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Thinking about Jewish feminists, I pondered what question might be food for the thoughts I wish to stir.

The Torah called out to me to use words of wisdom from the source of the Jewish people, and there it was words said by a man that stirred my soul. Cain asked a question that has become famous in all religions: "Am I my brother's keeper?" Taking that question and making it feminine stirred many emotions and questions for me. I have always been an African-American feminist, but I have only been an African-American Jewish feminist for something over three years. I am not African American before I am Jewish or Jewish before I am African American. I am both of those identities twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. When I say "sister," that is inclusive of women from all Jewish backgrounds, and from all races, classes, and sexual orientations. Am I my sister's keeper? It is easy for any of us to say "yes" to that question. Since we are all women going largely for the same things, surely we have each other's back. But is that unconditional, or are there conditions? I have had white Ashkenazi women call me on the assumption that I would do something for them because we both believe in the same cause. If l politely responded, "No, thanks for thinking of me, but that is not the way I want to go," I might be challenged by negative words or actions, as if to say: How dare you defy me? In these circumstances, I was given the feeling that I "owed" something, or that I was "owned," because the callers allegedly were advocating for Jews of color or people of color. My assistance was requested without their waiting for input from me. I was supposed to show up and say or do what was expected of me. Everything was under their conditions. From several resources on feminism, it would appear that the term "feminist" has suffered an ongoing identity crisis since the beginning of the feminist movement. Women identify with the issues, but they do not want to be deemed "feminists," because of the stereotyped implications of what that word means. This may be because so many women cannot explain what being a feminist means to them. A 1992 Ms. Foundation survey, "Women's Voice '92: A Polling Report," presented as the first national survey to evaluate women's views across class and racial lines, found that many women, even if they endorsed the movement's goals, saw feminists as "being more out for themselves than for the ordinary women and their families." While they generally evaluated the women's movement favorably--it rated 62 on a scale of 100--many of them "[felt] distant from the term 'feminist,' which to them does not seem to share their own priority of family nor the daily struggles of many women who are constantly pulled and stretched for money." (1) When women's very identity as feminists is in question, how can the movement be in order? We have women out there who are down for the cause but are not ready to say that they are cardcarrying members. Furthermore, there is the double identity of being Jewish and female. An icon in the Jewish feminist world, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, wrote Deborah, Golda, and Me: Being Female and Jewish in America. Though written and published twelve years ago, the book offers clear evidence that no matter how things change, they stay the same for Jewish feminists. In her chapter "Why Feminism Is Good For the Jews," Pogrebin states:
In this chapter, rather than assume we all understand the term "Jewish feminism" the same way, I want to explain that I use it to

summarize a whole system of moral and political commitments. Feminists dissect privilege. We deconstruct and examine the way gender plays out in power relations, political agendas, and economic contexts. We ask: Who benefits? Who hurts? Webster's dictionary defines feminism as a doctrine advocating the legal, economic, and social equality of the sexes. Jewish feminism is all that plus a doctrine advocating unmitigated chutzpah within the Jewish community. (2)

