Anti-Racism & Anti-Semitism | Crooked Media
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August 04, 2020
Unholier Than Thou
Anti-Racism & Anti-Semitism

In This Episode

In the years following the election of Donald Trump, Anti-Semitism has been on the rise in America, marked by an increase in hate speech and violence against Jewish people.

This past month, some of that hate speech happens to come from the mouths of a select few notable Black people. Nonetheless, the conversation in the media was: Do Black people have an anti-Semitism problem?

To help expose the intrinsic racism of this question, we spoke to three individuals who have gone underrepresented in these conversations: Black Jewish folks. We hear from Rabbi Sandra Lawson, rabbinical student Kendell Pinckney, and organizer Shekhiynah about being caught in the middle of two crucial American conversations: the fight against racism and the fight against anti-Semitism.

 

 

Transcript

 

Phillip Picardi: From Crooked Media, this is Unholier Than Thou. I’m your host, Phillip Picardi. For the past couple of weeks, there’s been quite a few news stories that document a disturbing trend in America, the rise of anti-Semitism. According to The New York Times, there were an estimated 2,107anti-Semitic incidents in America in 2019. That’s an increase of 12% from the year prior.

 

[voice clip] The Anti-Defamation League recorded a record number of anti-Semitic incidents across the United States. According to the ADL. At least one anti-Semitic incident has been reported in the US for almost every day in July.

 

Phillip Picardi: And for years, especially since the election of Donald Trump, prominent Jewish groups have sounded the alarm about the rise of fascism all over the world, and with it the rise of neo-Naziism. But in recent weeks, the coverage of anti-Semitism seemed to revolve around a different topic entirely.

 

[voice clip] Nick Cannon is now apologizing after receiving criticism for using anti-Semitic language in a recent podcast episode.

 

[news clip] Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson has apologized for sharing anti-Semitic posts on his Instagram feed, which included a quote attributed to Adolf Hitler and since-deleted post expressing admiration of Black nationalists the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

 

[voice clip] Their comments both have reignited the conversation not only about anti-Semitism in America, but anti-Semitism in the Black community as well.

 

Phillip Picardi: Right in the midst of our country’s widespread demonstrations, led by the Movement for Black Lives, a narrative emerged that Black Americans have an anti-Semitism problem. What the media seem to forget, or erase completely during their coverage, was one simple fact: Black people can be Jewish, too. Just ask Rabbi Sandra Lawson, who found herself a sought after voice in Jewish faith circles shortly after the wrongful killing of George Floyd.

 

Phillip Picardi: Rabbi Sandra, welcome. I should say welcome back to Unholier Than Thou, I’m so grateful that you’re here with us today. For the listeners who are tuning in this week, Rabbi Sandra was supposed to be our pilot episode of our first iteration of Unholier Than Thou. And that was before the world started to end, so we will hopefully air that episode in the future when we’re talking about Passover. But for now, we’re excited to be connected again.

 

Rabbi Sandra: Thank you. Thanks, I’ve enjoyed my conversation with you last time. I’m looking forward to it again.

 

Phillip Picardi: I read in an interview that you gave recently that you are being, quote “sought after for advice” on how Jews of color can be better treated within Jewish communities. And so I guess my first question is, what does it feel like to be called upon by your peers to do this kind of work?

 

Rabbi Sandra: You know, I have been speaking about speaking and tweeting and using social media to talk about the racism that exists within the Jewish community. And I’ve gotten better at it. I, I now frame my conversations, I feel like, to give permission for people to feel uncomfortable and to help guide them, because without that, I feel white people are often too quick, or white Jews are often too quick to dismiss racism in their own communities because they think that they are welcoming or they believe that they’re welcoming. And I’m asking them to be uncomfortable for a little bit because if they dismiss what I have to say, they’re missing an opportunity to grow and they’re not going to grow on this issue. And it also helps when I have these conversations in partnership with allies to sort of provide framing. And so I hope the things that I have to say are well received. But, you know, I’ve been doing a lot of webinars now and some of the comments in the comment section, people are sometimes still dismissive what I have to say, but they’ are staying on the call, which is great.

 

Phillip Picardi: So prominent Jewish groups have pointed to a growing rise of anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic attitudes. Why do you think anti-Semitism is on the rise? And how do you as a rabbi, explain or look at this moment?

