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Moving Inward: bringing liberation movements into the Jewish community

Unit 3, Lesson 4

Act out, through tableaux vivants, the ways Jews took what they had learned from the Civil Rights Movement and other liberation movements and used these insights to change the Jewish community.

Overview

Enduring Understandings

  • In the late 1960s, Jews took what they had learned from the Civil Rights Movement, and other liberation movements, and used these insights to change the Jewish community and continue to repair the world around them.

Essential Questions

  • What values and insights did Jews take away from their work in the Civil Rights Movement?
  • How did they apply these values and insights to the Jewish community and other liberation movements?
  • What changes did they make within the Jewish community? What changes do you want to see made?
  • How can we draw upon past Jewish experience to help us with contemporary issues of social justice and civil rights?

Materials Required

Notes to Teacher

The activity in Part II of this lesson is based on five groups each studying a different document and then staging tableux vivants illustrating that document. Tableux vivants means "living pictures" in French. With each student personifying a character, the groups will position themselves into a scene and then freeze in place to form their first tableau vivant. After holding that pose for 30 seconds (or longer), the group then will move into a new pose and once again freeze in place for 30 seconds (or longer), before then becoming animated to speak as the characters they are personifying.

Depending on your class size and the time allotted, you may choose to use fewer documents and have fewer groups, choose to have groups discuss more than one document; and/or invite students to appoint additional "actors" to take part in their tableux vivants. You also may want to add in or substitute other documents relevant to your specific community or related to other liberation movements. (For instance, see Teacher Resources for documents on the American Soviet Jewry Movement.)

Introductory Essay(s)

Moving Inward - Introductory Essay

Throughout history, people working for the liberation of one group have begun to notice ways in which other communities (often ones the activists were a part of) suffered from oppression. Inspired by the model of one liberation movement, they have applied the experience and lessons learned in that movement to create a new liberation movement. For example, white women working in the 19th century antislavery movement became aware of the irony of working for citizenship rights – such as the right to vote – for African American men that they themselves did not have.

This Civil Rights Movement of the 20th century likewise spurred and/or energized several other movements, such as the antiwar movement, the women's movement, the Soviet Jewry movement, and a host of other movements in which other oppressed ethnic and racial groups, such as Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans, focused on building their own power and pride.

This is not to say that the Civil Rights Movement was entirely responsible for the origination of these other movements; rather, some of these movements had histories before the Civil Rights Movement, but were re-invigorated by activists who had cut their teeth on civil rights. In the case of the women's movement, for example, several parts of what has come to be known as Second Wave Feminism (as distinct from the First Wave, which was the suffrage movement), grew concurrently with the Civil Rights Movement in the early 1960s. But a younger, more radical group of activists developed a feminist consciousness in large part because of their experiences working as civil rights activists in the South, where – no matter how educated, articulate, or skilled as organizers – they were often relegated to administrative or domestic roles, such as typing or making coffee, or were used sexually by men to prove their status and power in the community. They brought this newfound consciousness, as well as their organizing skills, to the women's movement in the late 1960s.

Similarly, women (like Ellen Willis, whose "Letter to the New Left" is included in this lesson plan) who had been active in the New Left (a movement of the 1960s and early 1970s, led primarily by students who challenged the prevailing authority structures and dedicated themselves to pursuing participatory democracy, civil rights, university reform, and an end to the Vietnam War) grew tired of the exploitation of women and began to argue for a separate movement to focus on patriarchy and women's liberation.

These movements were also influenced by the rise of Black Power, a new thrust within the African American community that promoted racial pride and demanded black self-determination in the Civil Rights Movement. African Americans pointed out that they could not achieve true freedom unless they lead the movement themselves; otherwise, whites retained a degree of power and authority over them. Supporters of Black Power emphasized the need for black self-sufficiency, as well as black pride (e.g. "Black is Beautiful"), and encouraged white activists to work on their own issues (and in some cases, expelled white leaders from their organizations). Taking that lesson to heart, some white men began to focus on anti-war activism (which affected them in particular through the draft); some white women began to focus on women's liberation.

The model of Black Power also prompted some Jews to think about their own experiences of cultural oppression – ways in which Jewish culture had been erased or devalued and Jews pressured to assimilate in order to gain respect and power. They began to cultivate a particular Jewish ethnic pride, building Jewish institutions – such as university Jewish Studies programs and adult education programs – that would help Jews learn about their own roots.

