Jewish People and Black People Share Intergenerational Trauma, Which Makes Black Lives Matter a Jewish Issue, too.

When I was a kid, I accidentally wore my Jewish star necklace in a passport photo. My mom didn’t notice until after the photo was taken. That’s the first time I remember being told that some people hate Jews just for being Jews, and some countries would not let me in or out if they knew. Luckily, the passport photo was small enough that the necklace wasn’t visible.

MOTHER WITH BABIES, 1974, ROMAN HALTER

When I first started dating I asked my mom, “do I have to only date Jews?” Her response was that she’ll share what her mother told her: I didn’t have to only date Jews, but 6 million Jews died for being Jewish, which means Jewish family members were taken too soon. If I marry a Jewish person and have Jewish children, I would be doing a mitzvah (good deed.)

In High School, a classmate made a fake myspace profile of me named “Ingrid Jewburger” and talked about turning me into smoke. My family wasn’t surprised that someone could put that evil into the world and explained that this was a lesson about being cautious.

The Jews, collectively, have been in pain. In 2018, a gunman opened fire on the congregation at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 Jews while they were praying on Shabbos. The act of terror didn’t surprise me or start a new fear for me. Rather, it confirmed a fear that my ancestors had warned me about. It confirmed a fear that the Jewish people have always been training for. As anti semitism continues to rise in the US, many Jews have been asking themselves “will I know when it’s time to run?” and “Have I learned enough from my ancestors about what to look for?”

Just as my parents had explained to me, I find myself explaining to my convert husband to make sure our passports are always up to date and to do our best to have emergency money tucked away. This planning is a trauma response triggered by the intergenerational trauma that holocaust surviving grandparents passed on to their children, and which was then passed on to their grandchildren.

Two nights a year, we gather around a table with our family and read a story about when Jews were slaves in Egypt. We recline with comfort and cushions while taking stock of our privilege. There are so many stories that include “and they tried to kill the Jews.” That’s the knowledge that we carry with us wherever we go. Crises where Jews were enslaved or forced to flee their homes have been traced back for over 2000 years, and Jewish tradition influences us to continuously remember and reflect on the tragedies and oppression our people have survived. Our traditions frame our history as resilient.

Learning about the trauma we inherit from our parents and grandparents teaches values in anti-bigotry because it exposes us to the fact that even small acts of anti semitism can have dangerous systematic implications. There is a concept in Judaism called Tikkun Olam, which translates to “repair the world.” Tikkun Olam is the motivation behind much of Jewish giving and social activism, because responsibility is on both the Jewish individual and on the Jewish people as a unified community to do good for this world. Along that same logic, Jewish people can’t be separated from the bad behavior of individual Jews. There’s an understanding among Jewish communities that when one Jewish person acts badly, it creates risk for hatred of all Jews. Just look back at the scandal of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. His crimes served as a “lighting-rod for anti-semitism,” fueling harmful stereotypes that date back to biblical times, encouraging “acceptable” Jewish bias. Our actions speak on behalf of many and have lasting impact, so we must work to be good to the world so the world sees the Jewish people as good.

Image by Adam Garvey

16 year old, Adam Garvey, understands Tikkun Olam as a direct call to support Black Lives Matter because “standing up against injustice is a huge part of Jewish values.” Garvey understands that policy change and being vocal against bigotry is positive representation of Jewish core beliefs. He’s using his statement “Tikkun Olam means Black Lives Matter” to raise funds for the NAACP.

As protests soar across the US (and the world,) it’s undeniable that white consciousness of racial injustice is growing. The similarities between Black trauma and Jewish trauma are palpable. Black people demand we Say Their Names: George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade as they mourn over the same sentiment that Jews have expressed, that they’re not surprised but rather tired and rightfully angry.

In Jewish history, numbers hold symbolic value. Romans destroyed a Jewish temple and the oil menorah burnt miraculously for eight nights. Jews wandered the desert displaced for 40 years. Six million Jews were tortured and murdered during a holocaust, creating a need for the word “genocide.”

