While we aren’t still wandering the wilderness of Maob, or navigating the hard working conditions of the lower east side, we must not forget what it means to be a newcomer to a foreign land. And we must take alongside us the reminder that we are the links to our past and our future. We serve as the reminder to not take for granted our ability to be both freely Jewish and American at the same time and to empathize with the conditions new Americans face today. For just as we were slaves in Egypt, so too were our families the ones who paved the path for great opportunity.
We’re all familiar with the stereotype of the zaftig Jewish bubbe, stuffing her offspring with chicken soup and brisket, shouting, “Eat! Eat! You’re skin and bones.” We love to talk about these mythical kitchens of our childhoods—tables overflowing with kugels and babkas, tsimmus and kneidlach. But for many Jewish women, there was another, more painful, side to this abundance. Our bubbes didn’t just say, “Eat! Eat!” they also said “Why are you eating so much? You’re getting fat!” I don’t think this contradiction is unique to Judaism, but I do think there’s a distinctive cultural spin to this schizophrenic relationship to food. And considering the prevalence of eating disorders, if there are cultural roots, we need to weed them out.
It was beautiful, last month, listening to the many tributes that went out for Nelson Mandela in the wake of his death. I wanted to say something about my own feelings about the loss of this man who embraced his enemies and helped transform a country, but I felt like I didn’t have the right. What could I—a Jewish-American white woman—have to say? Then a colleague suggested that I write about Helen Suzman, whose death we remember this week. I drew a blank. Helen who?
Even as it’s the start of August and the middle of summer, it’s also about to be the start of the Hebrew month of Elul.
I’m particularly conscious of the timing because my Grandma died – ten years ago this month – on the last day of Av. Confusingly the last day of Av is the first day of Rosh Chodesh Elul; ie the day before the second day of Rosh Chodesh Elul, which is in fact the first day of Elul. That in turn is the first day we blow shofar, and thus the official start of the season of teshuva – of returning to our best selves. So, in honor of my grandma, and lest the holidays catch you unawares, a few things to think about in the forthcoming season of teshuva.
Since its inception, Yad Vashem has been in the forefront of identifying and honoring Righteous Gentiles saved Jews during WWII. Many of these individuals hid Jews in their homes or organized hiding places that allowed Jews to escape the Nazi dragnet. Stories like those of Oskar Schindler (of Schindler's List fame) and Raoul Wallenberg are well known. Others, no less amazing, are only now beginning to come to light.
Last semester, I was one of four boys in a course at The Weber School dedicated to Jewish women in modern America—a group of people who have had great impact on our lives. However, this group has received little of the public recognition it deserves and is vastly underrepresented in traditional history classes. Like most other American high school students, I have spent the bulk of my academic career studying Christian men from Europe. No wonder that I knew little or nothing about these remarkable women. Yet learning about them is only one reason why this course was so enlightening.
Images and scenes etched in the minds of generations of Jewish activists--immigrant workers marching, sitting in, and striking; tear gas filling the air as riot police attack, beat and arrest union protesters; and battles with gangsters to free unions of mob domination. Freedom rides across the South, rabbis and religious leaders arrested in protests, and a generation of Jews--rank and file workers, organizers, and emerging leaders--swept up and inspired by a movement to win economic, racial, and social justice.
One hundred and ten years ago today, something surprising happened. Jewish immigrant housewives in New York City—concerned and angry about a sharp rise in the price of kosher meat from 12 cents to 18 cents per pound—launched a kosher meat boycott that lasted nearly a month, spread to several other boroughs of New York, sparked violent riots and arrests, and attracted much media attention before ending with the successful lowering of meat prices.