One aspect of growing Jewish pride revolved around Israel and Zionism. After Israel's surprising triumph in the Six Day War in June 1967, many American Jews experienced a surge of pride in Israel, an underdog nation that had succeeded in becoming a power to be reckoned with. This led to a newfound interest in Israeli culture, Hebrew, and Zionism. Many Jews traveled to Israel to see the State firsthand; many got involved in Zionist summer camps or youth groups or campus groups.

At the same time, other progressive movements, including the Civil Rights Movement, began to develop a more critical approach to Israel, identifying with the Palestinians as an oppressed group seeking self-determination, and castigating Zionism as a colonial, racist movement. This led to increased tension between some Jews and African Americans, and some Jews and other Left-identified activists. Some Jews on the Left developed their own progressive Zionist organizations, such as Breira (founded 1973), that combined a love of Israel with a recognition of the national aspirations of the Palestinians.

Jews who were involved in other movements, such as feminism, also began to bring their demands for equality into the Jewish community itself. In the case of feminism, young, educated women who had fought for their equality within the secular world chafed against some of the remaining limitations on women's involvement and leadership in the traditional Jewish community. Why couldn't women be rabbis, or be called to the Torah, or count in a minyan? Why should Jewish women's role be limited to domestic responsibilities and not include public institutional and ritual leadership? Thus, Jewish feminism was born, leading to changes in clergy (the first female Reform rabbi was ordained in 1972, the first female Reconstructionist rabbi in 1974, and the first female Conservative rabbi in 1985), ritual practice, and theology in the liberal denominations.

Similarly, Jews who were part of the counterculture also sought a Jewish expression of their beliefs and practices. Just as they had worked to break down hierarchies and cultural norms in the secular community around organizational structures, food, fashion, sexuality, etc., so, too, did they build new countercultural Jewish communities that were based on values of egalitarianism, spiritual practice, experimentation, and communitarianism. The Jewish counterculture flourished in Havurot, intentional communities of Jews (mostly young) who prayed, studied, did activism, and, in some cases, lived together. The Jewish counterculture also produced its own "Do It Yourself" guide, The Jewish Catalogue, created as a Jewish version of the popular Whole Earth Catalogue and a guide for creating a meaningful, self-directed Jewish life.

Another movement that brought the lessons and values of the Civil Rights Movement into the Jewish community was the movement to free Soviet Jewry, who were trapped behind the Iron Curtain, limited in their freedom to practice Judaism, educate themselves and their children Jewishly, or emigrate. When American Jews began to learn about the conditions that Soviet Jews experienced, they began an international campaign to free them. As the Soviet Union responded to the demand for greater freedom of religion for Jews by refusing to grant them exit visas, and in some cases, jailing them, American Jews raised the rally cry, "Let my people go!" The Soviet Jewry movement became a prominent cause in the American Jewish community in the 1970s and 1980s, from grassroots campaigns to raise awareness, to advocacy of federal embargoes on the Soviet Union. Jewish institutions organized trips to the Soviet Union to visit "refuseniks" – Jews who had been refused an exit visa – and to bring Jews "contraband" such as Hebrew books, ritual objects, as well as other items unavailable, and therefore valuable, in the East (like jeans). These travelers also bore witness to the conditions in which Jews were living – and suffering – behind the Iron Curtain. The movement was successful in granting the release of many prominent refuseniks, such as Anatoly (Natan) Sharansky, and ultimately helped to undermine the Soviet Union. The movement was appealing to Jews for several reasons: the cause was morally unambiguous, the movement identified a specifically Jewish application for many civil rights values, and as a Jewish movement, it was, to some, (especially more observant Jews), safer and more "kosher."

Through all of these movements, Jews used the insights they had gleaned from the Civil Rights Movement and other liberation movements to continue to repair the world around them and to transform the Jewish community itself.

Lesson Plan

Introduction

  1. If you have done any of the earlier lessons in Unit 3 with your class, remind them of the rifts that developed between blacks and Jews in the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1960s. These rifts led many Jews to feel their involvement in the Civil Rights Movement was resented by blacks or that they had different priorities and needed to leave the Civil Rights Movement.

