anger · culture/multiculturalism · Holocaust · Jesus · jews of color · Jews/Jewish/Judaism/Orthodox Judaism · movies · shomer negiah · television

Are you a Member of the Tribe?

I must confess, it wasn’t until fairly recently that I heard the term M.O.T., as in member of the tribe. But then the person who asked if the guy I was telling him about was an MOT, probably had never heard of JOCs, as in Jews of color. I’ll never know. I didn’t ask when he looked at me like I was nuts for not knowing what an MOT was.

Yes, I am a member of the tribe but I have to repeat it, explain it and defend it every day and will probably have to until people stop telling me I don’t look Jewish. Even if quite a lot of people in Israel look like, well, me. Even if before I’d ever converted, I’d experienced anti-Semitism because people thought I was, indeed, Jewish. So, more than most, I probably have to say “Yes, I am Jewish. Really, really, really.” And if my kids look more like me than him, they’ll probably have to do it, too. After all, Jews of color like MaNishtana have already been explaining their Judaism for five generations or so. That’s more generations than when my family purportedly lost Judaism with my great-great grandmother who was a Sephardic Jewess from Turkey.

The Spertus Institute put together an interesting video called “The Tribe” about being members of a tribe, specifically this Jewish tribe that many of us are a part of or want to be a part of or aren’t sure we’re apart of or don’t want people to know we are a part of depending on the situation and circumstance.

I have mixed feelings about the video but I think that’s what the video is going for. I’ll save my coments for after you watch.


The Tribe from Spertus Institute on Vimeo.

Depending on where you’re at as a member of the tribe, I think you respond differently. I personally wasn’t a great fan of all the Ashkenazi stereotypes. They never used the term Ashkenazi or even recognized that Jews look really differently…some even look like good ole Barbie. At least, they didn’t use that hateful word commonly used for non-Jewish women with blond hair and blue eyes. Heck, I know many JEWISH women with blond hair and blue eyes and fairly uninteresting noses who’ve been called it. So, yeah, the video lost me a little when they said “Barbie doesn’t look Jewish” even if I understood the point they were trying to make.

The subtribe thing felt a little ridiculous. At that point, I expected them to talk about non-Eastern European Jews. Yes, like the ones that live in America and are ALSO American Jews but who don’t have Eastern European or Yiddish roots. But it delved into other things like unaffiliated and Jew-ish and all the other ways Jews cleverly self-identify. This kind of whacky self-identification tends to upset those other Jewish who just want everyone to be “just Jewish.” The same people who wish I’d stop calling myself Jewminicana. Me? I’m just glad people are identifying proudly as Jewish.

I REALY did enjoy the little line graph with atheist to observant and the particularly apt line that further explained the differences even within Orthodoxy. That was impressive considering so many non-observant Jews I know think of Orthodoxy as a lump of one group of people but they’re plenty of Orthodox people who think other Orthodox people aren’t REALLY Orthodox. It’s not all Bartenura wine and Z’miros and shomer negiah-observing hugs in the Orthodox crowd. We’re as confused and exclusive and inclusive as the other Jewish subtribes mentioned.

Wait, before I go happy go lucky on the parts I like, let’s double back. Um, since when does G-d speak in a Yiddish accent? Wouldn’t it have been more inclusive to just show the burning bush clip or do that big deep Morgan Freeman voice. I grew up with a blond blue-eyed Barbie-looking Jesus but man, I think G-d definitely speaks with a Morgan Freeman voice when he needs to lay down the laws like in this week’s parsha. Morgan Freeman or Samuel L. Jackson (who played “G-d” by reading the Holy Bible audio version).  After all, who doesn’t love Morgan Freeman-G-d-in-a-white-suit? You can love him, be scared witless of him and totally believe him as COMMANDING.

Then there was the bit in the video about how this generation experiences anti-Semitism. Sure, it was a broad statement and everybody hates those but I’ve been talking to a lot of Jews about why they have a hard time making the leap from experiencing anti-Semitism to understanding and empathizing with people, including Jews of color, who experience racism. And as the video points out well, it’s because this generation hasn’t experienced overt ant-Semitism, some haven’t experienced anti-Semitism at all and for them it’s just a part of their Bubbe or Safta‘s history. That’s why they don’t get it when they hear about racism. After all, if anti-Semitism is dead in American, isn’t racism? Obama IS president. Sigh. That thinking always gets to me.

The thing is that when white and even not-so-white Jews pretend racism doesn’t exist and continue to perpetuate it, everyone experiencing racism (all the other minorities) get REALLY ticked off because why should they care about Jews and anti-Semitism if Jews don’t get them and racism.  Non-Jews and even Jews of color assume that white Jews will “get” racism because they survived the Holocaust and after that, how could you ostracize anyone for being the other? Or as a young black convert put it: “How can they have lived through so much hate, through the Holocaust, and STILL be racist?”

And finally, one part I loved about the video was the guy who responds to the question “Are you Jewish?” with “Who wants to know? Are you Jewish?” It’s the perfect line for a Jew of color or anyone whose Judaism is about to be question to respond with but it can also throwback to the fact that, yes, even in America that has been so kind–but not always–to the Jews, there is still anti-Semitism. It’s not always safe to announec “I’m JEWISH!” even though plenty of us walk around with kippot and tzizit and our hair covered (or $900 sheitels so non-Jews at work won’t think our hair is covered and treat us like religious fanatics) or the classic Magen David pendant around our neck.

Trust me, when you’re a Jew of color, you get it from everywhere. Jews are racist to you and non-Jews are anti-Semitic to you.  You belong everywhere and nowhere. So you know that racism and anti-Semitism are alive and well.

And last, but not least, my favorite thing about the video…. Come on, can’t you guess? You faithful blog readers would know!!!! It’s the classic Def Jam, signature “Hebrew Mamita” piece with voiceover by the Hebrew Mamita herself, Syrian Jewess Vanessa Hidary:

“Biggin’ Up all people who are a little miffed cause someone tells you, you don’t look like or act like your people. Impossible. Cause you ARE your people. You Just tell them they don’t LOOK. PERIOD!!!”

The Hebrew Mamita
“What does Jewish look like to you? Should I fiddle on a f—– roof for you?” V.H.

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