 

Rabbi Sandra: Yeah, you know, I used to do research on an extremist groups when I work for the Anti-Defamation League. So I’m not someone who is surprised by anti-Semitism in our country and I’m not someone who is surprised by racism and all the forms of extremism in our country. I will say that when you have someone at the top of the ticket or someone at the top who is the leader of our country, and you could argue the most powerful man in the world, condoning anti-Semitism or at least winking to it, that fuels the flames of anti-Semitism that was already here and people feel emboldened to speak out. And I’m someone who faces anti-Semitism, not just from the non-Jewish world, but from the Jewish world, and people are like, well, how is that possible? And I say, because often when a certain people from the Jewish community—and I’ll just assume that their politics might be further to the right than mine—the things that I say butt up against the things that they believe so the first thing they do is they try to take my Judaism away, and they say, well, you’re not really Jewish and therefore what you say doesn’t matter or you’re not really Jewish, therefore, what you have to say is anti-Semitic, because I’m talking about the Jewish people. And that is a form of, it’s a form of anti-Semitism and a form of racism. And I also face anti-Semitism, you know, the more I’m out there, I face anti-Semitism on social media and I face anti-Semitism in the larger world. You know, I also work with students who for the first time are really discovering and waking up to the racism and anti-Semitism that exists in the world, and they’re really struggling with that, like they weren’t used to that. And I don’t, I don’t, it frightens me when I hear the things that our president says about, you know, people of color, Black people, Muslims and Jews. I mean, I could go on and on and on. And it’s, and like I said, it emboldens people who are already feeling that way. I’m pausing because I’m thinking about Governor DeSantis and whoever ran against him. I can’t remember his name right now, but he made he made a comment saying he wasn’t saying that DeSantis was a racist, but the racists believe he’s a racist. And so that’s really powerful.

 

Phillip Picardi: It is, right? Because neo-Nazi groups are famously anti-Semitic, but they are also white supremacists, you know, and so that would lead one to believe that overwhelmingly Jewish folks are very much invested or should be very much invested in the movement for Black lives, right?

 

Rabbi Sandra: Yeah. Yeah, totally. Which is so weird to me. Yeah. And also, it’s just, you know, we fought Germany, we fought the Nazis and we won. Just like we fought Confederate soldiers and we won. And these groups are holding on, want to hold on to Confederate imagery and they also want to hold on or adopt neo-Nazi imagery, and I just, I really don’t understand it.

 

Phillip Picardi: You recently said, quote, “saying you support Black Lives Matter and then putting a qualifier on it about anti-Semitism shows you are centering the Jewish experience and not the experiences of Black people.” I was just wondering if you can tell me more about that statement and why this is an important distinction for you to make.

 