    OR

    If you haven't done any of the earlier lessons in Unit 3, provide some general background about the rifts that developed between blacks and Jews in the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1960s. (See the introductory essay from previous lessons in Unit 3 on this topic.) These rifts led many Jews to feel their involvement in the Civil Rights Movement was resented by blacks or that they had different priorities and needed to leave the Civil Rights Movement.
  2. Explain that throughout history, people working for the liberation of one group have started to notice ways in which their own community suffered from oppression and it inspired them to work to liberate themselves (for example, white women working in the antislavery movement in the 19th century). This also happened within the Civil Rights Movement, especially after the rise of Black Power, when African Americans pointed out that they should be leading the movement to liberate themselves, and that whites in the movement should be working on their own issues. Taking that lesson to heart, some white men began to focus on anti-war activism (which affected them in particular through the draft) and some white women began to focus on women's liberation. In addition to these movements, some Jews began to think about their own experiences of cultural oppression and develop ethnic pride and Jewish institutions that would help Jews learn about their own roots. (Other racial and ethnic groups, too, such as Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans, also learned from the example of Black Power and developed movements that focused on building their own power.)

New Views: Photo Study

  1. Show your class the photographs by Bill Aron, Sukkot, Connecticut and Simchat Torah, included in the Images of the Jewish Community Document Study (For Teacher). As you show your class each photograph, ask some or all of the questions found in the Document Study.

Liberation Movements Document Study and Theater Activity

  1. Have each group read and discuss one of the Document Studies. Each group should then prepare two tableux vivants ("living pictures" – see Notes to Teacher) using the instructions provided in their Document Study.
  2. Once each group has completed their Document Study, bring the class back together. Invite each group up to perform their tableaux vivants in a stage area you've set up. (The stage could be at the front of the classroom, or it could be in the round.) When it is their turn, group members should go to the "stage" area, setup their first tableau vivant showing "the way things were." After holding that pose for 20-30 seconds, group members should move into the second pose to illustrate the change the activists wanted to make. After holding that pose for 20-30 seconds, the group can come out of their pose, but must stay in character.
  3. Speaking in character, the group then communicates to the class who they are, what concerns they have, whether their activism is focused within the Jewish community or not, how they see their struggle as connected to the Civil Rights Movement (if at all), and how they plan to bring about the change they want to see (if known from the document read). The teacher and other students in the class can ask questions, with group members responding as best they can in character. (If questions are raised that the students and teacher don't have answers to, use it as an opportunity to do some focused research on the given topic.)
  4. After everyone has performed their tableaux vivants, take your students through the process of reviewing and discussing what they learned, and reflecting on the experience of taking on the roles of the activists and designing their tableaux vivants (you may want to write the students' responses to the first few questions on the board):
    • What were the different movements discussed in the documents you studied?
    • Which of these movements were focused within the Jewish community? Which were focused outside of the Jewish community?
    • In what ways did the Jewish groups address issues specific to the Jewish community? In what ways did they remain connected to other social justice issues/movements?
    • What did Jewish activists learn from their experience with the Civil Rights Movement and other liberation movements?
    • With limited time and resources, how do you think you can balance work within and work outside the Jewish community (or a focus on changing the Jewish community and also changing the rest of the world)? Do you think you have to "liberate" yourself before you can work on the liberation of others? Why or why not?
    • Reiterate that the Jewish community began to change as the result of a new Jewish consciousness that developed in the late 1960s and 1970s. Many of these changes could be seen in every day Jewish life, and many are still with us today.
    • What was it like to take on the characters you created, based on your documents?
    • What did you find easy to communicate through your tableaux vivants? What wasn't as easy to get across? Why?

Looking Forward

Note: This activity may be done in the classroom or as a written homework assignment depending on the amount of time you have.

  1. Ask your students to think about Jewish life today and the communities they are part of, using the following questions:
    • Do you think we have achieved what these groups were trying to do? If not, why not? If yes, how have these groups helped to change what the Jewish community looks like? Give specific examples.
    • Are their goals still our goals today? What other goals for the Jewish community or the outside world do we have today? If we succeed with these goals what might the Jewish community of tomorrow look like? What might the world of tomorrow look like?
    • How do you imagine students in the future might portray the Jewish community you live in today, if they were to do this activity? What issues might they identify as major concerns of your time?

Document Studies

Images of Jewish Counterculture

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
Full image
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

"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"

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

"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"

"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

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.

Vocabulary

Black Power Movement

Black Power Movement

A movement that developed in the late 1960s that emphasized the need for black self-sufficiency, as well as black cultural pride. Many of its leaders believed that African Americans needed to take a more militant approach and take control of the Civil Rights Movement. This led many organizations to remove their white members and leaders.

Counterculture

Counterculture

Cultural expression that intentionally goes against the norms of the existing culture (e.g. challenging organizational structures, food, fashion, sexuality, gender roles, etc.).

Cultural Oppression

Cultural Oppression

Pressure to assimilate and become like the dominant culture. It can lead to a lack of pride in one's own ethnic heritage.

Second Wave Feminism

Second Wave Feminism

The modern period of the American women’s movement, generally called the “second wave” of feminism, spans from the 1960s through the end of the 20th century. The “first wave” of the American women’s movement (mid-1800s-1920) focused primarily on suffrage. The movement for women’s rights surged again in the 1960s when women like Betty Friedan began to speak out about social expectations that limited women’s growth and to demand equality for women. In 1966, the National Organization for Women (NOW) was founded to advocate for women’s rights. In the late 1960s, younger women – many of whom were influenced by the Civil Rights Movement – began to form “consciousness raising groups” where women could talk about their personal lives as women. They began to realize that their experiences and frustrations were often caused by inequities in society, rather than their own personal problems, and they advocated for “women’s liberation” from these social strictures. Within a short period of time, the terms “women’s rights,” “women’s liberation,” and “feminism” became part of the public conversation.

New Left

New Left

A movement of the 1960s and early 1970s, led primarily by students who challenged the prevailing authority structures and dedicated themselves to pursuing participatory democracy, civil rights, university reform, and an end to the Vietnam War.

 

Redstockings

Redstockings

A New York-based women’s group, Redstockings was founded in 1969 by Ellen Willis and Shulamith Firestone, two Jewish women who were former members of New York Radical Women, an early feminist group that promoted the New Left from its founding in 1967 until it was disbanded two years later. Redstockings advocated political activism through “conscious-raising” and helped popularize feminist slogans and concepts including “the personal is political,” “sisterhood is powerful,” and “the politics of housework.” Though most active throughout the 1970s, Redstockings still exists today as a think tank and feminist archive.

 

Patriarchy

Patriarchy

The social system based on governance by or dominance of males.

Military-industrial-education Complex

Military-industrial-education Complex

A term that became popular in the 1960s and 1970s to describe the relationship between America's military, the industries that supplied the military, and education. There was a concern that these groups were more interested in self-perpetuation than the real needs of society.

Ezrat Nashim

Ezrat Nashim

Founded in 1971 as a small women’s study group within the circuit of New York City’s Jewish counterculture, Ezrat Nashim worked to collect information on the status of women in Judaism and develop plans to rectify inequalities. Several prominent Jewish feminists, including Martha Ackelsberg, Arlene Agus, Paula Hyman, Elizabeth Koltun, and Dina Rosenfeld, were original members. 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. A year after its inception, Ezrat Nashim presented its demands to the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly in the form of the manifesto included in this lesson, entitled “Jewish Women Call for Change.”

Teacher Resources

Arthur Waskow, "The Original 1969 Freedom Seder," www.theshalomcenter.org/node/899. Watch a video on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5HgiGMqh6g. (9 minutes, 18 seconds)

Jewish Women's Archive, Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution, jwa.org/feminism. This multimedia exhibit includes primary sources, autobiographical statements, and a rich timeline. Teacher resources related to the exhibit: jwa.org/feminism/lesson-plans

Jewish Women's Archive. "This Week in History - Ezrat Nashim presents manifesto for women's equality to Conservative rabbis." jwa.org/thisweek/mar/14/1972/ezrat-nashim

Paula E. Hyman, "Jewish Feminism in the United States," Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia, on jwa.org.

Michael E. Staub, The Jewish 1960s: An American Sourcebook, Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, published by University Press of New England, 2004. (Primary document reader that includes a piece published by the Brooklyn Bridge Collective.)

Riv-Ellen Press. Prayer and Community: The Havurah in American Judaism. Detroit: Wayne State University, 1989.

Archive of the American Soviet Jewry Movement at the American Jewish Historical Society: www.ajhs.org/aasjm/. Includes photographs and other primary source documents.

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

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Moving Inward: bringing liberation movements into the Jewish community." (Viewed on July 24, 2014) <http://jwa.org/teach/livingthelegacy/civilrights/moving-inward-bringing-liberation-movements-into-jewish-community>.

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