Jewish feminists tackle issues from anti-racism, homelessness, and gender structures to support groups, to name but a few. Above all, Jewish feminists stand in agreement that tzedakah is one of their highest priorities. Since minority communities face the highest degrees of oppression, Jewish feminists find themselves reaching out to other minority communities in the struggle to improve conditions. But though white Jewish feminists have approached other minority women's groups with an open heart and an open hand, the welcome mat is not always at the door. When delving into the tensions that have been apparent between white Ashkenazi feminists and women of color, we have to remember that history precedes us. Since the beginning of the feminist movement, women of color have made it clear that they do not want to a part of a "white women's movement." As African-American writer Celestine Ware wrote: "Black and white women can work together for women's liberation, but only if the movement changes its priorities to work on issues that affect the lives of minority-group women." (3) The media portrayed second-wave feminism as being centered mainly on problems facing middle-class white women. During this period, African-American feminists focused on racism and family unity, while the Chicana movement focused on resistance to anti-immigrant racism and to the Vietnam War. I know that more than a fair number of white-skinned Jewish women do not identify themselves as white. On the other hand, it is increasingly becoming politically correct to say "white Ashkenazi," since there are Jews of color who identify as Ashkenazi. While a majority of Jewish women share a common bond with women of color, the issue of the Jewish community becoming white in America needs constantly to be examined, even if white Jewish feminists have not embraced this whiteness. Even if one is marginalized within a marginalized group of people, "whiteness" still brings a certain degree of privilege. Let's be honest: It has not always been in vogue to be "ethnic," and in many situations it still isn't. Take, for example, the golden age of Hollywood, when many major players in movie studios were Jewish. Names were changed to be less Jewish-sounding, and films were written to avoid Jewishness, because the studios wanted to do no more than one Jewish movie a year. It was important to appeal to the masses, and so, for the sake of success, the players had to assimilate. Having white skin makes assimilation into a WASP culture possible. Changing a name, straightening hair, or a nose job can make an individual look less "ethnic." But there is no way to hide skin color so as to gain access to the comforts of whiteness. People can start conjuring up their stereotypes about a person of color from a mile away. In How Jews Became White Folks and What That Says about Race in America, Karen Brodkin discusses how Jewish people moved into a position of prosperity in the United States:
Although changing views on who is white made it easier for

Euro-ethnics to become middle-class, economic prosperity also played a very powerful role in the whitening process. The economic mobility of Jews and other Euro-ethnics derived ultimately from America's postwar economic prosperity and its enormously expanded need for professional, technical, and managerial labor, as well as government assistance in providing it. (4)

If I am not mistaken, my family is still waiting to receive the forty acres and a mule granted freed slave households by the government under "Special Order 15" during the Civil War. Meant to enable them to work the land, that order was quickly abrogated after the war. While Jews and people of color, especially African Americans, can see parallels in their struggles, people of color did not share in the whitening process or the economic prosperity Brodkin describes, and that has led to deep divisions between them and the Jews in terms of class as well as race and religion. Because of this, antisemitic views are way up in the African-American community and climbing in the communities of other people of color. Embrace of this new whiteness by Jewish institutions and synagogues has a trickle-down effect on how other minority groups view Jews. A large percentage of people of color see the Jews not as a minority, but as wealthy white people who are running the country. I would be a wealthy woman if I had a dollar for every time I have been asked, "How can you be black and Jewish? Look at what the Jews are doing to Palestine!" It is shocking to people of color when they find out that I am, yes, Jewish. When I give my "Cliff-note" speech on the diversity of the Jewish community, it is mind-boggling to them. Their image of a Jew is that of a white Ashkenazi Jewish man sitting at the Shabbos table. I admit that before I met my first rabbi, I just knew he was going to look like the Baal Shem Tov, sidelocks and all, But that is partly because the mainstream Jewish community keeps the diversity in the Jewish community a secret. How can people outside the community know about Jews of color, when even Jews do not know about them? Embracing whiteness also plays out in the psyche of the Jewish population. As generations pass, whiteness will be implicit, remaining unquestioned. When I mention that quite a few of my older friends who are Jewish do not consider themselves white, my contemporaries cannot grasp that as a concept. Their response, usually, is: "What do you mean, Jews are not white?" The question of when Jews became "white" is disappearing. Perhaps no one will want to ask it as Jews garner ever more important titles and prosperity in assimilated WASP environments. When I speak with white Ashkenazi feminists from various backgrounds-rich, poor, queer, working class, etc.--I find that they have an abundance of knowledge about racism. They can quote books and lectures about how, why, and where racism exists. What is disheartening is that some of those same feminists are at times the biggest offenders, in terms of racism, tokenism, and even sexism, when it comes to dealing with non-white Ashkenazi Jews as well as with other Jewish minority groups. In some of the negative situations that I have experienced, it has been a white Ashkenazi woman who was holding me back. Recently, I worked with a group of white Ashkenazi women on a project. While the women loved the information that I gave them on Jews of color and how to involve them in the project, I found that I was consistently being left out of important meetings with other organizations. After