The history of racism against Black people has some astounding numbers, too. 246 years of slavery in America. Black people are three times more likely to be killed by police than white people. Black mothers are 3.2 times more likely to die during childbirth than white mothers. Jews can be racist against other Jews, too. In Israel, 90% of Ethiopian Jewish youth convicted by the court were sentenced to imprisonment, compared to one-third of other Jewish youth. Racial Trauma plagues a community when they have to gather statistical data about their race being systematically and lethally oppressed to prove theres is a national and system-wide problem, while simultaneously having to demand to be treated as a person and not a number. Monnica T. Williams, PhD, ABPP says racial trauma is the reason why people of color have a higher rate of PTSD than white Americans.

The fear Jews hold is internalized because our intergenerational trauma has trained us that we always need to exercise a degree of censorship on our Jewishness, to protect us from possible anti semitism. It’s as little as knowing I shouldn’t wear a star of David necklace in a passport photo and the thought that if the wrong person knew we were Jewish, they might come after us, too.

The keyword in knowing that Jews experience oppression differently than Black people is “too,” as we are reminded every day that Black lives are stolen at a disproportionate rate while white Jews benefit from our privilege. Our own internalized fear makes racial injustice feel so personal, especially if you’re a Black Jewish person who has to navigate the fear of anti semitism, racial injustice at a national scale, AND micro-aggressions from your own Jewish community. Addressing these differences are instrumental within activism for policy change because they afford white Jews privilege that can be used to uplift Black people, which includes Black Jews. We may all share similar fears about white supremacy, but we have unequal power in social agency.

Judaism could be considered a religion and a culture, with a geopolitical force. Diaspora (which Black people have also experienced in their history,) created a racially diverse Jewish people, which has made the Jewish community torn on whether anti semitism is racism. Intergenerational oppression has occurred differently for Jewish people than Black people and other people of color, as many of us are able to walk in public without being detected as Jews. At the same time the media was quick to blame Jewish people for the spread of Covid, someone explained to me, “I didn’t know you were Jewish! You don’t look Jewish!”

Jewish people can be riddled with fear, planning for the next time we have to run from something, and yet so many of my friends have told me they’d like to be Jewish. I find myself repeatedly explaining to my convert husband that we need to have exit strategies, just in case. While Adam Sandler’s Chanukah song plays for laughs sandwiched between sets of a dozen Christmas jingles: “All Jewish people are funny and rich!” with no recognition that there’s lifelong planning to feel safe as a proud Jew in the world.

When I first saw white people sharing the compassionate quote, “I understand that I’ll never understand, but I stand with you,” I felt like I did have some understanding. After some self-reflection, I recognized that though I was taught to be alert for signs of anti semitism, it doesn’t compare to a black mother training her black child how to talk to those who protect and serve not to shoot you for existing.

I can acknowledge my privilege and that I benefit from racism as a white person, while also understanding that as a Jewish person, I experience forms of oppression.

Many well-meaning Pittsburghers shared a Pittsburgh Strong Jewish graphic after the Tree of Life shooting, yet I’m still meeting people who think I’m the first Jewish person they’ve ever met. It makes me wonder, is anti semitism less of a threat than racism or is the violence labeled less as a hate crime because who knows the face of a Jew? I’m still trying to understand this phenomena, but I think it speaks to a level of privilege that allows me to censor my Judaism to protect me from the dangers of anti semitism.

We have a reoccurring joke in my house: When examining the Torah or Jewish history, the Jews are always being hunted. “What a surprise!” one of us will exclaim. “Haman wanted all the Jews dead!” I can understand that there’s no humor in a sarcastic joke like that for Black people, when white Jewish people have a dark history of minstrel shows and blackface. Though Jewish and Black people have experienced similar crises and oppression, white Jews have to own up that we’ve used our privilege to keep Black people down in social equity.

