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"Your Judaism doesn't absolve you from racism."

02/11/2022 10:55:58 AM

Feb11

Guest Blogger: Lucy Zanker

.When I was in second grade, I switched schools. I went from a private Montessori school to a private Jewish school. I was so excited to learn more about being Jewish and be surrounded by other Jews. But there was something off. Even though I was surrounded by people like me, I still felt like I was out of place. I was. Out of the entire school, I was the only person of color. I was too young to really understand what the problem was, but I could feel that something was off. Every time I got in trouble for something no one else got in trouble for. Every time the teachers would assume I had done something wrong before I had the chance to explain myself. I simply assumed that I was in the wrong. 

I stayed in this school up until the end of third grade. During that year, the puzzle pieces slowly began to click into place. A boy that had always been trouble told me that “All black people were ugly and stupid.” I didn’t tell the teacher. My mom explained to me that if anyone ever says something like that to me at school, I had to tell the teacher. Well, when it happened again, at the school wide musical and one day during rehearsal, I knew I had to tell. So I did. The teacher’s reaction surprised me. She merely said that both of us were guilty and that was that. I tried telling her again and she said that I would get sent to the office if I didn’t drop it. 

This time I knew that the teacher was wrong. I felt powerless. My parents had a meeting with the principal and during this meeting, the teacher denied that any of it had happened, and said I was making it all up. They did not ask the boy, and  I never got an apology. The teacher was never reprimanded for her actions, and I left the school. 

After that, I began to distance myself from Judaism. The only experience I had with the community was horrible and as a child I associated that horrible experience with being Jewish. This was backed up even more by the lack of diversity in every synagogue I’ve been to. I never really felt at home in the Jewish community. I always felt like an outsider. I think that the trauma I experienced tainted my experience with Judaism. I hope I can encourage other Jews to be more welcoming with other Jews of color to prevent these kinds of things from happening.

Note from Daniela, Lucy’s mom: During this incident, I spoke to the rabbi at the Shlenker School, and he said Jews should know better, but sadly we live in a white bubble, and don’t really understand. He feared Lucy would do better in a diverse school, and we transferred her to a very diverse public school. I was so relieved when there were issues and Lucy was finally heard and believed there. It’s not that public schools don’t have race issues, but at least people have the EXPERIENCE of being around people of different races and classes.

Lucy reluctantly agreed to celebrate becoming a Bat Mitzvah at CBI, and she ended up really enjoying it. She had a great relationship with Rabbi Folberg and Levy, and could clearly tell that our community is welcoming and well meaning. It is hard for us to be a hugely diverse community, as Austin itself is not very diverse, and more of a bubble than Houston. There isn’t much we can do about that. Lucy is happy that I lead the Chavuraction Circles program, and I am proud of the folks that have taken it, they are those well meaning Jews that wanted to make sure they are walking the walk. But I have also been surprised at the resistance I have met with in certain groups. Lucy is not. 

The best we can all do is educate ourselves, be open, and listen without judgment. We are a community of mainly progressive liberal Jews, which means at the very least we don’t consider ourselves racists. Here at home, Lucy always reminds us, "Your Judaism doesn’t absolve you from racism."

Tue, August 16 2022 19 Av 5782