In response to the “Hannah and Allie Talk Jewishness and Whiteness” post over at the Reading While White blog last week I wrote the following comment:
I think daily of the importance of recognizing that there is no single story. Many of my students are multi-racial, multi-ethnic. The other day we were filling out answer grids for standardized tests and some of these students were understandably stymied and frustrated at the optional question regarding race and ethnicity. As for religion, we have students who are mixed with one side being Jewish and the other of another ethnicity and/or race — some being devote and some not.
I think of Julius Lester who was a prominent black activist during the Civil Rights era, a much-honored children’s book writer, and is a very devote converted Jew.
I think of the Ethiopian Jews who immigrated to Israel and the racism they’ve experienced there. I think of others of color who have embraced aspects of Judaism or even all of it, yet are not necessarily considered Jews by other Jews.
I think (in respond to KT) of how uncomfortable I was with some of the discussion that occurred last year about Jews being part of We Need Diverse Books movement. While my German Jewish parents and relatives did indeed experience virulent anti-semitism in Nazi Germany, that is not something remotely true for white US Jews today. Observing the struggles some of my white Jewish colleagues had with this during a school equity training I wrote the following blog post: https://medinger.wordpress.com/2015/07/27/the-holocaust-and-white-privilege/
I think of my own singular story as it has also made me who I am today. That while I am ethnically Jewish, I did not grow up in communities of Jews, did not practice any of the religion, nor was raised with the cultural markers that are often generalized as Jewish (e.g. lox:). Indeed, of any ethnicity mine was more German than anything else — we lived there for several years so we spoke German, my mother cooked bratwurst, and sauerbraten, we celebrated Christmas and Easter, my sister and I wore dirndls that my mother thought were great.
I think of how I hadn’t ever heard of Hanukkah until 4th grade when I went to some classes some MSU Jewish grad students gave, after pestering my parents to send me to Sunday school like my best friend (who I think was Presbyterian). There was I vaguely remember possibly one other Jewish kid in my class that year (and I only knew because of my sudden awareness that there was such a thing as religion).
I think of my first visit to a synagogue when I was in 6th grade and we had moved to St. Louis and my dad thought we should see what one was like. And I think of my incredible frustration when we moved to NYC when I was a teenager and was told forcefully by some classmates that as a Jew I was to act, behave, and believe a certain way. (Especially, infuriatingly to teen-me, about Israel.)
I give this all only to show how incredibly varied our stories are, be it Jewish of something else. And as a classroom teacher I see it daily as children response in such singular and varied ways to books. What works for one child of a particular background simply doesn’t for another child with a seemly similar one.
Thanks for the conversation.