At the height of my fear in 2018, I wrote “There are times where the world seems so small, but in these times of crisis it feels gigantic. It feels scary and unpredictable. Each time someone sings a song of peace or a Jew leaves their house even though they’re scared, the world gets smaller and more comfortable again.”

For Black people mourning lives that shouldn’t have been taken, there is no place proven to be safe for them. They’re pulled from their cars, held down and suffocated in the streets, and shot while they’re sleeping in bed.

For Jews, we call on our ancestors to teach us how to stay safe.
Molly S. Castelloe Ph.D. says, “Transgenerational transmissions take on life in our in dreams, in acting out, in ““life lessons”” given in turns of phrase and taught us by our family. Discovering transmission means coming to know and tell a larger narrative, one from the preceding generation.” We read the Torah or listen to our grandparents for experiences on how to protect ourselves when people come for us. Black crisis is happening right now, in front of our eyes, relentlessly for more than 400 years. While our plight has similar themes from diaspora to micro-aggression, it is not the same. They’re not holding life lessons from their parents and looking out for a possibly dangerous white person that they may encounter. Hundreds of years of consistent community crises at a universal, unconditional level means that there are no trustworthy white people.

Internalized and intergenerational trauma gives Jewish people the unique ability to transfer our learned coping to lift up Black folks. Since Jews have experienced similar community violence and oppression across generations, we have the tools to educate white people about racism so that Black people don’t have to carry that labor. We have an understanding of mourning the result of large-scale hatred, so we can hold space and take on some of the work. All the while, we must recognize that Black people who are also Jewish carry the weight of thousands of years of this trauma, without specific hashtag activism to support support them.

White Jews owe black people reparations because we’ve had a hand in racism and have benefited from it. White Jews should be a source of compassion and a proponent of social change in support of all Black people with direct donations, emotional energy, and sharing the intergenerational healing we’ve learned from our story-telling traditions. Tikkun Olam DOES mean that not only do Black Lives Matter, but that any other viewpoint is against Jewish ethics and therefore, a Jewish issue.

Bitchtopia Exclusive: An Interview with Bulletproof Stockings, the Chasidic Band for All Women

As anti-Semitism is on the rise all over the world, it’s unexpected to see a Chasidic women’s indie band being covered on every news station in the NY tri-state area. Perl Wolfe and Dalia Shusterman make up the band Bulletproof Stockings, which performs music for all women, by women, is making men feel excluded all over the globe. When Dalia and Perl met, it wasn’t over bonding about finding husbands or the perfect sheitel. It was about making music without alienating their beliefs. Since forming the band in 2011, they’ve created a strong community of women, both religious and secular. What’s really causing a stir about their music is not that women are singing, but that their audience is preferred to be women-only. On August 7th, their Manhattan show at Arlene’s Grocery was one of the most talked about music events of the week.

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I was thrilled when the duo agreed to speak with me about finding pitch in a community that normally doesn’t have female musicians. For women everywhere, they’re living proof that women can go out into the world and succeed, and that it’s a man’s duty to respect that. Even so, their project isn’t entirely focused on religion. While their tunes do have personal meaning that reflects their beliefs, it’s important to note that their modesty doesn’t effect how totally and awesomely punk their mission is. As Perl and Dalia put it, their music “is for all women, regardless of sexual orientation, religious affiliation, race, or interest. You just have to be a girl, and into what we’re doing… as long as you’re a women and you want to have a good time, and want to be a part of the sisterhood.” Their goal is to give women a safe space in a rock ‘n roll setting, and that’s something all women who have ever wanted to go to a show untouched and unbothered can really admire and appreciate.

Most Chasidic communities don’t have much exposure to pop culture. How did both of you start listening to indie music?

Perl: My parents were into us being cultured, so we were not as strict. We had a television. I went to the movies with my family, we listened to classical music and some oldies. I wasn’t religious for most of my teens. I listen to a lot of secular music. There were times when I was in high school and they would make it more strict, for me to get along in my school.