one of those meetings, I was approached by one of the women to write an article on my experience as a Jew of color--an idea that had come up during the meeting. As I saw it, if I was not good enough to be at the meeting to share my thoughts, then I was not good enough to write the article they had planned in my absence. I felt tokenized: Only when they wanted a show off a person of color was I included in "their" cause. I am not certain that the women's action was intentional; only they can answer that. I have found that when certain people label themselves "liberal," they seem to feel that they have the right to do whatever they want or say whatever they want, as though their actions or words had some kind of immunity because they are helping people of color. One evening, as we talked with other Jews of color, my dear friend who is white Ashkenazi and Chinese remarked that some of the feminists interested in communities of people of color are not "emotionally" connected with them. I believe we did a high five, because we felt as though that observation hit the nail on the head. As the saying goes, "you can empathize, but you cannot sympathize." Like Jewish people, people of color have a bond between themselves. All it can take is a nod. a look, or a simple "uh." Since we share the experience of racism in our everyday lives, we relate in words both spoken and unspoken. While white Ashkenazi feminists have book knowledge of racism, there is a disconnection between how they deal with racism and how they experience it. That disconnection takes several forms. I believe that one culprit is language. When I read books or other literature by and about Jewish feminists, I do not feel as though I am included. Usually, they ring of east European Jewish heritage. To state that Jewish feminists have fought to identify as and with minority women but often find themselves rejected is problematic in itself. I am a Jewish feminist for whom rejection by communities of people of color is not an issue. If not all Jewish feminists, regardless of race, culture, sexual orientation, and class, are included in the communication, how can there not be tension within the feminist community? For example, at a study group I recently attended, I sat in a room full of Jewish women leaders who are out in the community stirring things up. The conversation was about Israel's national anthem and whether it should be changed to include everyone. I, the only Jew of color in the room, seemed to be the only one there who wanted to point out that the anthem forces Mizrahi Jews to choose one of their identities over the other. Is that fair? When I said the word "Mizrahi," confusion started to gather in many faces. It is alarming to me that more than half of the women in the room did not know who is included in the Mizrahi Jewish population or had not heard of Mizrahi Jews. One woman immediately responded that they surely identified more strongly as being Jewish. Before I was able to point out that they may never have been given a choice, the conversation was halted. Our group leader said a few words about Mizrahi Jews, and then the subject was quickly changed. How easy it was for the group of white Ashkenazi women to push aside certain topics to run back to the comfort zone. Jewish feminists are thought of as being outspoken on improving conditions for the world's most marginalized people. Recently, my Jewish sisters of color and I have been sharing notes on the problems that we have had with white Ashkenazi feminists. We have gotten racist comments and been tokenized or marginalized by women we thought had our backs. I ask white Jewish feminists: What have you done for us lately? What have you done for us just to be "sisters" who

