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Are Jews Post Racial?

Thursday, 16 December, 2010 - 11:53 am

Are Jews Post Racial?

By Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman

Post Racial America is all the rage these days, yet if you follow current events, it seems that that we are as racist as ever. My bills are too high, taxes are going up, going down it is the Presidents fault. Then the pundits explain what that "really" means: this is a good, smart educated president, but the latent racism in us forces us to disapprove of his decisions.

Are we post racial? As Jews should we never have been racial? Are we recipients of racism? Are we ourselves racist? And to myself personally, I ask, why are we pushing our "race" with public menorah's and ostentatious Temples and other very visible Jewish events and edifices? Are we not setting the stage for too much attention, which usually leads to negative attention, when we ourselves are a minority?

At a recent public menorah lighting that we held at a local mall, I was faced with this same question. A reporter for a local newsite, asked me this very question. Why the PDJ's (public displays of Judaism)? Shouldn't you guys be doing this at your homes? Why the need to put it in everyone's face?

This was particularly poignant since just days earlier there had been a great debate on the malls Facebook page allaying the fears of a shopper who was protesting the menorah display.

I gave the reporter the my usual answers, that public menorah's bring out the message of Chanukah perhaps even greater than a quiet lighting at home. About light over darkness, and pirsumei Nisa- publicizing the miracle of Chanukah being a part of the Mitzvah of Chanukah - and how the message of light over dark is universal. How it's important to dispel the myth that Judaism is best experienced in the confines of the home but that it is actually designed for the public etc. etc. However, for myself, I was forced me ask, are really post racial, post prejudice, are we actually truly an accepting environment, both how we Jews are perceived and how others perceive us?

There is a statement in Pirkei Avot, "don't judge your friend until you've reached their place," I.e. until you can truly be sympathetic to where they've been in life, what they've experienced, what challenges they've had to face, don't judge them.

Many Jews claim that we have the monopoly on having been the victims of bigotry, abused historically more than anyone and as such, we can claim superiority in our knowledge of non-judgementalism and acceptance. But have we? Do we not have something to learn from others?

***

As we were wrapping up the menorah lighting the mall manager came over to thank us and close out the event and he and I discussed that Facebook exchange about the menorah. He relayed a powerful story to me, which shed a powerful light on my aforementioned question, and challenged me and all Jews: Are we really "post - racial"?

When he worked at management at Macy's in NY years ago, one morning he arrived at work early during shopping season. As it happened, there was a huge crowd outside the soon to be opening store, a far larger crowd than should have been there on an early December morning. What's the excitement he asked someone?

He was told that that LAST shipment of Cabbage Patch Dolls for the season had arrived and after this, there'd be no more. Now this was in the height of the cabbage patch craze.

So, my mall manager went inside his special worker entrance and went up to the Cabbage Patch store to see it for himself. The store owner was smiling broadly, "this is going to be a really great day" he said. "Sure said my mall manager, you are going to clean house!". " No, replied the store owner, go over and look at the dolls."

My mall manager went over to the 800 boxes of Dolls and noticed that EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM WERE BLACK KIDS! And then he too got it.

Every one of those excited shoppers would have to face the question that African American's have had face for years and white people never ever even considered. Are you, Mr./Mrs. White person comfortable buying a black Cabbage Patch Doll? African American's have been buying white Barbie Dolls for years.

Do you buy the toy in a color that may make you uncomfortable because it's the only option? (We all know that the kids sure don't care.) And, more importantly, why does it make you uncomfortable?

Needless to say, or perhaps, needful to say, the Black dolls did sell out that day.

I think that in this holiday season, of Chanukah, the Calendar New Year, when we are interacting with the "outside" of the Jewish world more than usual, we need to ask ourselves:

Are we REALLY post racial? And I posit, only when we are truly post racial will we Jews be treated as post racial.

Have a Good Shabbos!

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