Dalia: Doing it [music] in this way is the best because I’m able to marry both worlds. Once I became religious, I would think “What in the world…,” I would daven [pray,] and think “what am I supposed to do with all this music?” HaShem kept putting me on stages. Thank g-d I was a wife and I became a mother. I was definitely busy with great things, but I still had this music. [Bulletproof Stockings] is the miracles of miracles.

bps_5Have you heard of any groups doing all-female events before?

Perl: No. There are women who make music, but not in the same way or capacity. None of it [their music] is crossover. They’re more folk. The lyrics tend to be more overtly religious. Some of them we’ve put on for the first time.

Dalia: We’re able to make a platform for other women to get out.

The mitzvah of Kol Isha is what motivates you to play shows strictly for women only. How do you feel about men listening to your recorded music?

Perl: It’s not an issue at all. It’s not on the women at all, according to Halacha (Jewish law). If a guy had to listen to it, he’d have to leave. It’s not on us. We’re allowed to make a living. We’ve chosen to do this women-only thing because we see, through being Frum (religious,) we see the value in women having time with other women. It’s not to say men and women can’t socialize, but it’s not something our community does casually. We’re not trying to discriminate against men, as much as we’re trying to give other women the ability to experience empowering women in our environment.

Did you feel that shutting down Arlene’s Grocery to men was simply for religious reasons or was it a call for sisterhood?

Dalia: We didn’t put any title or signs. People who know how to operate just understood. and they respected. We were worried, for monetary reasons. We really made the case. we were going to bring the women. Thank g-d, they came. They packed the room. Everyone was nicer. No one is battling with each other to prove how “Mate-able” they were. I’m assuming women are most relaxed when together [with other women]. It was just women hanging out and having fun. A total girl party. I heard one of the audience members say, “yeah, little girls club. It’s cute. I like it.” It was universal sisterhood.

Did you expect such a huge social impact?

Perl: For women, we’re not surprised. We understand how empowering it is. This [The Arlene’s Grocery show] was a very diverse crowd, which was good. Women react very strongly because of the rock music aspect and [we gave them the space] to be able to dance and release that energy. As far as media, we were hoping we’d get to sell out. We had no idea the magnitude of this. During rehearsal, we couldn’t even look at our phones anymore. It was non-stop notifications. Wall Street Journal released a tsunami of press.

Do either of you identify as feminist and what does that mean for you, especially as observant Jewish women?

Dalia: I don’t know if we even need the title. It occurs in Judaism. Women are seen as leaders. It’s in the way we run our households. There is no question what women bring to the table. There is also the notion that social change, or the meshiach, [messiah] is going to come through the women.

Perl: What we’re working towards, it’s going to be through the women. I know a lot of people were assuming we were doing it this way because of something we were against. People were arguing both, that we were being kept down by men and that we should apologize to the men. For us, it’s not about having to prove anything. We’re women. Let’s embrace that. We’re naturally super cool. This is casual for us. Find a way to use that and make your mark in the world.

Dalia: Secular society wants to blur whatever lines they can. Why blur them? Celebrate what distinguishes you from everyone else. There is no need to try to fit a mold.  This is not an amorphous. There is a trajectory. This is just a starting point.

Bulletproof-Stockings

You can buy their music on amazon here. You can listen to their music and watch videos on their YouTube here.

You can follow them on Facebook here, or follow them on Twitter here.

The next Bulletproof Stockings’ Ladies’ Night Out will be Wednesday, September 10th and Bar Matchless. It’s at 557 Manhattan Ave in Brooklyn, NY. Any women and all women are invited to join and experience what a female safe-space is like at a rock show.

