• Dev Friedlander

A Time to Listen

I decided many years ago that I would do my best to keep my writing as far away from politics as possible. I want my readers to see themselves in my words, and that cannot be achieved if I add too much of my opinion. Yet, there are certain worldwide events that go beyond politics. And while I know that I must not remain silent, what can I say?

Any words I utter could be inflammatory. Someone may take offense and that is when it occurred to me, not to speak at all, but to listen. Therefore, I am letting my friend tell her story here about what it is like to be biracial in the Jewish community. She has asked to remain anonymous and I am honoring that request.

These are my friend’s words; this is her story. All I ask is that we listen...

My father is Caucasian. My mother is African American. They met in a high school in Laguna Beach, CA where they feel in-love. My father’s parents weren’t pleased about their son’s relations with a black woman and they kept their distance until my brother and I were born.

Sharing the hippy philosophy that “love should be free,” my mother and father took off to another state over 2,000 miles away. The rest, as they say, is history. My mother never really felt accepted by my paternal grandparents, a sort of coldish peace was reached between them.

I was taught to never judge based on race. And believe me, I’ve lived in extreme worlds. From visiting yacht and tennis clubs with my well-to-do grandparents to playing at the Harriet Tubman medical office after school where my mom worked, which was owned by a family friend and former black panther members.

History repeated itself when I met my husband. At first, my husband’s parents kept their distance. But after I converted a few years later, at the age of 25, things improved. Now I love my in-laws as if they are my own flesh and blood and they feel the same about me.

Later, my husband and our three children moved to Israel. For the most part, I feel very accepted in Israel by my fellow Jews. Nothing like the experiences I had experienced previously at Synagogues in the States.

My most negative experiences were when I taught in Orthodox Jewish schools. There were a few incidents where the students made funny comments about black people and African American history.

Adding salt to the wound, my boss, and a very good friend, was not very empathetic when I addressed the issue with her. I was appalled by some of the student’s comments and felt it was my duty as an educator to help improve this area, especially amongst the more religious communities. I felt misconceptions and hurtful comments stemmed from the lack of exposure to other cultures and races, which can be missing in the Jewish Day School system.

My experiences in Israel have been far more positive, which my mom, agrees. Strangers would try to speak with her in Hebrew, mistaking her for a local, not realizing she was a visitor from the States. There is far more diversity within the communities, helping to combat the stereotypes and negative perceptions. Not that it is perfect, as anything, there is always room for improvement.

The current outrage felt in the African American community is justifiable. There’s not one black person that I know who hasn’t had experiences with racism. Some are worse than others but nevertheless, racism is absolutely a (big) problem.

If I’m being honest, I’m not as in touch with that part of myself as I once was. Once I became Jewish that became my main identity. Although, I absolutely support the Black Lives Matters movement. Obviously not the sector that’s anti-Israel. I would like to see things change! I would like to know that my family members back in America are safe. That they don’t have to school their black sons on how not to get shot if they are ever pulled over by the police.

I would love to see all the unexplainable deaths of black people by the police come to an end once and for all. I’d love to see some of the laws changed that are designed to keep black youth in the system. It’s like a never-ending cycle and I believe that minorities need all the help that they can get from people in power to address these problems within the black community.

I do not by any means support the looting or destruction happening, just the peaceful rioting (I prefer the word riots over protesting) I think the rioting is actually beautiful. To see so many people from different backgrounds coming together and fighting for the same cause.

To be clear, Jewish people are the most amazing people that I’ve ever known! So many good values which gave me a longing to convert. Everyone is so close-knit, and there is truly a sense of community, like family. It gives me a sense of security and pride, and I think it should be an example for the world to follow.

That being said, there’s definitely room for improvement when it comes to empathizing with POC (people of color). I have not personally seen flat out racism here in Israel, but I have heard some cringe-worthy comments directed at or about black people and Asians.

These problems have to be addressed. Some are so obvious that it almost makes it worse that they haven’t been dealt with. Yet at the same time, I hope that since these problems are now getting the attention they deserve, it will also bring about the changes we have been longing for.

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