A PASSOVER LETTER TO MY FRIENDS

by Rabbi Corinne Copnick

Poster Credit: Jewish Multiracial Network

There seems to be an insidious effort today to split American Jews on issues of color, racism, Israel, etc.  And once again we see the rise of hard-right, white supremacists both in America and globally. Although sadly, we are also verbally assaulted by leftist extremists, in my opinion, we need to be most watchful of the white supremacy playbook, which labels Jews as privileged whites responsible for colonialism, the slave trade, mass incarceration, and other forms of oppression. Even the Holocaust is dismissed by some misguided people as a “white-on-white” crime and therefore of little import. From this twisted point of view, the State of Israel is a colonial enterprise and should be destroyed.

It should be remembered that from biblical times, the Jewish religion has been color blind –or at least intended to be color blind. We are all human beings created b’tzelem Elohim, in God’s image. The Hebrew Bible itself is instructive on this issue. When Miriam gossiped about Moses’ wife because she was a Cushite – that is, from a black tribe – God punished Miriam for the sin of lashon hora (the evil tongue, gossip) by afflicting her skin with the white scales of disease (Numbers 12: 1-16).

Scientifically, it’s a well-known fact that the color of our skins is mainly influenced over time by the angle of the sun – and consequently the strength of the radioactive rays emitted – in the places where we live. That’s right, where we live eventually determines the color of our skin.[1] Like all of God’s creatures, we adapt to our environments. Additionally, genetic factors come into play.

So, originally from Western Asia and therefore indigenous to Israel (where, despite persecution, a small presence was continuously maintained), most Jewish people were propelled by antisemitism through the centuries to live in disparate places geographically for centuries, sometimes thousands of  years. As a result, Jews today can claim the privilege of being multi-colored, multi-racial, multi-ethnic [2].

We have just finished celebrating Passover, the holiday symbolizing Jewish belief that every human being has the right to live in freedom and dignity. Now, as Shavuot approaches, we all stand together at Sinai: Symbolically, as if it were today, united, we reconfirm our covenant with God – to live by the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-14).

[1] According to the Bible, the ancient Hebrews were slaves in Egypt — in North Africa – for 400 years. Israel, on the other hand, where the slaves eventually returned after a sojourn in the desert for 40 years is located in Western Asia. Today the whole region is called the Middle East.

[2] Like most American Jews, I am a white Jew of Ashkenazi (European) heritage. However, there are also a smaller number of American Jews of varying colors (JOCs), who derive from different backgrounds. It is my understanding that, with a new census, demographics may be gathered on how many JOCs are currently in the U.S., and projections made as to how that number will likely grow in future years.