A גולדה (Golda) by Any Other Name

When my mom was pregnant, she started a diary. It evolved as a way for her to write to a future, older me about the milestones that would take place throughout my lifetime. On occasion, my dad wrote in it, too, and continued to do so after her passing. It’s one of the most sentimental things in my home, and I could spend an entire novel trying to unpack my feelings on the words she’s left behind. However, while rereading it around the time of my wedding, I came across an entry that made me chuckle.

Monday, May 13, 1996

Dear Gracie,

Actually, it’s Grace now. In the last few weeks, you’ve decided to be called Grace because it’s shorter. Not because it’s more mature sounding or because you like the way it sounds better, simply because it’s shorter. Writing that “i” just takes too long!

This hasn’t been the only struggle I’ve had with my name. Like most secular American Jews, I was given two names when I was born: an English name and a Hebrew name. My English name, Grace, is for my great-grandfather, Gus, and my former middle name, my pre-taking-my-maiden-name-as-my-middle-name name, Jocelyn, comes from another great-grandpa, Joe. My Jewish name, Golda, is the direct result of the merging of my mom’s Zionist and feminist views; I’m named after Golda Meir.

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As Israel’s first and only female prime minister, she’s nothing short of controversial (although, to be fair, everything is controversial in Israel). Described as “the best man in the government” by former Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, she was a feisty old woman with some of most insightful one-liners imaginable.

In my journey towards becoming more observant in my Judaism, I’ve felt pressure to change my name. Me: the one who, up until about a year ago, balked at the idea of changing my last name upon marriage. Most of it is internal, although there has been some external suggestion from well-meaning Jews who have either done the same or have only ever had a Jewish name.

I first toyed with the idea in 2012 when, after attending a funeral at a church, realized that the word “grace” meant more than just the dictionary definition of “simple elegance of refinement of movement.” Given that I’m a complete klutz 90% of the time, the definition didn’t really suit me well to begin with. But this new, Christian definition I was suddenly hearing grated on me. Every other word was my name, and I realized exactly how un-Jewish the connotation was.

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After the funeral, I went to the car and called my dad, telling him that I wanted to be Golda. However, after changing it on Facebook, Golda didn’t really feel like me. It was foreign, and I already knew everyone as my English name. So, after about a week, I quietly went back to Grace.

In seminary earlier this year, I was taught that a name has a direct connection to the soul. While reading about my family history, I discovered that they used secular names outside of the home while fleeing religious persecution during the Inquisition, but resumed using their Jewish names when they came to America. If they could change their names to reflect their newfound religious freedom, why couldn’t I?

My husband calls me Gracie, and I like it. Being Golda isn’t something I’m opposed to, and it’s even something I’m considering trying again in the future. Whichever name I end up going by, my identity is sound: I am a strong, proud Jewish woman, with just a little bit of spunk, courtesy of my namesake.

Not Just Jew-“ish”

Update June 3rd 2020: This post was originally written in 2013 after a Birthright trip to Israel. My views have changed and evolved since writing this piece. I am keeping this archived post available for accountability & for recognition that I can learn from my experiences and my past.


We all have that one personality trait or interest that is so distantly far from MOST of who we are, that our friends are super surprised to learn about it. It’s like learning that the valedictorian has a deep love for Jerry Springer or that your therapist has an addiction to pulling out strands of hair when he is nervous.

For me, it’s that I’m an active feminist and I’m also proudly Jewish. I had a Bat Mitzvah when I was 12- one that I didn’t fight my parents on. I can read Hebrew and was even elected President of my Hebrew school when I was a senior in high school. In college, I worked for a Jewish organization and I went to Shabbos (the sabbath) dinner every week. Long story short: I’ve always been involved with the observant Jewish community, even though my political beliefs might point everywhere but to religion.

Growing up proudly Jewish in America usually means growing up Zionist. Many would say that by going to certain Sunday schools, a child can be “brainwashed” into protesting for Israel to stay an independent Jewish state. I never felt brainwashed. I had visited Israel twice before the age of 18, because my parents knew it was important for me to see the country and learn about my history. Like most children and teenagers, I could have cared less.

