Episode Eight: “Becoming Less Racist: Lighting the Path to Anti-Semitism” with Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg

Transcript:  Simran Jeet Singh: Hi everyone. Thank you for joining our program, “Becoming Less Racist: Lighting the Path to Anti-Racism. This is episode number eight for us, and I’m so excited to have with us here today Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, who many of you may already know through her various writings and books and media […]

Transcript: 

Simran Jeet Singh:
Hi everyone. Thank you for joining our program, “Becoming Less Racist: Lighting the Path to Anti-Racism. This is episode number eight for us, and I’m so excited to have with us here today Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, who many of you may already know through her various writings and books and media appearances and so on. I first learned about Rabbi Ruttenberg’s work through the Twitter sphere, and for those who aren’t on there, she has a massive presence on Twitter and she gives insights and perspectives that are simultaneously challenging and inviting. So I’m so grateful to have her here today to speak with us about the intersection of racism and antisemitism. Before we turn to her, I just want to give you a word on the program. Our vision is to offer two things that we believe the world needs badly right now.

First we want to offer you insight into what’s actually going on with racism, and that’s why each episode will focus on a particular aspect of racism, and take us through it in a deep dive. As James Baldwin beautifully stated, If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see. And so for us, this is an act of love and justice. The other thing we hope to do here is to receive guidance from our expert guests on how to move from just understanding racism and into taking action. And this may come in various forms, but the end point for us is that we move beyond just thinking about racism and actually embodying anti-racism. And so again, thank you all for being on this journey with me as I traverse into the world of anti-racism. And thank you, Rabbi Ruttenberg for being here with us. To those of you who are looking for her right now online, she’s on Twitter as @TheRaDR.

So that’s Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg. She writes frequently for many media outlets and she has several books to her name. So in addition to editing a few collections of essays, she has two books of her own that I’ve seen, Surprised by God: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Religion, and Nurture the Wow: Finding Spirituality in the Frustration, Boredom, Tears, Poop, Desperation, Wonder, and Radical Amazement of Parenting. So I’m excited to learn from her on about a question that I’ve not really understood fully myself and that’s — what is going on with white supremacy and anti-Semitism and neo-Nazis — what the relationship there? How do we understand all of that? So we’ll be exploring that a bit today, but to begin, Danya, thank you again for being here. How are you? How’s everything on your end?

Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg:
Everything is great. Thank you for having me delighted to be here.

Singh:
Oh, it’s my pleasure. And, I want to begin by asking you about your own experiences with racism. Can you recall for us, your first memory of experiencing anti-Semitism?

Ruttenberg:
Yes. So I grew up in a fairly Jewish suburb. I mean, not completely, but there were lots of Jews around. So that was, to my life and identity and experience, was pretty normative. And then when I was, you know, tween, I went off to sleep away camp. And one of the big things they did at the end of the summer is camping in like rural Maine. And they like the Bay. You know, one of the big, exciting things is that there was like a carnival that they took us to, towards the end of the summer. Something in the community, you know, we all wore our t-shirts and knew where we were supposed to meet up. And it was probably like 11, I dunno. And, there was, you know, all sorts of booths and you paid, you know, try to get your panda and that the ball and the… and there was this one, like — free, no money.

Will you go to heaven or hell? Quick test, find out the future. And I was like, free thing, find out the future, cool. And so I went up to this lady and she had a whole, just whole questionnaire and I don’t even remember the questions on it, but I like earnestly filled it out. And knowing that it was, you know, it was like — I was not going to take it super seriously, but like, okay, let’s do this. And she comes after and she gives me this whole thing about how there was no way for me to go to heaven because it was Jewish, and that for me to be able to get entrance into the afterlife, the good place, I needed to let Jesus into my heart. And, you know, it’s not like — nobody was throwing things at me or calling me a name, but Christian supersessionism — like the idea that Judaism was the practice and that Christianity is the perfection, and that the only way that the only true way for Jews to move along in the world is to become Christian and the New Testament, you know, not the old one. This is the covenant 2.0, this is the real thing now — has undergirded anti-Jewish oppression for more than a thousand years and has really been the template of pogroms and expulsions and the inquisition and the Holocaust in some ways, the theological underpinnings of the Holocaust, and so on and so forth. So what might seem like a small experience, you know, vis a vis other people’s experiences of racial racism and oppression, really is very insidious. And that was the first time.

