Living the Legacy

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Moving Inward: bringing liberation movements into the Jewish community

Unit 3 , Lesson 4

Jewish Women's Archive - Living the Legacy

http://jwa.org/LivingtheLegacy

Moving Inward: bringing liberation movements into the Jewish community

Document studies: 

Images of Jewish Counterculture

Sukkot in Connecticut

Sukkot in Connecticut
Full image
Bill Aron, Sukkot in Connecticut. 1970s. Permission to use granted by Bill Aron.

Simchat Torah

Simchat Torah
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Bill Aron Simchat Torah

Questions For Close Looking

Use some or all of the following questions to guide your class's analysis of the two photographs taken by Bill Aron.

  • What do you notice in this photograph? What else do you see?
  • What do you think is happening in this picture? What makes you say that?
  • How would you describe the photograph?
  • What is your emotional response to it? What makes you feel that way?
  • What is distinctively Jewish in this photograph?
  • What kind of vision of the Jewish community do you think this photo communicates? What makes you say that?
  • These photographs were taken by Bill Aron, a photographer who documents Jewish life in much of his work. These two images show members of the New York Havurah in the 1970s. How does this information affect your understanding of the photographs?
  • What else do you notice about them? Consider what in your own experiences or knowledge shapes the way you interpret the images.
  • As we move on with the next activity, keep in mind how these photographs communicated stories, values, and choices to you. Think about the specific decisions the photographer made of what to capture and how to capture it that informed the way each of you understand these photographs.

"Letter to the Left": A Call for Women's Liberation

Introduction

Ellen Willis was a journalist, feminist, and cultural critic, best known for her political essays. She also drew on her Jewish background in essays on religion and anti-Semitism. In 1969, she co-founded a radical feminist organization called Redstockings. The excerpt below is taken from her essay, "Letter to the Left," which was written in 1969 to explain the need for a movement focused specifically on women's liberation. Whereas many on the Left identified capitalism as the source of all social problems and inequalities, Willis argued that patriarchy – the social system based on governance by or dominance of males – was the root of women's oppression, and that women's oppression would not be alleviated by dismantling capitalism alone. Willis submitted this letter to The Guardian, the leading national Left newspaper of the time, but the editor refused to publish it.

Letter to the Left, Excerpt

… You say, "the basic misperception is that our enemy is man, not capitalism." I say, the basic misperception is the facile identification of "the system" with "capitalism." In reality, the American system consists of two interdependent but distinct parts – the capitalist state and the patriarchal family.

…. The social organization for the production of new human beings is the family system. And within the family system, men function as a ruling class, women as an exploited class. Historically, women and their children have the property of men (until recently, quite literally, even in "advanced" countries). The mistake many radicals make is to assume that the family is simply part of the cultural superstructure of capitalism, while both capitalism and the family system make up the material subculture of society. It is difficult to see this because capitalism is so pervasive and powerful compared to the family, which is small, weak, and has far less influence on the larger economic system than vice versa. But it is important for women to recognize and deal with the exploited position in the family system for it is primarily in terms of the family system that we are oppressed as women. If you really think about our exploitation under capitalism – as cheap labor and as consumers – you will see that our position in the family system is at the root.

Our position here is exactly analogous to the black power position, with male radicals playing the part of white liberals. Blacks answered "We can't work together because you don't understand what it is to be black; because you've grown up in a racist society, your behavior toward us is bound to be racist whether you know it or not and whether you mean it or not; your ideas about how to help us are too often self-serving and patronizing; besides, part of our liberation is in thinking for ourselves and working for ourselves, not accepting the domination of the white man in still another area of our lives. If you as whites want to work on eliminating your own racism, if you want to support our battle for liberation, fine. If we decide that we have certain common interests with white activists and can form alliances with white organizations, fine. But we want to make the decisions in our own movement." Substitute man-woman for black-white and that's where I stand. With one important exception: while white liberals and radicals always understood the importance of the black liberation struggle, even if their efforts in the blacks' behalf were often misguided, radical men simply do not understand the importance of our struggle. Except for a hip vanguard movement, men have tended to dismiss the woman's movement as "just chicks with personal hangups," to insist that men and women are equally oppressed, though maybe in different ways, or to minimize the extent and significance of male chauvinism ("just a failure of communication"). All around me I see men who consider themselves dedicated revolutionaries, yet exploit their wives and girl friends shamefully without ever noticing a contradiction.