support us? Why do we feel as though there are conditions for receiving that support, as though something is expected of us? As a "triple minority," an African-American Jewish woman, I feel I have the right to ask this question. I do not mean to be condescending. It is meant as something to think about. We humans all want something from someone, but is the give and take equal? Why are women of color constantly asked to overlook issues or embrace ideas or people that have damaged us for as long as anyone can remember? There may not be answers to these questions for now, but they must be asked. Maybe it is simply that something has been lost in communication, or that there is a lack of communication between Jewish women and women of color. A new solution might be for Jewish feminists to spend more time educating ignorant people in our own community about diversity and less time trying to sell women of color on the concept that we are all one united team. If we, as Jewish feminists, cannot even get our issues of diversity within the community in tack, how can we reach out to other minority women? They will and do sense "our conflicts" a mile away. The challenge for us is to rake care of our own healing. In the words of Rodney King, "Can't we all just get along'?" As Jewish feminists, we also need to be better publicists. We need to learn the art of selfpromotion, which, I believe, would help create a bridge between Jewish and women of color feminists. Jewish feminists have been donating to organizations like the Jewish Women's Foundation, the Jewish Fund for Justice, Hadassah, Lilith Magazine, and the list goes on. These organizations have contributed to Jews of color or people of color communities. Lilith Magazine can display its contributions, but for the other organizations it is not so easy. I have been a member of several Jewish organizations while still having no idea of the work that they do for people of color communities. For example, I only recently found out about the collaboration between Hadassah and the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry (NACOEJ). After being part of the Hadassah Leadership Academy for almost two years and attending the financial report presentation at the Hadassah Convention, I had no idea of the organization's contributions to Jews of color in Israel. I was not the only woman surprised by this information. To be sure, I could have learned it by dissecting the annual report itself, but who has the time for that? Hadassah Magazine usually has a piece about Jews of color in Israel, which is commendable, but writing about people and contributing financially to their communities to help get them out of poverty are quite different things. That is important information that should be told. I happened to be surfing the website of an organization for underprivileged children of color where I was going to be speaking, and only there did I find out that my synagogue's women's auxiliary contributes a large amount of money to the organization. Recently, I gave a diversity workshop for children of color at the Washington Heights YM/YWHA in New York. The leader of the group was excited to find out that I was Jewish and asked me to say a little about it. He wanted me to speak about Jews, because most of the children did not know they were at a Jewish facility and did not have much interaction with the Jews there. Such examples are endless. If Jewish feminists do these acts of tikkun olam and tzedakah and only tell each other, opportunities will be missed. I do not mean that we should pat each other on the back out of vanity. There needs to be a better communication process, so that individuals from other minority groups will know that Jewish feminists are ready, willing, and able to contribute to their communities. People, especially those unaffiliated with the Jewish community, are not going to pore over financial reports or look at the small print that acknowledges our contributions. While

it is great to write a check, dialogue and interaction with the people we are helping should also be a goal. Speak up and be seen. It is important to keep the communication going and growing, so that when Jewish feminists approach women of color feminists, the foundation of the bridge will have been laid for the work we need to do. A good example of controversy within the feminist world, especially among Jewish feminists, is that occasioned by Rebecca Walker. The daughter of African-American feminist activist and writer Alice Walker and of Mel Leventhal, a white Ashkenazi Jew, Rebecca has proudly followed in her mother's footsteps by becoming involved with feminist causes. She is a founder of The Third Wave, an activist group whose members, with the 1997 publication of a collection of essays entitled The Third Wave Agenda, sought to establish themselves as different from Second Wave feminists, in that they made room for contradictions. Recently, Walker caused a stir within the Jewish feminist world with her memoir, Black, White, and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self. in which she describes how neither the white Jewish nor the African-American community fully accepted her. Recalling more than a few unpleasant experiences in the Jewish community, she records that when her parents married, her white Ashkenazi grandmother sat shiva. After the book came out, it was on the tips of Jewish feminist tongues everywhere. Some readers felt betrayed by Walker for her allegations of harsh words by Jewish women. I found it interesting to compare the reviews of her book published in two Jewish feminist sources, Lilith Magazine and Bridges, which have both been above mark in writing about the diversity that exists within the Jewish community. In the review in Lilith, entitled "Portrayed or Betrayed: How Jewish Women Fare in Rebecca Walker's Black, White, and Jewish," Charlotte HonigmanSmith, a feminist who is white Ashkenazi and Catholic, repeats several times what she had imagined Walker would write about. "Where is the book I wanted Rebecca to write?" she asks, and she protests:
By the end of the book, Walker declares that she feels no connection "with whiteness, with what Jewishness has become." I cannot see any indication in this book that she has the right to say "what Jewishness has become." (5)

I found that comment odd. Maybe Walker was trying to emphasize that she felt like an outsider in the Jewish community because she does not fit into the Ashkenazi mold. While we could go on debating what Walker may have meant, perhaps the most important thing, ultimately, is that since she is a Jew, she has a right to her opinion about what Judaism has become. Judaism has a different definition for each of us, which is one of the beautiful things about the religion. The review in the Bridges special issue of "Writing and Art by Jewish Women of Color," by Shahanna McKinney, a biracial women who is African American and white Ashkenazi, went in a different direction. While McKinney did have hopes and expectations of Walker's memoir, she also accepted it unconditionally:
My hope is that Walker's non-analysis of her identity development in this work is an aware refusal to graft her life story onto an extension of the tragic mulatta image--the Black and Jewish "movement baby," whose "life meaning dropped out from under her as

the Civil Rights movement died down" and who is finally old enough to explain what happened to the Black-Jewish coalition from the good old days and why Black people are so darn angry. Walker just tells her story, without analysis and without apologetics. Ultimately, we must wish her a mazal tov on the subversive act. (6)