Singh:
Yeah, that’s super interesting. And I mean, reminding me of all sorts of childhood experiences in my own, but I want to ask you this question that I get a lot from people, especially around anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. And that is, how can we talk about these things as racism if we’re talking about religion, right? Like if Judaism is a religion and Islam is a religion, how can we say that this is about race or racism?

Ruttenberg:
I mean, it is, and it isn’t, and that’s what’s complicated and what makes it hard to talk about anti-Semitism. Because it requires the willingness to have a complex analysis. Historically, you know, a lot of how anti-Semitism functions now is very much the same as it did in the 1200s. And you know, I can get into all of the history, we can unpack it, you know, originally it was — Jews as religion. And we’ve always been a people. There are Jews in Morocco and there are Jews in India and there are Jews from Iraq and Iran and Yemen and Jews and Uganda, and — right? I mean, you have all sorts of different races and cultures and identities, and we’re all part of a people. For a long time, it was anti-religious. In the very beginning of the 20th century, in 1903, I think, there was sort of the development of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, like the SARS secret police develop this pamphlet about the secret Jewish cabal.

And that was really when it’s the conversation. And this is kind of the core of anti-Semitism. One core of anti-Semitism is this notion that we are secretly pulling the strings and running things from behind the scenes of this nefarious plot. That’s when you started to be racialized. And so the whole, the Holocaust, and, you know, like how much Jewish blood do you have, was really a sort of biology. A Judaism as race, Jewishness as race. So Jews have been racialized, right? And so a lot of our oppression, the history of our oppression, has this racial dynamic and many Jews are white, particularly many Jews in America are white. There are Jews that are also Black and Latinx and Indigenous and Asian and American. And like — but many Jews are white like myself. And while — there was anti-Jewish discrimination in the first half of the 20th century that was very racialized, right?

We weren’t — there was quotas on admission to college. There were restriction to where we could live, right? Restrictions on where we could be working. Right? You know, restaurants and hotels, legally could bar Jews, they would call restricted places, right? So there was systemic oppression against us, but after World War II, this sort of whiteness expanded to include white Jews. And our definition of whiteness would — ’cause in America, race is constructed against Black, to anti-Blackness, right? The whole conversation is like, where are we, vis-a-vis anti-Blackness? And so Jews began to be allowed the systemic privileges of white people. So it’s race and it’s not race. It’s peoplehood. It’s its own unique beast in a lot of ways, because the history is so complex and how it manifests today is so complex.

Singh:
Yeah. I guess part of what I’m hearing you say is that the anti-Jewish sentiment, if we call it that way, it’s not historically rooted in race because these ideas existed before race was developed, the theory of race was developed.

Ruttenberg:
Yeah. I think that’s — and you know, certainly a lot of the, you know, a lot of it started with Christian anti-Semitism and choices that got made even as Christianity and Judaism started to separate. I mean, how parts of the New Testament were written was basically saying — Oh, we’re not like those guys. Right? Jesus this was a Jew. He was a Pharisee, he was operating in the Pharisaic tradition. And, you know, several centuries later, the writers of the New Testament told a story about — that made it less of a inter-communal critique, and more of like, those guys are terrible because we were separating. That’s all religious. And then somewhere along the way, you know, most of the 20th century we got racialized and, but now it’s sort of back to being its own — like it’s not religion it’s sort of raced, it’s not race, it’s… yeah. So it’s…. I mean, like there are the graphs and the pictures of Jewish brains as opposed to Aryan brains and I have white privilege in this country. So…