Details

Willis, Ellen. “Letter to the Left,” in The New Left. Boston: Sargent, 1969. Permission to use granted by Nona Willis Aronowitz.


Discussion Questions

  1. Review: What oppressed group is Ellen Willis discussing in her essay?
  2. How is this group being exploited, and by whom?
  3. Explain the analogy Willis draws between this oppressed group and Black Power.
  4. Do you think this analogy works? Why or why not?
  5. Why do you think Ellen Willis had to write a letter to explain the need for women's liberation? Why were some other activists on the Left skeptical of the women's liberation movement?
  6. What has Willis learned from the Civil Rights Movement?

Tableaux Vivants

With your group, plan two tableaux vivants ("living pictures" in French) that will help teach your classmates about the document you just discussed. What would a painting or photograph illustrating this document look like? Recreate that picture with members of your group stepping in as the characters represented.

  1. The first tableau vivant pose should illustrate "the way things were"—the circumstances that the activists wanted to change, (based on your document).
  2. The second pose should illustrate that change (based on your document). In the second pose, each member of your group should be clear who their character is, what role that character plays, and what s/he believes. (see below)

After completing your poses, you will be asked to communicate the following to your classmates about the document you discussed, while staying in character:

  • Who is Ellen Willis? Who are you?
  • What concerns do you have?
  • Is your activism focused within the Jewish community or more about the broader community?
  • How, if at all, do you see your struggle as connected to the Civil Rights Movement?
  • How do you plan to bring about the change you want to see? (if known from the document).

You should also be prepared to answer other questions posed by other students in the class, while staying in character.

1969 Freedom Seder: "It would not be sufficient"

Introduction

During Passover 1969, Jews and African Americans came together on the first anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination to remember him. A seder with new readings that connected the Jewish exodus from Egypt with the struggle for Civil Rights in America and Social Justice around the world seemed the perfect way to commemorate, celebrate, and call to action. The text below is a short excerpt from that seder. In an inverted dayenu, the list of God's "gifts" to the Jewish people and the refrain of "it would have been sufficient" found in the original text of dayenu (traditionally sung or recited at the Passover seder) are changed to a list of contemporary injustices and a refrain of "it would not be sufficient."

1969 Freedom Seder, Excerpt - Dayenu opposite

So the struggles for freedom that remain will be more dark and difficult than any we have met so far. For we must struggle for a freedom that enfolds stern justice, stern bravery, and stern love. Blessed art thou, O Lord our God! who hast confronted us with the necessity of choice and of creating our own book of thy Law. How many and how hard are the choices and the tasks the Almighty has set before us!

For if we were to end a single genocide but not to stop the other wars that kill men and women as we sit here, it would not be sufficient;

If we were to end those bloody wars but not disarm the nations of the weapons that could destroy all mankind, it would not be sufficient;

If we were to disarm the nations but not to end the brutality with which the police attack black people in some countries, brown people in others; Moslems in some countries, Hindus in other; Baptists in some countries, atheists in others; Communists in some countries, conservatives in others, it would not be sufficient;

If we were to end outright police brutality but not prevent some people from wallowing in luxury while others starved, it would not be sufficient;

If we were to make sure that no one starved but were not to free the daring poets from their jails, it would not be sufficient;

If we were to free the poets from their jails but to train the minds of people so that they could not understand the poets, it would not be sufficient;

If we educated all men and women to understand the free creative poets but forbade them to explore their own inner ecstasies, it would not be sufficient;

If we allowed men and women to explore their inner ecstasies but would not allow them to love one another and share in the human fraternity, it would not be sufficient.

How much then are we in duty bound to struggle, work, share, give, think, plan, feel, organize, sit-in, speak out, hope, and be on behalf of Mankind! For we must end the genocide [in Vietnam], stop the bloody wars that are killing men and women as we sit here, disarm the nations of the deadly weapons that threaten to destroy us all, end the brutality with which the police beat minorities in many countries, make sure that no one starves, free the poets from their jails, educate us all to understand their poetry, allow us all to explore our inner ecstasies, and encourage and aid us to love one another and share in the human fraternity. All these!

