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Of the dozens of rabbis I know personally and professionally, I knew Rabbi Avi Katz Orlow would have a meaningful perspective; I’ve always been inspired by his pulse on questions that concern vulnerability, authenticity and voice. This complicates and questions my authenticity and desire to speak out when I – an American Jew – am not inherently part of that space.
I explain to Avi that I recognize I’m part of a disembodied Jewish diaspora. Avi helps me realize that I keep blaming everyone else for making me silent – American Jews, right-wing Zionists, left-wing American activists.
On the other side I worried I’d alienate Palestinian friends whose families live in the West Bank; Muslim and Arab friends who are racially profiled and fear daily for their lives.
I also get paychecks from organizations whose leaders are outwardly anti-occupation. Over the past six months, I formally interviewed eighteen people – American Jews, Israelis, Palestinian Americans, Arabs, Muslims, Christians, anti-occupation activists, Pro-Israel activists, Zionists, rabbis and others, in an attempt to understand this great lack of honest discourse.
I come from a bloodline of idealists, which hits me every time I read my grandfather’s letter.
On September 8, 1945, six days after World War II officially ended, my grandfather writes his dad a letter, wishing him a Happy New Year, telling him he attended services at the Munich opera house with two thousand other soldiers and refugees: “Yes Dad, I’ll long remember observing the high holidays in Munich, one of the centers of Hitler’s Nazism.” He also mentions the 55,000 displaced Jews still stranded in camps in Bavaria, and asks his father to send him not cash, but clothes, soap and toothpaste for those in need.It could take years to explain, record, and understand all of this…However, I think that I’ve come to a general conclusion, for the present moment that is…I believe in God. While a lot has changed since that spring-break trip with my parents and siblings, I still don’t know what kind of Jew I am. I now write “G-d” without the “o” out of honor and respect. I bless my food when I eat, my hands hovering over the plate. As an internationally touring spoken word poet, activist, journalist, and educator, I have spent my life and career speaking publicly about being a rape survivor and about my decade-long eating disorder.I share my most personal experiences and thoughts; I speak up and out for people of color and queer rights, about dismantling ableism, transphobia, classism, violence and war, to create a just world where everyone can choose to share their own stories and truths. But…I was mistaken…I didn’t realize Jerusalem is HOLY to so many other religious movements…I question why this controversy over Jerusalem is so violent…I cannot begin to explain how much of my own personal religious beliefs I have reflected upon in the past two days. But I don’t know what kind of a Jew I am.” I’m 33 now. And still I grapple with this: am I the kind of Jew who remains silent, or the kind of Jew who speaks?
It’s as if the air brings total peace to my body…It’s as if my heritage is my medicine soothing my complaints…I always thought this was HOME and HOLY only to the Jews.Having always admired Sara’s social justice work, I sat down with them at their apartment in Chicago on a sweltering summer day.