Singh:
It’s interesting even just to think about the history of this stuff, because often we take it for granted, right? Like when you say, well, anti-Semitism comes out of this idea of race theory and that’s the way we experience it in America, that, you know, there is a racialization of different peoples and for Jews that has meant, passing as white. But to unpack it a little further and to go into history was like — well, actually it hasn’t always been that way. And, and that these things have changed over time. And I think part of the value of doing that, at least for me, is reminding ourselves that the constant evolution of these ideas indicates to us that these are all human constructions. There’s nothing inherent about it. Whereas in the 20th century, early 20th century, with race theory, a lot of us, and eugenics, a lot of us were saying, well, this is science.

This is just how it is. And some of the examples you were giving us really, really speak to that. I guess. Okay. So as — I’ll ask you to do a little bit more work for us in understanding this. How does Jewishness come to be conflated with whiteness? I guess the way of asking that question would be — when you’re talking about the racialization of Jews in America in the 20th century, what does that look like when all of a sudden an outgroup comes to be perceived as an ingroup? What kinds of tests have to be passed? Or what kinds of legislation do we see changing? Like, what allows for this change to happen?

Ruttenberg:
How did you become white, basically. Which, and, you know, — I want to touch a couple of things. So just to be able to clear — like in Europe, particularly in the 20th century, Jews were a racialized other, right. As Roma people, as other folks. Right. And yet in America, we may have started that way. And, you know, and now… Nylah Burton, who’s an amazing Black Jew writer, yumcoconutmilk on Twitter, I think, wrote a piece a couple of years ago, talking about how important it is for Jews today to not use the phrase like white-passing. Because, since systemic — someone who is Latino, who may be read as white, may then when we find out they’re Latino, suddenly, all of the anti-immigration garbage, they may become the receptacle for that.

But Jews, when someone looks at me assumes that I’m white and then they find out I’m Jewish, I’m still white. And I still get the same systemic privileges. And yeah, the story of that expansion is, you know — the same moment that Jews started to become white, Italians who were also kind of an ethic other, Irish folks, people from Poland, like they, you know, all this expansion happened around the same time. It happened because the pole was set in the ground about anti-Blackness and it’s like, this has to be the racialized other, and then there’s room for other communities to be able to collect white privilege. And this, at a certain point, bolsters white supremacy to claim us, right. It’s good for white supremacy to have more people on team — not Black, not those guys. You can have some power just as long as you help us keep power from them.

Singh:
Right. And it works the other way around too. Right? Like you, as a community, once the community starts being read as white, then that bolsters white supremacy too. Right? Like you have this larger force within the force. And so that’s only expanding. Yeah.

Ruttenberg:
Right. And, you know — and Jews’ relationship to this, you know, being — ’cause it’s not like, you know, Jews didn’t pick it. It’s like, it wasn’t a choice, but things move and — listen, you know, if we’re talking about the 1950s, you’ve got a community of people whose parents were running from pogroms to get to America. And then they look and, you know, and they see Europe has just been devastated, right? 6 million Jews were just slaughtered across the country. Like they have all of this trauma. And if somebody says — Hey, now you can live in the suburb and be white and have the American dream and be safe. You know, it’s just like, okay. Yes, that sounds good. And so many of them were willing to buy into the anti-Blackness because of their own trauma and their own, you know, both epigenetic and also lived, you know, and desire for safety. And, you know, Jews were disproportionately involved in the Civil Rights movement. Like there were some Jews who were like given our history, we know that we need to show up now that solidarity with anybody who was ever oppressed, and some Jews then, and now are still trying to grapple with, you know, what it means to have beyond on the side of power and privilege. So it’s complicated.