Details

Arthur Waskow, “The Original 1969 Freedom Seder,” http://www.theshalomcenter.org/node/899, accessed 1/4/2010. Copyright (c) 1969, 1970, by Arthur Waskow. See this and the entire Freedom Seder and related materials by linking to http://www/theshalomcenter.org/treasury/105.


Discussion Questions

  1. According to this text, what are "the struggles for freedom that remain"?
  2. What choices and tasks set by God do you think this reading refers to? Why are these so difficult?
  3. What traditional seder liturgy is this reading modeled after? What is the traditional refrain? What is the new refrain? Why do you think this change was made?
  4. Does this text recommend working within the Jewish community? Outside of the Jewish community? Some combination of both? Point to evidence in the text.
  5. In what ways does this text draw upon lessons of the Civil Rights Movement?

Tableaux Vivants

With your group, plan two tableaux vivants ("living pictures" in French) that will help teach your classmates about the document you just discussed. What would a painting or photograph illustrating this document look like? Recreate that picture with members of your group stepping in as the characters represented.

  1. The first tableau vivant pose should illustrate "the way things were"—the circumstances that the activists wanted to change, (based on your document).
  2. The second pose should illustrate that change (based on your document). In the second pose, each member of your group should be clear who their character is, what role that character plays, and what s/he believes. (see below)

After completing your poses, you will be asked to communicate the following to your classmates about the document you discussed, while staying in character:

  • What is the Freedom Seder? Who are you?
  • What concerns do you have?
  • Is your activism focused within the Jewish community or more about the broader community?
  • How, if at all, do you see your struggle as connected to the Civil Rights Movement?
  • How do you plan to bring about the change you want to see? (if known from the document)

You should also be prepared to answer other questions posed by other students in the class, while staying in character.

"We Are Coming Home": Defining a Jewish Revolution

Introduction

The Brooklyn Bridge Collective was a small countercultural Jewish community. They wrote a newspaper called Brooklyn Bridge. The excerpt below was taken from an article published in the first issue of the community's newspaper in February 1971.

We Are Coming Home, Excerpt

…Brooklyn Bridge is the road we are taking back home. It is a Revolutionary Jewish newspaper. Jewish, because that is what we are; because our Jewishness plays an important part in shaping our total selves, and in the world we are trying to create we want to be full human beings, not assimilated nonentities; because we have learned – as have women, and blacks, and gay people – that unless we look out for ourselves, we are just as likely to be the victims of oppression in a revolutionary society as we are in this one. Revolutionary, because we realize that playing the roles America forces on us will destroy us as it destroyed our parents; because we see that for our people to be free, all people must be free and the deadly hands of America lifted off our backs.

Our struggle begins at home, with the oppression we face as Jewish people in America. We have been trapped in the buffer-zone between other oppressed peoples and the ruling class; shunted into the bureaucracies of the military-industrial-education complex. The commitment of our people to find meaningful and human work – to build a decent society, as teachers, doctors, scientists – is impossible in obscene America. It only alienates us and is used against us. The age-old oppression of Jew-hating and Jew-baiting is like any other racism, both irrational and calculated at the same time. False myths and stereotypes have been imposed on us for centuries. The idea that assimilation through the “melting pot” will end Jew-hating is a dehumanizing life. Assimilation means believing those myths and stereotypes. It means being cut off from our own history, being cut off from each other. Attempts to assimilate have led us to self-hatred. But no matter how much we might have effaced our spirit, Jews as a nation remain a reality in America, as much of a reality as Blacks, Puerto Ricans, Chinese, Italians.

Brooklyn Bridge is a voice in the struggle to define ourselves. Organized Judaism and the “Jewish establishment” have failed us. The institutions and organizations created to serve the needs and goals of Jewish People have co-opted to serve other interests. They represent us as a religion, rather than as the nation we are. Jewish philanthropy no longer aids Jews who need it; Jewish education tones down our people’s historic fight to survive and teaches us to be “nice Jewish boys and girls.” Our culture has been made rigid in the name of tradition and continues sexist oppression both in religious practice and in day-to-day life. Our synagogues are no longer the nexus of our community, but often only temples of ill-founded self-congratulations.