Rabbi Sandra: So there is an, there is an underlying fear in some in the Jewish community that hyper-focuses on anti-Semitism in the Black, the American Black community. That has a lot to do with how our country privileges one group of people over another group of people, pitting minorities against minorities, and saying, you know, hyper-focusing on the Black communities anti-Semitism and not focusing as much on the anti-Semitism that’s coming from the larger white world. I think that many people who are, who want to support Black lives matter and worry that Black Lives Matter is anti-Semitic, feel that they have to say, I support Black Lives Matter and then let me talk about anti-Semitism and BDS and why I don’t support that. And I don’t, I don’t really understand that. And I also think it has a lot to do with, you know, that, I think that, I think the Jewish community, people in the Jewish community who are white are starting to understand—and maybe they don’t understand—that you can have white privilege and suffer from anti-Semitism at the same time. And the way I sort of frame this is that we all suffer from racism because we live in a society that privileges one group of people over another group of people. That also means we all suffer from anti-Semitism and how it affects us differently, just like how racism affects us differently. And so when I see white people, I assume that they have some level of racism in their in their DNA, because their—not really DNA, but in their in their hearts—because they can’t help, w can’t help it because our our country from the very beginning has treated Black people as property and slaves and, you know, used capitalism to, and all that stuff. And I think Jews are starting to understand, hopefully, that racism, er—sorry, anti-Semitism is always been here and we all suffer from it. And I’ll give you an example. I was talking to a student about a year ago and—a non-Jewish student—and she said something like, you know, I believe in the loving God of the New Testament, not the wrath of God in the Old Testament. And I said ‘Ouch’. And she knew that, she knows that I’m the Rabbi. And she’s like, what do you mean? And I didn’t really explain it this way, but I just, you know, it’s just sort of reminded her that I’m Jewish. But that’s anti-Semitism. That is the anti-Semitism from the Christian church that made people believe that the God in the Old Testament, i.e., our Torah, is evil or mean or angry, but the God of the New Testament is loving. And so, and however, I said it to her, I think it was like the first time that she really even thought about it. And people don’t understand how ingrained anti-Semitism, how ingrained sexism and all that stuff is in our society. And so when Black people say anti-Semitic things, they are clearly anti-Semitic. We can use that opportunity to learn and to teach and to educate if we want to, but just like when white people say anti-Semitic things, it’s part of our country. So they’re not, one’s not worse, they’re just living in the United States. And I’m only speaking about the United States, I know these things are much broader—but the hyper-focus on Black anti-Semitism confuses me. I feel like people are always asking me to to explain or to to say that, you know, like, for example, these recent celebrities, what they said is anti-Semitic. I’m like, yeah, it is. Can we move on? Like, what else do you want me to say? [laughs] I don’t really understand. I mean, I see Nick Cannon, whatever he said, whatever he said about Jews. Yes, that’s anti-Semitic, the same way I see what anybody else says about Jews who says anti-Semitic things. I don’t need to lift it up, lift up Nick Cannon more than other people. Like you know, although I will say our president’s, you know, comments sometimes that are anti-Semitic, that’s a lot of power and I wish he would stop.

 

Phillip Picardi: That’s exactly right. And, you know, that’s an important distinction to make, really, of who is in power, and how do these statements have a ripple effect on society and people’s attitudes? And, you know, overwhelmingly, when you see people logging onto Twitter, there is a conversation that is denouncing anti-Semitism. Of course, you know, there are other things happening in other people’s timelines, but that is, that is the conversation that I was mostly seeing on my own timeline. So I can only speak for that. But it does follow a pattern for me of like whenever a Black public figure says something that is incorrect, whether it is homophobic or trans phobic or it’s anti-Semitic, there is this inclination from a white audience to then paint Black folks as a monolith that there’s now an anti-Semitism problem in Black culture and we need to talk about it. And so I think that’s a complicated, or I guess it’s not a complicated thing. It’s just racism. But it’s a different form of racism than I think the ones that we are used to hearing about.

 

Rabbi Sandra: Yeah. And so saying that if you, you know, that, that a few Black people are making anti-Semitic statements somehow is a reflection on the larger Black community, that is, racism. Nick Cannon doesn’t speak for me. I can’t even tell you what he’s in. Like, I don’t know anything about the man except for like this stuff that sort of gets focused on. I think he was married to Mariah Carey for a minute? I’m not sure.

 

Phillip Picardi: He was. Our queen, Mariah Carey. Leave her out of this.

 

Rabbi Sandra: [laughs] But again, like, you know, somehow that, you know, these celebrities speak for all—and the number of times I get comments about Louis Farrakhan. No one in my family has ever liked Louis Farrakhan. And but I also think that the Jewish community could do a lot to maybe understand why Louis Farrakhan matters to some in the Black community. But Louis Farrakhan has never represented a majority of the Black people in the United States.

 

Phillip Picardi: It’s interesting. This conversation reminds me of a James Baldwin essay that Soraya McDonald pointed to in a recent piece she wrote for The Undefeated, and this is an essay he wrote in 1967. Baldwin said, quote, “The Jewish person suffering is recognized as part of the moral history of the world, and the Jewish person is recognized as a contributor to the world’s history. This is not true for Black people. Jewish history, whether or not one can say it is honored, is certainly known. Black history has been blasted, maligned and despised.” And I feel like that speaks to this moment a lot, doesn’t it?

 

Rabbi Sandra: Yeah, it does, yeah.

 

Phillip Picardi: When we first spoke a bit ago, it was right before Passover. And you told me that for Black Jewish folks, Passover carries a special significance. And I want to talk about this because I do want to end on something that’s talking about spirituality and why your spirituality is important to you. So can we talk again about Passover and why that holiday carries so much significance?