Singh:
I’m going to ask you more about that. If you’re just joining us, this is “Becoming Less Racist: Lighting the Path to Anti-Racism,” and we’re joined today by Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg. And we’re talking about anti-Semitism and whiteness and white supremacy and Neo-Nazis and all this messy stuff that we see around us. And one of the things that you’re talking about that I want to learn more about is this strange relationship between what you’re describing as Jews in America having white privilege, but also Jews in America being the primary target of white supremacists and white nationalists hate. How does that work? Right? Like how does it work that on the one hand you are as a community let into whiteness, but on the other hand, maligned by whiteness? I mean, that seems like a hard thing to understand.

Ruttenberg:
So I think the best way to do this is to sort of pull back a little bit and go into, you know, go back a thousand years and talk about how the way contemporary antisemitism got set up and I’ll bring it into how this functions now. So in the Middle Ages, Jews living in Christian lands, which — Jews were in all of the world — but when we were in Europe, we were often not allowed to own land. In some places there was a stigma against money lending as a Christian problem — as a, Christians didn’t want to do it. It was considered sinful, and the Jews were like — we’ll do it. We got no problem. Like, no, it’s not an issue for us. And so, even though we were oppressed, living in ghettos, taxed heavily — like money lending was convenient because we could help cover these ridiculous taxes that the King or the, whoever was in charge, would put on us, it was liquid. So the next time they kick us out of their country, we had some money to come with us.

You know, it was a great safety net, but then very quickly, very, very quickly, Jews became conflated with this sort of money-grubbing, money controlling trope. So the oppression against Jews that caused us to get into one line of work — and most of us were not doing this — then became the justification for a different kind of anti-Jewish oppression. And then you add that into the sort of Protocols of the Elders of Zion secret cabal of the nefarious, powerful people pulling the strings. Also, I want to note that the stereotype of the money-grubbing rich Jew came when most of history we were very poor and like living in ghettos, you know, but like this is a very convenient story and how it functions. April Rosenblum, an amazing Jewish educator, really articulated this clearly — that like anti-Jewish oppression doesn’t depend on us being poor and uneducated or designated nonwhite, because having a Jewish face up, you know, as being in power, either actually, or in people’s imagination, most of the time, means that the people in charge could say — blame the Jews, don’t blame me for whatever’s going wrong.

So when you look at, for example, Germany after World War I, was not in great shape, right? They were not, they were not good. And that made it really very easy for the Nazis to come and be like, whose fault is it? And, it happens time and time again. And so that’s where we see the — Soros is paying for the caravan of migrants who are people seeking freedom, or [inaudible] globalist who is loyal to each other and not to our country. Right? I mean, we see these tropes all the time now. And white supremacy, like this is the driving fuel. Eric Ward is a brilliant writer has this piece called Skin in the Game where he sort of articulates that like in the white supremacist mind, they’re like — how could civil rights have happened? Right? A Black-led movement for freedom to unseat white supremacy, but we’re are the superior race?

Like, how did they even, how did they do that? How did feminism work? How did like the gay rights movement work? Like how could they have succeeded when we’re so obviously superior? And the answer is, there’s somebody nefarious behind the scenes, controlling, bank rolling, all of that. Right? And so, you know, white supremacists talk about the ZOG — Zionist Occupied Government, and that’s how they talk about the government of the United States. So their whole theory is that we are secretly behind the scenes controlling things. So the fact that many of us are white now, and can, you know, assimilate, infiltrate, regular society only bolsters that ’cause the sense that we’re, you know, sort of sneakily sneaking into places and people might not know, it actually sort of substantiates that argument in some first way.

Singh:
No, that’s a great answer. And it’s a complicated question. I think the way you started out the entire conversation was, you know — much of this can only be understood through nuance. And so I appreciate that. And while you were speaking, one of the things you said — you quoted April Rosenblum and in one of your articles on the Washington Post, that was called Who Decides When We Do or Don’t Call Out Anti-Semitism, I noted that — I pulled up this quote because I thought it was so interesting. And I just want to read it for people to hear your words in a different way — Part of the reason anti-Semitism can seem invisible, that an attack on Jews might not always be immediately recognizable to non-Jews, is that it’s the rare form of hatred that allows success for its targets.

