14 August 2017


The Wild Hunt asked for a quote.

I got carried away.

My patron god is Hermes, god of communication, magic, and the agora, who sings to us in the packet-switched networks of the Internet. I ask him for clarity of speech and wings to bring these words where they are needed.

The god of my tribe, I inherited from my father. After the usage of the Chasidim, I call that god “Ha’Shem”, which means literally “the name”, because it is the tradition of my tribe never to speak the actual name “יהוה”. Ha’Shem has a well-deserved reputation for not playing well with others. But (after some negotiation) this god who does not accept icons and images has accepted an empty space of honor on my altar — the space above the space where I keep my offerings to Hermes, because Ha’Shem will brook no other gods before them.

Each year when the moon is right I do a magical ritual of my tribe called Pesach, or “Passover”. It celebrates the story of how Ha’Shem gave Moses a magic staff and told him to use it to liberate me from slavery. I say “me” because it is an important part of the ritual that I tell the story not as something that happened to other people but as something that happened to me. Pesach is not a Pagan observance but it has a flavor that speaks to my pagan sensibilities. We re-tell myths about magic, terror, and great deeds. We drink enough wine to elevate our spirits. We explain secret symbols. We sacrifice and eat symbolic ritual foods, the most famous of which is matzoh, the flat cracker which reminds me of one of the lessons of the myth: when the time comes to run from oppression, one should not wait long enough for the bread to rise.

A century ago my grandparents — perhaps mindful of that lesson — left the shtetls where they were born and sailed across the Atlantic to find a new life. No doubt they had cousins whose names I will never know who did not heed the lesson and would die in a genocide a few decades later.

I have been white all my life, but my father taught me his parents never were and that when he was young, neither was he. He told me this meant that it was something that could be taken away. And I read history, and learned about my lost cousins and millions more people in my tribe and countless others in other tribes and saw that this was true. I think about this every year at Pesach.

I think about this every day when I read the news.

Reading the news that way is not a new development since an election or a speech or some other thing. I have done it all my life because of what my father taught me. I think all American Jews, whether consciously or not, read the news asking themselves if it means that they don't have time for the bread to rise.

Today we are talking about Americans in Charlottesville who marched speaking the words and carrying the banner of my lost cousins’ murderers. As they promised, they drew blood. As police stood by.

My nation fought in the bloodiest war in history against soldiers who stood under that banner, but strangely as I write this the supposed leader of my nation has not found the words to condemn that banner or what it stands for.

You may be shocked by this; I understand if you are. I am not. I have known for a long time that these people who will have my blood too if they get their way have been gathering strength. I have scented it in the wind for years. There are millions of them, and millions more Americans who will be untroubled if they succeed.

If you are reading the Wild Hunt there is a good chance that they want your blood too. They won’t come for Pagans first, they think we are too silly. And frankly they won’t come for Jews first either.

That they have such a long list of people to kill that we would have to wait is no comfort.

Despite this I am letting the bread that will nourish me and my community rise, because several years ago I swore an oath to another god, the Morrígan, that I would fight fascism in my nation. As is so often true of the important oaths, I did not know the implications of what I swore.

The priestess who invoked the Morrígan that day later marked my skin with a symbol of that commitment, a white rose commemorating Sophie Scholl, a German who stood in resistance to the Nazis. Marking my skin is a violation of Ha’Shem’s laws for my tribe, and though he is accustomed to me violating those laws, this is one of special significance because Nazis forcibly marked the skin of my people in their murder factories.

As the priestess did the work and the rose took shape, she told me that she felt that my ancestors were awake to what was happening, conferring amongst themselves, and deciding that they understood.

I have no doubt that they do.

So, my Pagan brothers, sisters, and non-binary siblings, whom I know are far from silly, today I offer you the wisdom of my ancestors, and I offer you Hermes, Ha’Shem, the Morrígan, and two other gods I love.

One is the god Thomas Jefferson talked about despite not worshiping or believing existed. Our brilliant, monstrous, visionary American patriarch told us at least two things about his god. It endows us with inalienable rights. And Jefferson rightly trembled for his country when reflecting on this god's justice.

The other is Aphrodite. Most of us know her for her love for the lovers, but I recently learned another aspect of hers which I have come to adore: Aphrodite Pandēmos, god of all the people, whom I unverifiably personally gnosis as a god of democracy. Those who would levy war against her may benefit from reading the Illiad more carefully.

Hold fast. Love the gods and each other. And fuck fascism.

Some footnotes:

My friend Tori Egherman has another meditation on Jewishness, Whiteness, and America: A Home Safe From Fear.

“We were all seen as black,” my father explained to me. All those dark-haired children of immigrants.