A few days ago, I returned from my third trip to The Holy Land of Israel. During the ten-day trip, I discovered many new reasons why I call Israel “home”, even now that I have returned to the United States. (I can assure you that I wasn’t brainwashed.) I was eager to find a better answer as to why I stood with Israel. Especially because most of my other political beliefs have evolved so much in the past few years, but I hadn’t updated any of my feelings about Israel since I was 15.

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I’m not one for sad stories, but on the day I visited the graves of fallen Israeli Defense Force soldiers, my heart broke into a million pieces. In Israel, citizens must join the army at 18 years old for two years. Since they’re entering the army at such a young age, most of the graves are for people under the age of 21. I listened to current soldiers speak, who expressed their pride to serve in the army. The new connection I had made from this adventure is that these soldiers are protecting the Jewish state of Israel because they understand why the land needs to be peaceful. Many of their parents or grandparents protected the land in their War of Independence, and they are proud to continue the legacy. My own grandfather was a solider in that war, which I learned after I returned home from this trip.

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The landscape throughout the State of Israel is incredible. While you’re floating around in the Dead Sea, you’re touching some of the lowest points on the globe. But, to get there, you have to drive on the side of some of the tallest cliffs. I grew up believing that the stories of the Bible and the Torah were just mumbo-jumbo written by some guy named Moses in order to teach people how to behave. While this trip didn’t make me believe that Adam and Eve really did eat some wonky apples, I did find it fascinating to look out on a land that has been walked on by many, many important characters which have been guiding the major religions for thousands of years. My given name comes from a woman, Rachel, who cried over this land. (I cried at one point too, coincidentally enough, but that story is for another post.)

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This picture was taken while I was riding a camel, which my partner and I named Two Chhhumps. Yes, the Hebrew “chh”, and yes, like Two Chains. If that’s not cool enough, that ground is part of the Negev, which is the biblical desert. One night, at two in the morning, I snuck off with 3 other adventurers, and we walked into the Negev. People have been sneaking off into this desert for over 3,000 years. (Don’t worry, everything we did out in that land was kosher.) I had never before been in a place where my great, great, great, great, great grandparents had walked before me. I’ve met many people who have rich histories, which date far back into the invention of pasta in Italy, but there was something magical in imagining that my ancestry could date back to the first humans, which have walked in this desert.

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Being Jewish is a part of the culture in Israel. In America, malls around the nation are closed on Christmas Eve and public schools get the entire week off. On Ash Wednesday, people proudly walk the streets with a cross of ash on their forehead. I’ve had to fight for extensions on papers because the due date was on Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year and part of the high holy days). My high school never acknowledged Holocaust Memorial Day, even though we had a handful of Jewish students. In Israel, memorial day is observed by the entire state. There are sirens that can be heard all over the country, and when they are heard, the people get out of their cars or stop what they’re doing and have a moment of silence. It’s one of the many small reminders of how important the State of Israel is as a community. I also think the picture above, which was taken by a street market in Tel Aviv, is just a small example of how much representation the Jews have. (When I past by, my first reaction was extreme fear and then I happened to fall in love with the statue. And all I got was this picture.)

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I cannot begin to tell you how many times in my life I’ve heard “You’re the first Jew I’ve ever met” or “Jewish? But you don’t even look like a Jew!” In Israel, it’s hard NOT to be exposed to Jews. And, when people think about Jews, their first representation is not an Ultra Orthodox Jew, with the “long curls on the side of their head” and a big black hat. Their idea of a Jew is any other person, going to school, in the army, living on a Kibbutz, or hiking across the country. (Which, apparently, Israelis love to do.)

I really just wanted to share some photos with you and give you my excuse for being absent from the site for 11 days, but I also wanted to share my new connection to what I know fondly call my second home. As a Jew, I get asked regularly what my opinion on the State of Israel is. I never had an answer because I never understood the connection to my roots. I might not have the full answer yet, but I am on my way to finding out.