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There was a minor kerfuffle last week in the media when actress, comedienne and television personality Whoopi Goldberg declared, “The Holocaust was not about race. It’s about man’s inhumanity to man. That’s what it’s about.” When her co-host said the genocide was “about white supremacy … and going after Jews and gypsies and Roma,” Goldberg responded that it was “two white groups of people,” and thus not about race.

The media went into a tizzy about this, with many lecturing Whoopi about the Holocaust, which was clearly predicated on Nazi views about the master race and the “sub-human” Jewish race. ABC went so far as to suspend her for two weeks to reflect on her views. (I will not speculate what they would have done had a white person claimed that much of the tensions between police and black people had nothing to do with race…)


It certainly is interesting to observe how Whoopi – the former Caryn Elaine Johnson – feels about Judaism. When asked why she chose the obviously Jewish sounding stage name, she said, “Goldberg is my name – it’s part of my family, part of my heritage, just like being black,” and “I just know I am Jewish. I practice nothing. I don’t go to temple, but I do remember the holidays.”

This, despite having no Jewish ancestry whatsoever. Unfortunately, her description of what it means to be Jewish is identical to that of millions of Jews, except for the words “just like being black.” Whatever motivated her to take on this name (some report that her mother advised her that it would be good for her career), it is a moment that ought to cause us to reflect on our heritage and, yes, our race.

Taking nothing away from the compassion any compassionate human being has for the suffering that blacks endured under slavery and discrimination and prejudice, we Jews have some accounts to settle as well. Anyone who has the slightest inkling of thousands of years of Jewish history, particularly the Holocaust, knows well that Jews have been constant victims of prejudice, discrimination, murder, violence and hatred. While Jews are generally in a better position today, antisemitism and anti-Jewish hatred have been on a sharp rise worldwide. This is clear to anyone following worldwide events – especially concerning the State of Israel – and many local violent incidents as well as the tone of overt anti-Jewish tropes in the media and government circles. I leave it to others to expand on this; I want to make only one point.

As Jews, we need to embrace this moment of awareness and embrace the fact that our race is “Jewish.” We are not “white” or “black” or Asian, Aleutian Islander, or anything else. Our race is that we are Jewish, and we are proud of it.

We have as little in common racially with Anglo-Saxons or Caucasians as we do with Africans or Asians. This has nothing to do with superiority or disrespect for any human being – they are all children of G-d who deserve to be treated with equal kindness and respect, as long as they treat us that way. But we are a nation apart (Bamidbar 23:9). Judaism is not just a religion, nor is it merely a nation. It is a race. It consists of a covenantal people, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We are a distinct race with unique characteristics. The Gemara (Yevamos 78a) states that Jews have innate racial markers (simanim) in that we are by nature merciful, bashful, and kind. Halacha takes this so seriously that one who exhibits traits that oppose this are suspected of not being of Jewish blood. (See Rambam, Hilchos Issurei Biah, 19:17.) Even Hitler, may his name be blotted out, defined these as part of the Jewish nature in his horrible rantings in Mein Kampf. These traits ran counter to his idea of the mighty Aryan who would proudly assert his will and force and crush the weak and poor without mercy or kindness. We, of course, wear these traits as a badge of honor and are proud to be known, first and foremost, as Jews.

It is time to let the Whoopi Goldbergs of the world know that yes, Jews are a race. A wonderful and good race, which too often has been the victim of great prejudice. We are not members of the races that subjugated Africans into slavery. We are not those who taught prejudice and racism against blacks – if anything, the Jewish people have always been prominent among those who fought for civil rights and against racial discrimination. We are a proud race, and we have no connection with, and no cause to apologize for, the evils of white supremacists, with whom we have NOTHING in common.

For years now, when presented with a form asking me to define my race, I have consistently refused to check the “white” box. I am not white. I am Jewish, and proudly so. I encourage my fellow Jews to follow the same practice, and act forcefully for Jewish Pride.


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Rabbi Yehuda L Oppenheimer, former Rav at several congregations in the United States, lives in Israel and is an educator, writer, and licensed tour guide. He eagerly looks forward to showing our wonderful land to his brethren, especially those who still live in the Diaspora. He blogs at and can be reached at