…As Jews we have fully experienced the horrors of genocide, racism, and exploitation. As Jews we carry a vision rising out of our tradition of a radical and inclusive social justice. As women and men struggling to survive in America we know we must destroy sexism, elitism, and all other systems of domination that threaten to debilitate our struggle. We will grow in our struggle and we will win.

Details

Brooklyn Bridge Collective, "We Are Coming Home,”263 in Staub, Michael E., ed. 2004 The Jewish 1960s: An American Sourcebook. Boston: Brandeis University Press


Discussion Questions

  1. What types of roles do you think America had forced Jews to play? In what way does this diminish the Jew (and/or other groups)? To what degree is this still true today?
  2. How does assimilation or the "melting pot" cut Jews off from their history?
  3. What do you think the writers mean by "nice Jewish boys and girls"? Do you think this is what Jewish organizations and institutions still want today?
  4. What do you think the writers have learned from the Civil Rights Movement, and other liberation movements? How have they applied these insights to the Jewish community?
  5. Do the writers think it's important to work within the Jewish community? Outside of the Jewish community? Or some combination of both? What makes you think that?

Tableaux Vivants

With your group, plan two tableaux vivants ("living pictures" in French) that will help teach your classmates about the document you just discussed. What would a painting or photograph illustrating this document look like? Recreate that picture with members of your group stepping in as the characters represented.

  1. The first tableau vivant pose should illustrate "the way things were"—the circumstances that the activists wanted to change, (based on your document).
  2. The second pose should illustrate that change (based on your document). In the second pose, each member of your group should be clear who their character is, what role that character plays, and what s/he believes. (see below)

After completing your poses, you will be asked to communicate the following to your classmates about the document you discussed, while staying in character:

  • What is the Brooklyn Bridge Collective and newspaper? Who are you?
  • What concerns do you have?
  • Is your activism focused within the Jewish community or more about the broader community?
  • How, if at all, do you see your struggle as connected to the Civil Rights Movement?
  • How do you plan to bring about the change you want to see? (if known from the document)

You should also be prepared to answer other questions posed by other students in the class, while staying in character.

"The Negro Revolution and the Jewish Community"

Introduction

Although he began his career as a professor of political science, Leonard Fein went on to play important roles in the Jewish community, especially in the areas of social action and building Jewish pride and knowledge. In 1974, he founded Moment Magazine, and eleven years later he founded Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger. On March 12, 1969, he addressed the Synagogue Council of America (an organization of American Synagogue associations) at Columbia University. His basic message was that the Jewish community had overreacted to black anti-Semitism. An excerpt from Fein's speech appears below.

Negro Revolution and the Jewish Community, Excerpt

…[T]he new Negro assertiveness is, in its best versions, an audacious effort to force America to come to grips with real diversity. That is an effort we ourselves have not had the nerve to undertake. If the effort is now successful, we ourselves are likely to be among its unintended beneficiaries, for in an America prepared, at last, for pluralism, there will be more elbow room for Jewish assertiveness.

Lest you think this entirely hypothetical, I enter into evidence the fact that at Cornell University, not many months ago, a thousand of the Jewish students on campus demanded a department of Modern Jewish Studies; the fact that at a dozen high schools around the country, students are complaining that their ancient history courses omit all mention of Palestine; or, more broadly, that the fundamentally patronizing character of the radical Jew who urges the black man to assert his identity but who is utterly uninterested in his own is so patent as to make that position simply not viable. The first hints that Jewish students, and radical Jewish students in particular, were coming to this recognition began to reach me some months ago. By now, the signs multiply almost daily, leading me to suggest that around the country, we have turned a corner, that Jewish students are learning to respect themselves as Jews by listening with care to what their black peers are saying. The lesson they are drawing is a lesson they did not, and, in fact, could not have learned from their own fathers, who have been so wrapped up in making Judaism easy that they have, on the whole, made it trivial as well.

Accordingly, it is a most serious error to confuse the ideological implications of the new Negro cohesiveness from its occasional anti-Semitic manifestations. There is no necessary linkage between the two, and to reject the one because of the other is to throw out the baby with the bath.

Details

"The Negro Revolution and the Jewish Community," circa 1969. Synagogue Council of America Records; I-68; box 42; folder 12; American Jewish Historical Society, Newton Centre, MA and New York, NY.


