We have met the enemy, and…

Psalm 30, begins its emotional roller-coaster ride with praise for God who has “lifted me up, and not let my enemies rejoice over me.” The whole concept of enemies requires attention, both in general and in the specific context of Jewish communities in the U.S. today. For a start: When, in the name of security, Jews make visitors to their sanctuaries feel unwelcome, that is a shameful cutting off our noises to spite our faces; when we do the same to other Jews, we should just declare, “We have me the enemy, and he is us.”

Showing Up for Shabbat

I was blessed with two powerful, community-celebrating experiences this past Shabbat. My experience on Saturday morning was so positive, in fact, that I wrote to our neighborhood paper praising the supportive feeling that I believe reflects so well on our community. But I was heartbroken to read a first-hand story of a very different experience that began with “Are you invited to be here?” and went downhill from there:

Today, I stood up for myself. I let my tears be seen. I voiced my pain. I flatly rejected the notion that I am the one who doesn’t understand what is going on.

And, then I left. Because, I told the really kind, well-meaning woman who tried to get me to say, leaving was an act of self-love.

We Jews have a problem. Because we still think that moments like this AREN’T racism. And I am still being told that I don’t understand what is really happening.
— from a Jew of Color attempting to “Show Up for Shabbat”
full story below

I joined worship services in two congregations which had prominently advertised their participation in Refugee Shabbat two weeks earlier.

On Saturday morning, I participated in a basement havurah that meets in a church. Except at high holidays, there is no security personnel or system of “greeters” at the door. The idea of what makes us secure, as Jews and as a wider community arose, as it happens, in the course of our Torah study before services.

On Friday night, I attended a large synagogue with its own building, clearly identifiable as Jewish. I was greeted before entering the building by several new (temporary?) security guards, as well as one regular. I did hold my breath for a moment wondering what they would make of my “Justice for Zo” hat (implicating special police officers in a young man’s death) and the “Black Lives Matter” sign attached to my backpack. (The backpack itself would flag me at some synagogues, a separate security story: No, I don’t a car where I can keep it; and, yes, I need it, coming straight from work). But no one stopped me. Beyond the presence of security personnel, I didn’t see anyone stopped or treated in an unwelcoming way in the short time I was in or near the entryway.

The journalist in me wants to emphasize that I am a regular in both congregations described, while my Jewish sister reports going to a synagogue where she was not know. But I must also stress that, while I don’t “look Jewish” to many eyes, I have gray hair and skin pale enough to sunburn inside of 15 minutes. The former has, over the years, prompted MANY suspicious looks, rude questions, and a sense of being held apart in some Jewish gatherings; the latter, however, seems to neutralize any sense of threat on the part of security personnel or informal synagogue greeter/guards.

Showing Up for Each Other

I have been part of numerous conversations about security in recent years, often over what it means to choose particular security measures when we know the consequences of increased policing on our wider communities and the dangers, in particular, for black and brown people. Those issues are of grave and urgent concern, part of how we let ourselves become “the enemy.”

In the story posted below, however — and in way too many incidents, stretching long before the recent shootings — it was not security personnel who failed to welcome our sister. It was her own people, the folks designated, in a terrible mockery of the word, as “greeters.” (I am trying to determine if and how the greeters were trained, a post for another day.) There is much to do in our individual Jewish communities to ensure that we are inclusive and welcoming.

I was tempted to say “more inclusive and welcoming,” but I think that’s like saying it’s OK, or maybe even “normal” to be a little bit racist or homophobic or able-ist, etc. In addition, we all know that many of our communities are all too willing, regardless of “inclusive policy,” to say, as someone last Shabbat told a fellow Jew: “You have to understand. People are scared. And we don’t know you.”

So, instead, I’ll ask every one of us who recites Psalm 30 in the morning to pause and ask: In what ways am I letting myself be the enemy? How am I contributing to making others feel like they’re in Sheol or the pit? How can I work to help turn our mourning into dance, in a truly collective way?

And, whether we recite this psalm every day or not, let’s find other ways to ask these questions, individually and collectively.

3 of 30 on Psalm 30
As a National Novel Writing Month Rebel, I write each day of November while not aiming to produce a novel. This year I focus on Psalm 30 (“Thirty on Psalm 30”) in the hope that its powerful language will help us through these days of turmoil and toward something new, stronger and more joyful, as individuals and as community. Whole series (so far)

In Her Own Words

This came to me via the Facebook page of MaNishatana. Here is the post in graphic, followed by the full text of the post.

embed Manishtana

Full text of post:

It seems, despite my very pointed posts, people *still* did not listen. A story of one JOCs experience [over] this past Shabbat that I came across on a colleague’s news feed, in her own words:

Today, I went to Shabbat morning services.

“Are you invited to be here?” they asked when I arrived.

“I am a Jew and I am here to pray,” I said.

“You’ve never been here before.” “Do you live here?” “Why did you come here?” All questions of me asked before I found my way fully into the sanctuary.

When I stood in line to get a siddur, the greeter stared at me.

“Shabbat Shalom,” I said. And I held out my hand for a prayer book. I was greeted with a blank stare.

“I’ll take a siddur please, I said. SHABBAT. SHALOM.”

And he feebly replied in kind, and I took a prayer book.

When I spoke up about it to three different people, the responses were universal.

“Well, I’m sure that you mis-understood.” – I am sure that I did not. And each time this is the response, it casts me as the person in the wrong. Only pouring salt on an open wound.

“I’m sure that they didn’t meant it THAT way.” – Again, casting me as the person who needs to be more understanding.

“You have to understand. People are scared. And we don’t know you. We have never seen you before.” – What is about me that is so scary? Really.

For much of my life, my parents did their best to protect me from all of this. When I was a child, my father would tell me that if people stare at me when we go, it’s because I am beautiful. And they can’t help but stare. We both knew that wasn’t why people were staring, but I let him believe that I believed him.

For much of my life, I would sit, stoic after being “received” this way at synagogue. I did not cry. I did not move. I stayed.

Today, I stood up for myself. I let my tears be seen. I voiced my pain. I flatly rejected the notion that I am the one who doesn’t understand what is going on.

And, then I left. Because, I told the really kind, well-meaning woman who tried to get me to say, leaving was an act of self-love.

We Jews have a problem. Because we still think that moments like this AREN’T racism. And I am still being told that I don’t understand what is really happening.

I pray that those of you who “showed up for Shabbat” today felt the sense of love, strength, pride and community that I longed to feel. That I long to feel everyday.

I pray that there will come a day when I’m not scary to MY OWN PEOPLE simply because I am a different combination of beautiful things than other people might be. And I AM beautiful. Exactly as I am.

I pray that there will come a day when our synagogues will truly be SAFE SPACES – in every sense of that term.

Today, for me, was not that day. But perhaps there will come a day. We sing ani ma’amin – which means “I believe.” And I do. I believe in love. I believe in hope. I believe that we CAN be better than this. I believe that we must be better than this. All of us. Together.
End of Post

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