His mother, my beloved grandmother, called Black people Schwartzes — black, in Yiddish. Despite her prejudices, she herself was often mistaken for “colored” and more than once was asked to ride at the back of the bus. In this day and age, the only place anyone would think she was black is Spokane, Washington or Ukraine.


And that’s the tip of the iceberg. It’s just what I can see. There have been so many ways I benefited with my apple cheeks and my Shirley Temple curls and my light skin. Most of them invisible to me. I still struggle, even with my privilege. It’s not as though I have no fears. It’s not as though I face no injustices.

A Twitter thread from Rabbi Dayna Ruttenberg:

Jews for most of the last 2000 years have been by and large unsafe and/or insecure. Times of being “tolerated” by the countries in which they found themselves interspersed with explusions, Inquisitions, pogroms. It was worse in Christian countries than Muslim countries but everywhere Jews were at the mercy of whoever was in charge there. Capped off notably for this thread by Jews in Germany who thought they were pretty secure, and then the Holocaust happened.

Major Jewish immigration wave happened in the late 19th-early 20th c, lots (not only, but lots) of folks running from persecution in Eastern Europe — pogroms and etc. US changed immigration laws in the 20s so eg most of those trying to escape the Nazis couldn’t get in.

Jews in the early 20th c. faced a lot of discrimination, both institutional and not. (Not of course worse than what Black folks were facing, but if I’m trying to build up to explain the mindset of the folks you’re describing, this is relevant). And then, particularly in post-WWII years the category of whiteness expanded in such a way that Jews were able to pass as less of a racialized other, collect privilege. This book is a good start, though it's old, I bet other folks have other suggestions. I think this was only possible because whiteness in the US was constructed against Black folk. AKA whiteness in the US could expand to include Jews of European descent in a way that it never would have in Europe because Black folk were even more “other” in the US.

And a lot of Jews — with centuries of inherited trauma & insecurity, facing discrimination in the US, reeling from 6 million Jews gassed and burned and shot in that same generation across the ocean — ran for that whiteness (& implied safety) with both hands.

Note that I don’t think that this mostly happened consciously at all. But it happened, & it happened at the expense of African-Americans. And I suspect that that explains a lot of the racism that has come out of some quadrants of the Jewish community, especially in past generations.

Note that it wasn’t everybody, by a long shot. Lots of Jews also got why our history should make us all the more obligated to stand in solidarity with Black folks — we repped disproportionately in the Civil Rights movement. And our greatest 20th c. Jewish American theologian (Abraham Joshua Heschel) was right in front with Dr. King in Selma etc etc etc. But it’s also true that mainstream Jewish institutions in that time did not take a stand, much as I wish they had. As today — some amazing Jewish orgs doing amazing work on racial justice, and other orgs still in “we have to focus on our own” mentality. Which — the Holocaust still touches everything. So much trauma and fear driving decisions, even today. It wasn’t so long ago.

Also not all Jews are white by a long shot — both Jews with roots from all over the world (Ethiopia, Yemen, Iraq, Uganda, India, Morocco etc etc etc) & interfaith families, conversions, adoptions, blended families, etc. Some estimate 20% of the community is Jews of color now.

So “Jews” and “race” is complicated, esp in a world where white supremecists consider us not-white and those of us of European descent collect white privilege every day in America. I self-ID as white bc of privilege, I don’t let Nazis define me. But it’s not straightforward.

Gonna end with a piece by @dove_kent (former ED of Jews for Racial & Economic Justice) that I love.

Also this thread presumes all the context of how antisemitism has been tangled up in Jewish class privilege (mostly imagined, occasionally real) since the Middle Ages. I break that down here.

A Twitter thread from S. I. Rosenbaum:

oh my god ok


When modern racial categories were being invented in Europe ~1492, they stuck Ashkenazim and Sephardic Jews in a separate category.

Up til WW2 Ashkenazim were viewed by whites as a racial category distinct from “white” and “colored.”

In the U.S, Ashkenazim have been assimilated to some extent to WASP culture and gradually afforded “white” status (on a conditional basis). We have many of the privileges of “regular” whites. Probably the best way to think of Ashkenazim in America is “white passing.”

But even when we’re “not white” we’re not “of color.” We revert to that separate racial category outside the “white/colored” dichotomy.

Alas, the rest of that thread has been lost to Rosenbaum having to hide it.


Angelia Sparrow said...

Thank you! My queer household is already wondering if we should let the bread rise or just take the starter along. We are queer and pagan and many of us are female-bodied or presenting. We have been watching with trepidation and laying plans.

Anne Newkirk Niven said...

Would you be interested in writing about Aphrodite Pandēmos for my magazine, Witches&Pagans?