Discussion Questions

  1. What does Fein mean by "Jewish assertiveness"? What does that look like?
  2. What does he say Jews are learning from blacks?
  3. Why do you think he says that Jews could not have learned this from their own community?
  4. Do you think Jews today respect themselves as Jews? Why or why not? What do you think it means to respect yourself as a Jew?
  5. What do you think Fein means that Jews have made Judaism "trivial"? What do you think it means to make Judaism "trivial"? Do you think the Jewish community today has this problem?
  6. Do you think Jews today are learning about their own identities/ethnic pride from other ethnic/racial/religious groups? If so, what is being learned?

Tableaux Vivants

With your group, plan two tableaux vivants ("living pictures" in French) that will help teach your classmates about the document you just discussed. What would a painting or photograph illustrating this document look like? Recreate that picture with members of your group stepping in as the characters represented.

  1. The first tableau vivant pose should illustrate "the way things were"—the circumstances that the activists wanted to change, (based on your document).
  2. The second pose should illustrate that change (based on your document). In the second pose, each member of your group should be clear who their character is, what role that character plays, and what s/he believes. (see below)

After completing your poses, you will be asked to communicate the following to your classmates about the document you discussed, while staying in character:

  • Who is Leonard Fein? What is the Synagogue Council of America? Who are you?
  • What concerns do you have?
  • Is your activism focused within the Jewish community or more about the broader community?
  • How, if at all, do you see your struggle as connected to the Civil Rights Movement?
  • How do you plan to bring about the change you want to see? (if known from the document)

You should also be prepared to answer other questions posed by other students in the class, while staying in character.

Jewish Women Call for Change

Introduction

An organization of Jewish feminists, Ezrat Nashim called for greater equality for women within the Conservative movement. The group's name is a play on words. While it literally means "assistance of women" it was also the name used to refer to the women's section in synagogues in which women and men sit separately. In 1972, Ezrat Nashim went to the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly meeting and shared their demands, which are described in the document below.

Jewish Women Call for Change

Jewish Women Call for Change
Full image
Ezrat Nashim’s “Call for Change,” presented to the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative movement on March 14, 1972. From the personal archive of Paula Hyman. (Click "Full Image" to see transcript.)

Discussion Questions

  1. What was the role of Jewish women in traditional Judaism? Why aren't the women of Ezrat Nashim comfortable with these roles any more? What is their new reality?
  2. What tensions in the Conservative Movement does Ezrat Nashim identify? Are these tensions still present today?
  3. Ezrat Nashim states, "We've had enough of apologetics: enough of Bruria, Dvorah, and Esther, and enough of Eshet Chayil!" Who are these women? Why do you think Conservative Jewish women had had enough of these Jewish figures? In what ways has Judaism moved beyond these Jewish heroines? Who would you name as Jewish heroines for today's Judaism?
  4. What were Ezrat Nashim's demands? How many of these have come to pass? How do you think these demands changed what the Jewish community looks like today?
  5. What do you think Ezrat Nashim learned from the Civil Rights Movement and other liberation movements? What in this document makes you think that?

Tableaux Vivants

With your group, plan two tableaux vivants ("living pictures" in French) that will help teach your classmates about the document you just discussed. What would a painting or photograph illustrating this document look like? Recreate that picture with members of your group stepping in as the characters represented.

  1. The first tableau vivant pose should illustrate "the way things were"—the circumstances that the activists wanted to change, (based on your document).
  2. The second pose should illustrate that change (based on your document). In the second pose, each member of your group should be clear who their character is, what role that character plays, and what s/he believes. (see below)

After completing your poses, you will be asked to communicate the following to your classmates about the document you discussed, while staying in character:

  • What is Ezrat Nashim? Who are you?
  • What concerns do you have?
  • Is your activism focused within the Jewish community or more about the broader community?
  • How, if at all, do you see your struggle as connected to the Civil Rights Movement?
  • How do you plan to bring about the change you want to see? (if known from the document)

You should also be prepared to answer other questions posed by other students in the class, while staying in character.

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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Living the Legacy - Lesson: Moving Inward: bringing liberation movements into the Jewish community." (Viewed on April 16, 2014) <http://jwa.org/teach/livingthelegacy/civilrights/moving-inward-bringing-liberation-movements-into-jewish-community>.