When I studied the history of Jews and African-Americans in America, I saw many photos of our ancestors marching together for civil rights. It was evident that they were on the right side of history. Martin Luther King, courageous civil rights leader, spoke at synagogues, believed in the self-determination of the Jewish people, and marched alongside Jews at the peak of the Civil Rights Movement.
After recent events in Charlottesville, I felt a personal obligation as a member of the Jewish minority, which makes up .02% of the population worldwide, to march for racial justice and to stand against the white supremacy and discrimination that is engrained in society. My grandfather was one of the Nazis’s victims when white supremacists committed a gruesome genocide against the Jews. My grandmother was born and raised in a black and Jewish neighborhood in Brownsville, Brooklyn.
When Nazis and Confederates recently chanted “Jews will not replace us”, this symbolized the evils of white supremacy trying to eradicate my grandfather’s personal identity, heritage, and values during the Holocaust, along with 12 million other victims. It was also a direct dismissal and attack on my grandmother’s neighborhood, kin, and childhood experiences. For these reasons, I attended the Post-Yom Kippur March for Racial Justice on October 1st, as well as Brooklyn College President Michelle Anderson’s campaign “Stand Against Hate” which addressed the interconnectedness between racism against African Americans and anti-Semitism against Jews on October 19th.
Justice means standing with minorities struggling for equal opportunities to pursue happiness and to no longer be systematically and institutionally targeted for demise. Additionally, standing up for Zionism, the Jewish national liberation movement for self-determination in Israel and preventing another anti-Semitic genocide. TaNahesi Coates’s Between the World and Me opened my eyes to the institutionalized racism against African-Americans in the United States and to the difficulty of growing up in a black body living in a white world.
In another of Coates’s books, The Case for Reparations, he referred to Israel as the model for reparations. As a Jew, I resonated even more with national black liberation movements because of the institutionalized and systemic anti-Semitism against Jews perpetrated throughout history.
My friend Natalie, who is a CAMERA Fellow herself at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and I marched with Zioness: a movement that stands for justice and fights against all forms of oppression. We stood against the marginalization, disempowerment, and demonization of Jews, people of color and other minorities. However, being both a progressive and an advocate of Zionism, the self-determination of the Jewish people, I felt my intersectional identities collide.
A male marshal wearing orange traffic control stripes came out from the tent to demand that my sign be removed. Shortly after that, a woman approached me with the marshal to demand that I put down my Zioness sign. My sign represented the movement against oppression as it had an intersection of an African-American woman wearing a Jewish Star. As a result, my hands clamped, chills rolled down my spine and my heart raced.
According to the marshals, there were too many Zioness signs in the same area and they did not want them appearing in photographs. However, as we collectively marched together against hate, there were many groups holding up other signs with messages such as “Black Lives Matter” and “Intersectional Feminism.” The act of holding Jews to a different standard than other minority groups is anti-Semitic. For me, the experience of being singled out reaffirmed the need for a strong Zionist movement. Jews should never be targeted again and subjected to anti-Semitic double standards.
However, I stood resisting racism with my fist in the air, my jacket representing the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, along with my Zioness sign protesting racial injustice
alongside my African American brothers and sisters. I did this because who were the March for
Racial Justice Organizers to question my identity? Who is anyone to question my identity? I
identify as progressive Zionist and nobody can take that away from me!
On October 19th, Reform Rabbi Michael Lerner spoke at Brooklyn College to Stand Against Hate with President Michelle Anderson. During the talk, Rabbi Lerner said that a flaw in liberalism is viewing people who hold different opinions from one’s own through an “Us vs. Them” lens. I still have hope that Zionism, kindness, and the truth will prevail.
Contributed by Brooklyn College CAMERA Fellow and Treasurer of CAMERA-supported group Bulldogs for Israel, Fay Yanofsky.
This article was originally published in Night Call News, Brooklyn College’s student paper.