I believe that the two reviews, taken together, make an interesting statement about what has caused tension between white Jewish feminists and women of color, and also about the state of Jewish women as a community. Honigman-Smith has a right to her opinion about the hook, but doesn't Walker have a right to tell her story--not the story that someone else wanted her to write? This brings me back to my question about who sets our conditions. In my work with Jews of color, I have found that others have had experiences like Walker's. It is time for us to face the reality of what has happened to children in our community who are "different": They tend to have identity crises. Honigman-Smith also comments that Walker failed to acknowledge her economic privilege or the advantages that came with being Alice Walker's daughter. In reality, however, being "mixed race" cancels out economic privilege. The United States is a country that is obsessed with what race people are. If you have a drop of any "ethnic" blood coursing though your veins, that can define who you are and how people see you. Halle Berry, a famous mixed-race woman, has said that there are still stores where people will not wait on her and that she has been called a nigger. Because of her African ancestry, her white parent is irrelevant; society sees her as a black woman. As for Rebecca Walker, to the Jews she was not authentically Jewish, while to African Americans she was not black, because of her white parent. Both communities thought of her as "the other." However, it is clear from the book that the times she spent with her mother and her father, respectively, presented her with quite different environments in terms of the definitions of class and race in each. McKinney declared that she cried while reading sections of Walker's book, and that the existence of an icon who looks something like her made her feel vindicated. I admire Walker for her courage to speak about issues that we continue to bury in the Jewish community. The question "What does a Jew look like?" will be in constant debate as whiteness grows within our community. Jewish institutions and organizations tend to hang on to the European images of Jewry. Educated individuals who know that there are Jews of different races still tell me that I do not look Jewish. Being a part of a community that will not recognize your presence leaves wounds. In Walker's case, it seems that the wounds are still open, and the negative reactions to her book by some white Jewish feminists must have poured salt into them. I may not agree with everything she said about Jewish women, but this was her experience, l accept that as truth and wonder what I can do to create change, so that other Jewish children of color will not have to go through the same thing. Who is Honigman-Smith to ask, "Where is the book that I wanted Rebecca Walker to write?" It sounds yet again like white Ashkenazi privilege attempting to define the rights of "the others" within Judaism. Is it because McKinney and I are women of color that we accept Walker's memoir unconditionally, even though we may have had certain hopes and expectations of it? I hope there will be a day when Jewish feminists, regardless of background, have the right to be our true selves, without any conditions being placed upon us.

If we Jewish feminists want to end the tense dialogue, we need to ask ourselves: "Am I my sister's keeper?" A good place to start would be to open the lines of communication about the diversity of our own Jewish community. The work we do is not all about the marches, the speeches, the argument with the man: it is also about our sisters in the movement with us, about remembering to humanize the movement. Above all, in setting out, as a Jewish feminist, to practice tikkun olam and tzedakah--reach out for another woman's hand, for the fight reasons, devoid of any conditions upon anyone, even yourself. Everything will then begin to fall into place. You will be actively answering the question. Notes (1.) Naomi Wolf, Fire With Fire: The New Female Power and How to Use It (New York: Random House, 1993), p. 58. (2.) Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Deborah, Golda, and Me: Being Female and Jewish in America (New York: Crown, 1991), pp. 236-237. (3.) Quoted in Ruth Rosen, The World Split Open: How the Modern Women's Movement Changed America (New York: Viking, 2000), p. 278. (4.) Karen Brodkin, How Jews Became White Folks and What that Says about Race in America (Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1999), p. 37. (5.) Charolotte Honigman-Smith, "Portrayed or Betrayed: How Jewish Women Fare in Rebecca Walker's Black, White, and Jewish," Lilith Magazine, 26/2 (2001), p. 16. (6.) Shahanna McKinney, "Black, White, and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self," Bridges, 9/1 (2001), p. 114.