Five hundred twenty-five words and one shocking picture.
That’s it; that’s all it took to start a conversation about the issues that have been plaguing my mind for many years about racial attitudes in the religious Jewish community; in particular the inflammatory nature of the word shvartze and they way that word is used as a pejorative towards the African-American community. The reaction has been beyond anything I ever expected.
Dozens of friends, colleagues, acquaintances and even total strangers have opened up with their own experiences of bigotry, fear, resentment, shame and anger. I beyond elated that people have come out, so that a sense of healing can begin.
Often, after I make a big fuss over something, I’ll have some time of reflection when I second guess myself and wonder if overreacted or saw things completely wrong. This was no different after the initial post on this blog about my participation in the What I be Project by talented photographer Steve Rosenfield generated an enormous response, both positive and negative. While a lot of the negative feedback was ignorant and bigoted, there were many cogent and well-reasoned arguments against the post and some of the statements I made;in particular, the statement equating the word schvartze with the word nigger. I would be dishonest if I tried to portray this debate as one-sided. However, the overwhelming majority of people who responded to me where in near full agreement. In light of this astounding response, I am all the more resolute in my convictions.
I don’t hate anybody. I don’t hate Chabad or Crown Heights. fact, I love them. I love them so much that I think I want to raise my kids here. But at times, I am very disappointed. My biggest fear is that when my kids come of age when they are going to be around other children that they will be subjected to such insensitivity and they will be ashamed of who they are or worse yet, they’ll choose to participate rather than become a target themselves. I plan on loving my children. I plan on loving them so much that I’m willing to bend to the breaking point in order to transform the world that they will be brought into before they even exist.
I would like to thank everybody who shared my story and everybody who shared their stories. I would also like to thank Steve Rosenfield, Dasha Sominski, Elisheva Engel and Mati Esther Engel for helping me bring this issue which is important to me into the Jewish mainstream.
Please continue to follow this blog. I won’t always write about this issue, but I will write about the issues that are important to me.
Thank you for reading.