 

Rabbi Sandra: Yeah, you know, I think, and I have to speak for myself, but I do know, I do believe that many Black Jews sort of Passover holds a special place, as it does for, actually it’s the most celebrated Jewish holiday. But at least for me, in many, many ways, I still remember my first Passover Seder, and it’s really, it’s really hard for me to, when I read the Seder, I’m at a Seder, to disconnect myself from my Black ancestors because I see my Black ancestors in that story, even though the story is way earlier than slavery in America, there’s so much parallelisms between the two. And it has for me as a rabbi has that that entire book of Exodus is really shaped my social justice outlook and my social justice view. And I use texts from Exodus a lot when I teach because I believe that there’s so much in that story, you know, from moving from slaves in Egypt to a mixed multitude of people escaping slavery, following some dude in the desert for 40 years and then finding freedom and also seeking redemption before they can cross into the promised land. That’s really, it’s really a powerful story. And there’s so much in there. I’m really grateful that every year we always come back to the same text.

 

Phillip Picardi: Rabbi Sandra, thank you so much for joining me.

 

Rabbi Sandra: Thank you. Anytime. Seriously, call me anytime you have to talk.

 

Phillip Picardi: Rabbi Sandra articulated an easy enough thing to understand. When assumptions are made or in this case perpetuated on social media and on television news that Black people are more anti-Semitic, those assumptions are intrinsically racist. They paint Black folks as a monolith and they erase the multitude of experiences, cultures, faiths, histories, backgrounds, and more of an entire group of people purely based on the color of their skin. I spoke to Kendell Pinkney about the myth of the monolith. He’s a rabbinical student in the co-founder of Kaleidoscope, an organization that spotlights and uplifts diverse Jewish voices. It’s through this work that he’s come to resist the phrases ‘Jewish community’ or ‘Black community’ entirely.

 

Phillip Picardi: It’s interesting because in a way, Kaleidoscope and the work that you’re doing with Kaleidoscope seems to inform a quote that I heard from you where you don’t like to use the phrase the ‘Black community’ or the ‘Jewish community’ because it kind of implies that these groups or even those phrases are monolithic in nature, when in reality they are comprised of so many different rich cultural experiences and histories. So could you explain a little bit more about your frustration with these terms and how you have chosen to kind of challenge them in your work?

 

Kendell Pinkney: Sure, you’re so right. It’s like, those things really get to me and the places where, you know, this term, the ‘Black community’ and the ‘Jewish community’ really gets to me the most is actually in kind of these more public-facing statements that we see. I mean, granted, we’re seeing it now because of the intersection of anti-Semitism and certain movements for racial justice. But the thing that’s so frustrating about it is that, it kind of, right, it makes the experience monolithic and whatever variety it is, a kind of erases it. So, for example, when the football player, Julian Edelman, who happens to be Jewish, reached out to DeSean Jackson, the Philadelphia Eagles who made it, posted an anti-Semitic remark on Twitter, I think that he used some of the language of like ‘the Jewish community’ and ‘the Black community’ and using education as a bridge, but in a certain way, it feels like it’s looking over the fact that there are people who live in the margins of these communities and people who go in between these communities. And so it can make it seem as if, oh, just by these two important athletes doing something that that somehow addresses the issues, the rifts, and things like that. So that that’s really what’s frustrating about that to me, because both communities are exceedingly diverse. In terms of what I and Vanessa have chosen to do about that in Kaleidoscope, is that we just ask that all of the performers who join us just really present a deeply personal story, and we tell them, you know, you really don’t have to represent anyone but yourself, and whatever community that you want to represent. And I think that over the course of hearing 12 or 13 monologues, you really do get a sense of, wow, Jewish communities are incredibly diverse, just in the same way that growing up in Black communities, I mean, there are huge differences depending upon region, depending upon religious background, depending upon whether they grew up in the city or the suburbs or a rural area. These are essential differences that it would be good for us to not take too lightly.

 

Phillip Picardi: And how has hearing from those different experiences of the people who make up Kaleidoscope, how has that informed your own Judaism or your own spiritual journey?

 

Kendell Pinkney: It’s informed it quite dramatically, because I have to say that in terms of my conversion, it was a pretty mainstream conversion in that a lot of the very values that animate the Jewish community, which do happen to be Ashkenazi tradition, which, you know, most Ashkenazi Jews are, you know, white, and identify as white—so there were certain traditions that I just had to learn, and kind of that was the center of my experience of Judaism. So in hearing more about the diverse stories of Jews of color, some of them converted, many of whom were born Jews and the experiences of Sephardim and Mizrahim, I found, oh, there’s really not one way to be Jewish. And so whereas my way was an absolutely like genuine way of coming to Judaism, it was just one way. So it really kind of opened my mind to this idea of Jewish diversity and the fact that it’s been around for hundreds and even thousands of years.

 

Phillip Picardi: I’m wondering how you could explain or how you envision a future for Judaism that is inclusive and multiracial and multigenerational and how you see that improving and enriching people’s faith experiences from all different kinds of backgrounds.

 

Kendell Pinkney: Wow. I mean, what I imagine when I think of the Jewish future, my best Jewish future, it would be for Jewish communities to realize that we have actually been diverse at least as long as there has been a diaspora. You have Jewish communities in India, Jewish communities in Kazakhstan, Jewish communities in China, Jewish communities in West Africa and Uganda, like we have actually—and what’s more is it’s not just Jewish communities that have been transplanted there, but rather have been there for a long time and are part and parcel of the community and reflect the community, even phenotypically in terms of race, ethnicity. So I think for me, the most optimistic Jewish future would realize that in a deep way, and even more than realizing that in a deep way, that Jewish communities would embrace these stories not as, oh, this is the story of some small Jewish group in Uganda, but rather this is my story, and this is a story of my people and it has value and it needs to be heard, embraced, taught and acted upon. That’s what I kind of envision to be the most optimistic Jewish future. And God willing, we’ll keep pursuing that and bring it about in some form.

 

Phillip Picardi: Thank you so much for joining me today. This was enlightening and very powerful.

 

Kendell Pinkney: Thank you so much for having me. It’s a wonderful conversation and wonderful to virtually meet you.

 

Phillip Picardi: So one of the important takeaways from Kendell is that it’s a gross oversimplification and downright harmful to talk about a group of people as a monolith. But another thing to consider is who exactly benefits from the news cycle of the past couple of weeks? To better understand that, I spoke to Shekhiynah Larks. Shekhiynah is a program coordinator and diversity trainer at Be’chol Leshon, a nonprofit that raises awareness about the ethnic, racial and cultural diversity of Jewish identity.

 

Phillip Picardi: I read a piece that you wrote in J Weekly that was titled “Being Unapologetically Black and Jewish is a Revolutionary Act.” Can you tell me a little bit about what that headline holds for you and why you were compelled to write it?

 

Shekhiynah Larks: I have, it has become massively apparent to me that I have a unique opportunity with the identity that I have to fill in some of the space that, fill in some of the nuance, the great nuance in the Black and white spaces that we like to create in our minds. Being both Black and—I can’t apologize for being both Black and Jewish, I can’t choose one or the other. So having both of those identities puts me in a unique spot, specifically at this moment in time where we’re seeing a lot of anti-Semitic comments coming out of Black communal spaces. And we’re seeing also a lot of anti-Black responses to those anti-Semitic comments. And it’s really putting Jews of color in the middle and we are the most vulnerable, we have double jeopardy. We’re impacted by both racism and anti-Semitism. And seeing it from either side hurts us.

 

Phillip Picardi: How, can you tell me how it, in particular it has hurt you or affected you on your own journey of faith?

 

Shekhiynah Larks: You know, it’s just, I would say, like this month specifically has been exhausting. It’s been kind of exhausting to see some of the antagoniz-ation that’s coming, that these communities are directing at each other. And I think that they’re missing some key elements about each other’s stories, and they’re missing those key elements because they’re not paying attention to the intersectionality between their communities. And if we focused more on what made us similar instead of what made us different, maybe we could go back to this understanding that it’s, that it takes collective action in order to change parts of society that harm multiple peoples. White supremacy is not something that only harms Black peoples. It harms Jewish peoples. It harms LatinX peoples. It harms Asian peoples as well.

 

Phillip Picardi: That was really beautifully said, especially because, you know, spirituality at its best, no matter what spirituality you practice, is always about finding the ways that we are connected innately and even divinely to one another. I would love to hear more from you about how you think these movements may find more similarities in each other that may help towards more healing and understanding.

 

Shekhiynah Larks: I would say, like we are connected through our shared fate under white supremacy. If we look at particularly Black communities and Jewish communities in the United States and we look at the violence that has been perpetrated against them under the auspices of white supremacy, we will find that these communities are experiencing similar traumas in the United States. When Jews came to America, they experienced traumas, when the Black people came to America, they experienced traumas. While these traumas are not the same traumas, they’re still traumas and they’re, and that, they form and create this generational pain that these people experience. So if we were to acknowledge each other’s generational pain and acknowledge each other’s oppression and each other’s struggles, maybe we could have a better conversation about how do we, how do we shift the conversation around white supremacy? If we’re going to fight white supremacy, it’s not enough to only understand your own oppression.

 

Phillip Picardi: Right. And sometimes a person, particularly for white folks who may be queer, or and—I’m using queer as an example because it’s close to me—sometimes white folks use their own oppression as a way to absolve themselves of oppression of another person. Does that make sense? Am I making sense?

 

Shekhiynah Larks: Yeah. I mean, like I would say that that is, when you’re confronted with something that is uncomfortable or challenging and it challenges the way that you view the world at this particular point, the immediate reaction is to push back. And I would say that when I’ve talked to white folks that have marginalized identities, about racism or about anti-Semitism, and they’re non-Jews or they’re Jewish, the first thing I say is like, well the first thing I hear is what about my pain? And, that’s fair. I hear your pain and your pain is important. Your pain does not absolve you of acting on behalf of another person’s pain. And when we only focus on our own pain, we get tunnel vision, and I think that what has been so successful, we look at the civil rights movement, and what was so successful about the civil rights movement was the coalition building, beyond communities. Building across a difference, instead of building in spite of difference.

 

Phillip Picardi: It’s interesting too, you know, that brings me, what you were saying about, you know,  your pain does not absolve you from understanding or being even a part of, complicit or not, in my pain. And I also think about how religion teaches us to show compassion, especially when someone is suffering. Is there anything that you take from your faith and from the Jewish faith about how to help someone or how to treat someone when they are being mistreated by society? Are there any examples that you have?

 

Shekhiynah Larks: You know, I think that Judaism in the way that I have allowed it to manifest in my life works with a mind-body-spirit connection. And I think that all movements have, all social movements to be successful, have to care for the whole person. And it’s not enough to show up on these actions. We need to care for our minds. We need to have self-care for our bodies, and we need to care for our spirits as well. And one of the ways in which I care for my spirit is through Jewish ritual. And my Jewish ritual teaches me that I have a responsibility for every Jewish person. We say [speaks Hebrew] which means that all of Israel is responsible for each other. And if I truly believe that all of Israel is responsible for each other, and I understand the diversity of our community, I understand that when I say Black Lives Matter, I’m talking about Black Jews as well.

 

Phillip Picardi: I think that is a good tie in to what’s been happening recently, right? Where we’ve had quite a few high-profile Black folks, sports figures, entertainers, who have made comments that are anti-Semitic. Some have apologized, of course. And it’s ignited a discussion around, somehow this has ignited a discussion around anti-Semitism, specifically in the Black community. And do those people then expect you to somehow explain these things, or explain these statements, or condemn them outwardly, as though it’s your responsibility to do so?

 

Shekhiynah Larks: I would say that that’s being a Black Jew in July 2020. It’s having to be the responsible person, having to be the one to explain why the Black people are cutting up, and why the Jewish people are cutting up. Everybody’s cutting up. And for whatever reason, I have to explain why. [laughs]

 

Phillip Picardi: You know what? If I had to explain every time a white person did something racist, I don’t think, I would have time to do anything else in my day.

 

Shekhiynah Larks: Right. And I think that what is happening is that we’re asking the wrong question. It’s not “explain this” or “what is this?” It’s how do we have conversations around these identities? How do we have conversations that are inclusive of the fact that people hold multiple identities and that these are identities that are fluid and that are intersectional. That they are not, they’re not fixed points, you know?

 

Phillip Picardi: Right, yeah. You had just mentioned that your faith or your spirituality connects you more to your countrymen, and that reminded me about an article you wrote after the murder of George Floyd in which you discussed the pain of seeing the murders of Black people in America, and you asked for others to show up and mourn as well. And I was just wondering, in your experience as both the Black and Jewish woman, how have you found your, the Jewish community to show up for Black Lives Matter in particular?

 

Shekhiynah Larks: I would say, like honestly, both communities are showing up for each other in different ways, and I would say because these communities are so diverse, they have people who span all political, all the political spectrums. And yeah, there are a lot of Jews that are doing this work and there are a lot of Black people that are doing work to combat anti-Semitism. And we also have to remember that during the civil rights movement, there are a lot of Black people who did not want to participate, and there are a lot of Jewish people that didn’t want to participate. Yet we were still able to make substantial and long-lasting change. The work isn’t done. That was one part of the job.

 

Phillip Picardi: And in that article, you write about using the traditional etiquette of Shiva to reach out in love. I was wondering, can you talk more about how Jewish traditions play a role in understanding grief and community?

 

Shekhiynah Larks: I love being Jewish, I love that everything has a communal aspect, that everything can be made meaningful, but there’s so many prayers and rituals that teach us how to behave in life. And, you know, as I was in my room like really feeling, really feeling some pain in my heart about George Floyd, I felt like looking online and seeing various responses all across the board and seeing hesitance from some in the Jewish community around saying that all Black, that Black Lives Matter because of their concerns around BDS and Black Lives Matter 2016 platform and you know, I felt like I was sitting shiva by myself, and you’re not supposed to do that. Shiva is a, it’s a grieving process and it’s, when you lose, when you lose a family member, the community is supposed to come support you in your grief and they’re supposed to feed you and they’re supposed to make sure that they listen to you and they listen to you with compassion, not to change anything, not to alter how the person is feeling or condemn the actions of the person who died, but to comfort them. And, you know, I love that Judaism gives me this ability to create my own Torah and to take these principles and apply them to my life in a way that I can truly live out. And, you know, like, I didn’t want to feel like I was sitting shiva by myself, and when I said that to some people, they were like, oh my God, that makes so much sense to me. Yes, I can totally understand why you feel like you’re sitting shiva by yourself and I’m going to correct that. I’m going to call you, I’m going to reach out to you, I’m going to ask you if you’re OK, I’m going to send you Postmates for food, I’m going to like, you know, help you as if you’re actually grieving because this is hard and a lot of people are grieving. Like this death brought up, brought up a lot of personal traumas for me and I can only imagine that it brought up personal traumas for other people.

 

Phillip Picardi: Yeah. And I think, as you pointed to earlier in this conversation, the best way for us to move forward is not to focus so much on, I guess, these specific divisions that are manufactured by an oppressive white supremacy. Right? But to focus on how we are aligned and how we can find togetherness in one another and how we make each other stronger. And I think in so many ways the work that you’re doing, and the work that you’ve talked about today is a wonderful embodiment of that. So thank you.

 

Shekhiynah Larks: Thank you so much. Have a wonderful rest of your day.

 

Phillip Picardi: A lot of what our guest today pointed to is a feeling of being caught in the middle. This is ironic because any space of faith should be a place where people are encouraged to show up as their whole true selves, not asked to check a part of their identities at the door. How can we build a place of worship that honors God unless we aren’t willing to make sure everyone feels welcomed and equal? But more importantly, what Shekhiynah revealed in particular is simple. Aren’t we stronger if we unite against hatred instead of dividing ourselves against each other? And what Rabbi Sandra and Kendell taught us is that in order to bridge these divides, there must be a commitment made by all parties that prioritizes learning, listening and healing. I hope these efforts can be seen not as a threat to existing faith traditions, but only as a way to make them stronger.

 

Unholier Than Thou is a Crooked Media production. Our producers are Adriana Cargill and Elisa Gutierrez, with production support from Alison Falzetta. The theme song is by Taka Yasuzawa and our executive producers are Lyra Smith and Sara Geismer. Thanks for listening.