Let Me Tell You a Story

A week ago Sunday, Jodi and I were in NYC for dinner. We picked that date because it was the closest Sunday to her birthday that we could go. By coincidence, it happened to be the day of the Pride Parade.

While I am proud to be a supporter and ally for the LGBTQ community and specifically Jewish members of the LGBTQ community, I had never been to a Pride Parade. Although we only watched for a short while on the way to dinner, it was a powerful experience to see the marchers and spectators basically taking over a huge swath of the city.

It was with this experience in mind that I was so disappointed to read about what happened in Chicago at virtually the exact same time. Three women marching in a similar parade were asked to leave because the rainbow flags that they were carrying had Jewish stars. Apparently, those Jewish stars made other marchers feel “unsafe” (more details here). Then, just a few days later, the organizers of the Pride March in North Carolina announced that their next march would take place this coming September 30th, which just happens to be Yom Kippur (more details here) and they have no intention of moving it.

As I joked on Facebook when I read about these stories, apparently one needs to be anti-Israel and to renounce one’s Judaism in order to advocate for LGBTQ rights.

These are two more examples of what is known in academic circles as intersectionality. The scholar who coined the term, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, explains it this way: “inequities are never the result of single, distinct factors. Rather, they are the outcome of intersections of different social locations, power relations, and experiences.”

That makes sense – as far as theories go. I think we all intuitively recognize that a black, Muslim woman has a very different experience in this country than a white, Christian man. That is not to say that a black, Muslim woman cannot find success in our country. However, it would be naïve to think that it would be as easy for her as it would be for someone who does not “check” those “boxes.”

The problem with this concept or theory comes with the application. First of all, no theory applies in 100% of the cases. Second, as we have seen with the two LGBTQ marches, this theory requires one to correctly identify who is an oppressor and who is oppressed. Obviously, asking supporters of the most LGBTQ-friendly country in the Middle East to leave a parade advocating for LGBTQ rights makes no sense. Similarly, excluding a minority religious group – especially one that has been targeted more frequently than any other religious group in this country – from a similar parade seems counter-intuitive.

So, what gives?

It’s easy to say it’s anti-Semitism. And while I am always cautious in making such an accusation, it’s hard to ignore it as a contributing factor. However, I think it is also the result of Jews and Israel supporters doing a poor job of telling our story. We take it for granted that people understand how Israel came into existence. We take it for granted that people recognize what an amazing country Israel is. We take it for granted that people see the rise in anti-Semitism as easily as we do. But, we should never take things for granted.

In order to tell our story, though, we have to know our story. We have to tell it and tell it again. So, if you consider yourself a part of the Jewish community or a supporter of Israel and you don’t know the story, it’s time to learn it.

In this week’s Torah portion, the Moabite King Balak asked a prophet named Bilaam to curse the Israelites. He offered to pay Bilaam for that curse. But, Bilaam knew that the Israelites were blessed by God and did not deserve a curse. Instead of a curse, he spoke the following words which have become a part of our liturgy: “Mah Tovu Ohalecha – How fair are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel!”

We have to figure out how to transform the curses of our detractors into blessings. We can begin the process by telling them our story.

Shalom,
RAF.

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About Rabbi Avi Friedman

I am the rabbi of Congregation Ohr Shalom - SJCC, a progressive Conservative and traditional congregation. I am also husband to Jodi as well as father to Gabi, Jonah, Jessica and Ilana. I have been a part of the Summit community since 2005.
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