Thank G-d, I can say that I haven’t been a victim of severe racism. The kind that I have experienced in my years living in America has been the mild, covert kind (not sure if I can actually call it mild, as it does have its long lasting psychological effects).
The kind I’m talking about is the weird variety of clutching purses when I’m passing by–doesn’t matter that I have two heavy loads of groceries in both hands. I suppose they think I am stealthy enough to maneuver a pickpocket stunt nonetheless? Or walking ahead of me and then glancing back way too many times as if I’m going to club them for passing me. Or, the routine visits from the police asking to search our house whereby my mom would just say no and shut the door in their faces. My brothers got frisked too many times, and once I even caught the police checking my mom’s rose garden–as if we’d be hiding stuff in the rose buds!!
Again, I never got shot at, put in prison, or whatever it is people are afraid that I’ll do. In fact, I went to college, went to work and lived pretty much a normal life. But the impact was real and went with me even as I became religious and entered the religious world.
When I moved to Israel, just like all the other immigrants, I brought my baggage with me. But Israel wasn’t America, I was soon to learn!
In Israel, I quickly found out that things are very different. I would go on an elevator and expect no one to get in it with me. Not so with the Israelis. One woman jammed her foot to stop the closing door of the elevator I was on. She simply wanted to get on an elevator, I was irrelevant. That was an interesting feeling.
Another time I took a bus in Jerusalem and took my usual American pose; I would close my eyes so as to not seem “harmful” to the incoming passengers (even though I unknowingly put my own self in harms way by removing my awareness of what’s going on). I also closed my eyes so as not to see people avoiding the seat next to me.
Not so in Israel. On the bus in Israel, someone asked me for the time, another would ask me something about the driver’s driving, yet another turned to me to share a laugh about something or other. I quickly realized I have to take a breath mint before I enter an Israeli bus!
Back then, about twelve years ago, the Israelis didn’t seem to have a clue how to be proper, covert racists on a mild day-to-day level. I realized I had to ditch my baggage and not teach them anything from it. That forced me out of my “comfort” zone and into a realm of “Well, what’s the stereotype that I must conform to?!” I had no model to live up to. No expectations. It was liberating and yet scary at the same time. I was purely me–whatever I wanted me to be.
Not to say that there isn’t racism in Israel.
And not to say that my own residuals from living in a racist society has left me. The wounds and aftermath are still there. And because of that, I still long for more Black Jews to be present at weddings, I still long for more Black Jews in my kids’ school. But those are background yearnings. What I really long for is the elimination of racism.
The big wake-up call happened when I would take my kids home from school. Every morning I would pass by a certain street and there would be a bunch of little chareidi boys standing near the corner. Like clockwork, whenever they saw me they would jump up and yell at me. I was so angry about this. Every day I experienced humiliation and felt helpless because I did not feel confident enough with my Hebrew to respond to them. Well, one day I was resolved to teach those boys that they should not disrespect people like that!
I went as usual to pick up the girls and purposefully went on the block where those boys would be. There they were standing around. As soon as they saw me, they began to yell. I slowed down and tried to listen to what exactly they were saying. I wanted the reprimand to correspond. I listened. “Help us cross the street!” “Can you help us cross the street!!?” they yelled.
I was floored.
I quickly gathered the boys around me and helped them cross the street. As I went back to my girls, I saw the boys running down the street to the next corner hoping another adult will help them cross to the next street.
What an experience!
I am truly angry about racism. It leaves residual effects long after and keeps society from reaching their best potential. May this illness be eradicated in the world!
Miriam Lindenberg was born in Chicago, Illinois. She made aliyah about 12 years ago and now lives with her family in the mystical city of Tsfat. Her favorite activity is writing Jewish children’s books.
Header image courtesy of Pixabay.