web analytics
April 20, 2014 / 20 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Spa 1.2 Combining Modern Living in Traditional Jerusalem

A unique and prestigious residential project in now being built in Mekor Haim Street in Jerusalem.



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

On Racism, Its Costs And Its Causes


Share Button

It doesn’t take very much to lose a neshamah.

The young woman was witty, charming, frum, and a Harvard Law School graduate. She was also black, and lived in an Orthodox neighborhood. One Purim, she was treated in a neighborhood shul to the sight of a young mother with a few children in tow. As her Purim get-up, the mother had chosen to adorn herself and her kids with blackface and thick lips. The connection to Purim was not clear.

The black young woman, recounting to me why she eventually left that community and relocated to another state – outside of a frum area – had this comment. “What was that woman trying to tell me? What was she trying to say?”

This was no isolated incident. Teachers in our community too often use racial and ethnic slurs in the classroom; too many rabbonim still use disparaging language – or words like “shvartze” or “goy”– thinking that they are harmless within the “in” group.

They aren’t. There isn’t an in-group anymore. Today, almost everything that starts off within our walls quickly finds its way out. The in-group is not so homogenous anymore either. Many people wearing black hats have relatives who are members of the minority groups that are mocked. They are hurt, offended, or worse when they hear words they cannot accept from those to whom they are supposed to look up. The very authority of those people sometimes shrinks in the process.

(Pointing out that some of those words are actually quite neutral in their original meaning will not prove an effective defense. Whatever the origin of those words, they are today considered pejorative and offensive to too many people.)

Still more people have joined our community with some of their old sensitivities intact. They are turned off when they hear words they stopped using in grade school.

And then there are those who have been enticed to drop by – sometimes for the first time in their lives – to a shul or a Shabbos table, and are so shocked by the language they hear that they never return for another visit.

It does not take much to convince someone just testing the waters of the observant community that it is not for them. We should be making it easier for them to stay, not to exit.

Like it or not, many people look down on those who use racist humor or language. To them, it is the antithesis of the refinement and discernment they expect to see in an elevated soul. Racial humor is built upon stereotyping, upon ignoring the differences between individuals within a larger group rather than noting and savoring them. It is about looking at an amorphous collective, rather than respecting individuals as individuals. It is about blaming, rather than understanding. It is about focusing on the negative, and giving little or no credit for the positive.

It is thought to come from a place of insecurity, where one’s own faults don’t seem so onerous when they can be compared with group that is assumed to be even more blameworthy. Anyone who can take these reactions lightly must have a Torah vocabulary from which the term “chillul Hashem” has been omitted.

Why haven’t racial stereotypes completely disappeared from our community?

Three reasons come to mind quickly.

Many of us are still only a generation or two removed from forebears who had good reason to despise all non-Jews, and thought – just as did their despised non-Jewish neighbors – in terms of the hostility that groups had for each other. Much of this has mercifully disappeared in the course of time; much still remains.

Patterns of Jewish settlement provide a second reason. American Orthodox Jews live primarily in larger cities. Within those cities, Jews are often cheek by jowl with other ethnic groups, and often not with those at the higher end of the socio-economic scale. Many Jews, therefore, have been forced to interact with elements of the population given to higher rates of deviant and criminal behavior.

People too often define groups by their own experience. (Where I grew up in Manhattan, non-Jews were “Catholics,” especially Irish-Catholics. You stayed clear of them, unless you preferred your bones broken. All people who spoke Spanish were called Puerto Ricans.) A byproduct of the map of Jewish habitation was a dismissive, contemptuous attitude concerning non-Jews.

Share Button

About the Author: Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is director of Interfaith Affairs of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles and the Sydney M Irmas adjunct chair, Jewish Law and Ethics, Loyola Law School.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

No Responses to “On Racism, Its Costs And Its Causes”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
FBI Wanted poster for Osama bin Laden
Pakistan Library Renamed to Honor bin Laden
Latest Indepth Stories
matza

If itis a mitzva to eat matza all Pesach, then why is there no berakha attached to it?

Masked Palestinian Authority Arabs hurl blocks at Israel Police during and after "worship" at Temple Mount mosque. (archive photo)

When we are united with unconditional love, no stone will be raised against us by our enemies.

Haredim riot after draft-dodger is arrested.

The reporter simply reports the news, but it is greater to be inspired to better the situation.

Bitton-041814

The Big Bang theory marked the scientific community’s first sense of the universe having a beginning.

Freeing convicted murderers returns the status of Jewish existence to something less than sanctified.

“The bigger they are the harder they fall” describes what God had in mind for Olmert.

We, soldiers of the IDF, who stand guard over the people and the land, fulfill the hopes of the millions of Jewish people across the generations who sought freedom.

How much is the human mind able to grasp of the Divine?

Jews have brought the baggage of the galut (exile) mentality to the modern state of Israel.

The Haggadah is an instruction manual on how to survive as strangers in strange lands.

It’s finally happened. New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan reported on her blog that “many readers…wrote to object to an [April 2] article…on the breakdown in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians,” claiming “[they] found the headline misleading and the article itself lacking in context.” Ms. Sullivan provided one such letter, quoted the […]

Nor did it seem relevant that according to widely circulated media reports, Rev. Sharpton was caught on an FBI surveillance video discussing possible drug sales with an FBI agent.

Jewish soldiers in the Polish forces often encountered anti-Semitic prejudice.

When the state was established, gedolim went to Ben-Gurion and asked him not to draft women and, later, yeshiva bachrim.

More Articles from Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein
Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein

A monastery in Israel is desecrated, almost certainly by nationalist extremists.

The desecration was condemned by the prime minister and others in the government. Chief Rabbi Metzger called it a “heinous deed.” The Internal Security minister did not hesitate to use the word “terror” and announced the formation of a special police unit to combat it. Many people traveled to the monastery to personally apologize, including Rabbi Dov Lipman of Beit Shemesh, who took brush in hand to help scrub the offensive words from the walls.

Berachah – blessing – says the Gemara, is found only in things that remain unwatched and out of sight. Hasbara – the way Israel explains itself to the world – might be in better shape taking a cue from that Gemara.

The one hundred and thirty children and young adults share two things. They are all Jewish, and they all contend daily with serious and debilitating illness. Many of them have done so all of their lives. You would think spending time with them would provide the ultimate mussar ride for Elul, an in-your-face confrontation with your own mortality, and the need to be grateful to God for life itself and the parts of it we take for granted.

It doesn’t take very much to lose a neshamah.

The young woman was witty, charming, frum, and a Harvard Law School graduate. She was also black, and lived in an Orthodox neighborhood. One Purim, she was treated in a neighborhood shul to the sight of a young mother with a few children in tow. As her Purim get-up, the mother had chosen to adorn herself and her kids with blackface and thick lips. The connection to Purim was not clear.

“I don’t care what group you identify with, as long as you are ashamed of it.” There is much wisdom in the throwaway line with which Dennis Prager frequently challenges audiences to admit to the flaws of the groups with which they identify.

Ayatollahs in business suits is what Noah Feldman would have the world believe we all are. If the Orthodox were going to leave him out of his alma mater’s reunion picture just because he married out, then Noah Feldman was going to out the Orthodox.

    Latest Poll

    Now that Kerry's "Peace Talks" are apparently over, are you...?







    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/on-racism-its-costs-and-its-causes/2008/12/10/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: