Moving into a Moishe House was not my first time living in an intentional community, but it was the first time I had lived in a Jewish community. Moishe Kavod House in Boston is particularly devoted to its social justice work, and I was very excited about exploring the connections between social justice, community, and my practice of Judaism.
One of the interesting aspects of this overlap has been the ways in which I now think of social justice work in terms of our community’s Jewish identity. Moishe House has been very important for me in terms of learning to ask the question of not only what work I want to do, but what would be best and most powerful for a community of young Jews in Boston to take on.
The most exciting project I have been able to be a part of in my four months so far living in this community has been in helping to begin a conversation in our community about racial justice and our Jewish identities. The effort to create this conversation began after a member of our community brought in a speaker in late October who encouraged us to think about the ways in which white supremacy, defined by Sharon Martinas and Mickey Ellinger as “an historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations and peoples of color by white peoples and nations of the European continent; for the purpose of establishing, maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power and privilege” manifests itself in our own work for social justice.
We are a largely white-dominant Jewish community, with the power and privilege which come with that identity, and the justice “issues” around which we organize often disproportionately affect people of color. This brings up a number of questions for us as we confront systemic racism in our community. How can those (like myself) of white, Ashkenazi Jewish background work towards making our community a safer space for Jews of color? How can a white-dominant community (as it is now) begin to think about being allies in struggles led by people of color? There are other, specific questions which confront us as Jews: what does “whiteness” mean to Ashkenazi Jews when, a hundred years ago, European Jews were not always considered “white”? How do the ways we often talk about Jewish immigration to the US from Europe as being part of the “American dream” marginalize Jews of non-European descent, or ignore the fact that the land many of our ancestors immigrated to was forcibly taken from indigenous peoples who are still fighting for their rights to it? What is the historical relationship of anti-Semitism to racism and Islamophobia today? What would it mean for us to approach Jewish history and Jewish texts through an anti-racist lens?
We will be addressing these and many other questions through a series of discussions and trainings at our house throughout the coming year, and, we hope, beyond that. I am most excited about the ways in which we can bring this conversation into all of the other work that we do—so that we would not as a community be able to have an event about housing justice, or food equity, or environmental sustainability, or a parsha study or Jewish holiday, without at some point discussing how racial justice and anti-racism relate to the topic.
This is just one example of how living in a community which is both dedicated to its Jewish identity and to social justice has helped me to think about ways in which our particular communal and
Religious identities relate to larger issues of justice and equity. I am very excited to have these conversations to continue and to help foster more of the Jewish community I want to see in the world!
Yours, in peace,
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