually thought, hey, what if one of these cute kids–most middle-class and upper-class children I know as young as eight know their way around their computer–sign online and actually READ the comments section of this article. I can only imagine how cool the kids must have felt to be featured in a newspaper, much more so if it was impressed upon them that this was the oh-so-prestigious NEW YORK TIMES!

Somehow the stories of these American Jews of color got mixed up with anti-Israel sentiment (who’s surprised?) and anti-Semitism and anti-Orthodox (sorry, folks, there are racist even in the “liberal” movements) and even, not surprising to me, the Jews who even after the Holocaust would be so daft as to talk about Jewish eugenics and how these kids–even the ones who are Jews by birth–don’t belong in Judaism because they’re muddying up the bloodlines.

I was an incredibly light-skinned Hispanic in an area where there were many more dark-skinned Hispanics and where even my immediate family, save my father, were much darker. I saw the way, my college educated mother was treated because of her accent and her dark skin (and she’s not even very dark!). I saw the way my sisters but not I was followed through stores where clerks worried they were dark-skinned thiefs (the only kind in their mind!). I learned about racism at TOO early an age. I’m sure that the parents who sent their kids to this wonderful Be’chol Lashon camp have prepared their children to deal with the type of awful people who wrote disgusting comments below the article but I wish they didn’t have to. I really wish they didn’t have to.

East Coast parents who are interested in similar camps for Jews of color and their parents should note that the Jewish Multiracial Network runs a yearly retreat/camp/weekend for Jews of color, their (often, white) parents and even Jewish adults of color without children! Also, while I’m glad that articles like these get written (and this one by my esteemed writing professor), I worry about THE WAY their written and the misconceptions that run amok when they’re written by people who aren’t knowledgeable about our JOC community.

Example:

“While Israel’s law granting instant citizenship to any Jew has brought it a sizable number of Ethiopians and Indians, the American Jewish picture has looked much whiter.”

Correction: There were already Jews there, some of them even before Israel was established, from mainly Arab and Asian countries that were quite colorful. Many of them make me look incredibly, terribly pale for a Jew of color.

“Entering the new century, however, the demographers Gary and Diane Tobin conducted a survey that estimated that 10 percent of America’s six million Jews were nonwhite. Their route into the community had been through conversion, adoption and interracial parentage, rather than Ellis Island. (Other scholars place the number slightly lower, at roughly 450,000.)”

While this statement is correct, it doesn’t really discuss some of my friends who are not white but who have been Jewish for more than five generations. People often assume that conversion occurred right now but a lot mixed race Jews or Jews of color of past generations survived for many generations by marrying each other…namely because the Jewish community would not accept them or marry them. “See: Black and Jewish, and Seeing No Contradiction”. No, these are not black Hebrews. These are black Jews! Though there is a history of mixed race black Jews joining black Hebrew communities when both the African-American and Jewish community would not accept them.

In all its ordinariness, as a standard part of liturgy, the assertion could hardly have been bolder, coming as it did from Amalia Cymrot-Wu and her camp buddy Maya Campbell. Maya is the daughter of an interracial black-white marriage, Amalia the product of Brazilian and Chinese bloodlines, and they were matter-of-factly proclaiming their place among the Jewish people.”

This one just really bugged me. The idea that it is bold for a Jew of color, in particular, or ANY color to assert their Judaism is ridiculous. There have been Jewish communities (and still are) in Brazil and China and I’ve met an astounding amount of biracial (black-white) Jews, more than the more “common” biracial Jewish children people expect (white-Asian).

Yet what strikes these children as the same old same old, an American-Jewish community of multiple hues and heritages, has arrived as a seismic change. Religiously and historically, Judaism has generally placed little emphasis on evangelism and conversion.”

I sincerely doubt that it strikes this any of these children as “same old, same old.” Even the youngest child I met at the Jewish Multiracial Network” retreat understood how special it was for all of us to get together and not to worry about having our Judaism questioned. Very few of them had been spared experiencing racism within the Jewish community. They are at this camp because it isn’t “same old, same old” for the community around them and many of them have had to fight, from a young age, for their right to call themselves Jewish in the community on a daily basis…even when their mothers are Jewish and everyone agrees with their conversions.

Many of the people in the comment section kept wondering why camps like this are neccessary and even claiming that camps like these purposefully excluded whites (one apt person commenting noted that the whites at the camp are usually parents or siblings who “understand”) but the best comment in response to this constant ignorant refrain was M. Gladstone, the product of a Jewish and Filipino marriage:

As a child in a “Jewlipino” family, I witnessed a lot of prejudice against my mother, a convert, in our Reform synagogue in the 1980s in Long Island. (She always let it blow over her shoulder, a testament to her incredible tenacity.) Wish I had a camp like this when I was younger; I’d probably be a more observant Jew.

NOTE: (The Phillipines had had a permanent Jewish community since the 1800s and before that Spanish Jews who had fled the Spanish Inquisition. Also see: “History of the Jews in the Phillipines.”)

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