And this is April Rosenblum speaking now as you quote her — Many oppressions rely on keeping a targeted group of people poor, uneducated, designated not white or otherwise at the bottom. Anti-Jewish oppression doesn’t depend on that, although at many times it has kept Jews in poverty or designated nonwhite. These have been optional features because the point of anti-Jewish oppression is to keep a Jewish face in front, so that Jews, instead of ruling classes, become the target for people’s rage. It works even more smoothly when Jews are allowed some success and can be perceived as the ones in charge by other oppressed groups.

And so I love this article. I would highly encourage everyone to read it. It’s very beautifully written and really insightful, a lot of ideas in there that I hadn’t encountered before. And one of the things that I’m learning from your writing, and one of the phrases you use that’s really helpful in understanding this relationship between anti-Semitism coupled with Jewish or white privilege is the notion of conditional whiteness. And I’d love for you to talk a little bit about what you mean by conditional whiteness.

Ruttenberg:
So conditional whiteness is kind of the idea that, listen, when I move through the world, now I am I’m white, right? When I go to a store, when I try to get a cab, when I talk to my, you know, when I let my kid go walk out alone by himself, right? Our experience is a white experience in the world. And white supremacists want us dead, right? White supremacists believe that we are, you know, undergirding everything that they want to destroy. Eric Ward, and this piece, Skin in the Game, you know, anti-Semitism fuels white nationalism, and fighting anti-Semitism cuts off that fuel for the sake of all marginalized communities, right? Like, it’s like the rocket fuel that gives the horrible people that gives white nationalists, sort of the… It helps prove whatever point they’re trying to make.

So like I am white and my whiteness is conditional on, you know, sort of the society functioning a certain way. And the minute you have somebody who considers the government to be, you know, Zionist occupied right now, like the minute one of those people is in charge, suddenly my whiteness can vanish, right? The minute you have somebody reading about how Soros is, you know, funding the caravan of migrants seeking asylum, and that HIAS, which is an amazing Jewish immigrant and refugee rights organization is helping them — which HIAS is, it does a lot of amazing work at the border — like that was the justification for somebody coming to the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill, in Pittsburgh on Shabbat morning and shooting, you know, massacring many Jews while they were in the middle of services. Right. The guy with the gun did not think we were white, but when I’m in the store, I’m white. So it’s just, you know, it’s both-and.

Singh:
Yeah, it’s a really helpful way of framing that. And then it’s a good reminder for us that race isn’t just what we think about ourselves, or usually at all, what we think about ourselves — it’s how others perceive us. And so, that’s, that’s a really helpful explanation of conditional whiteness. And then, for those of you who are watching, I would encourage you to learn more about this concept because it’s really illuminating in understanding how race actually functions on the ground. One of the other things that’s coming to my mind based on what you just said, Rabbi, is — let me say it this way. So I do a lot of research on white supremacy and white nationalism, and one of the most — it shouldn’t have been surprising — but one of the surprising things that I found in trying to understand white nationalism — like white nationalism is this strange beast that is in power in this country right now — so incredible influence, but there’s no coherent ideology around white. I mean, it’s ethno-nationalist in the sense. But any scholar of this phenomenon would tell you — there’s not really something that you could point to and be like, that is the white nationalist belief system. The closest that we’ve gotten to as scholars is anti-Semitism. That seems to be the one thing that ties it all together. And if you go onto these message boards like 4chan or whatever, all the message boards you never want to go on, even if you’re researching, that’s sort of the common theme. It’s not just an ideological tie, but it’s also something that comes out in the discourse quite heavily. Like you can’t ignore it. And so I just want to point that out to folks who might be thinking that we might be overstating or giving more attention to this then is really out there. I think wwe actually understate anti-Semitism, especially as it pertains to white nationalism and the real ugliness in this country right now. Set aside all the anti-Semitic hate crimes that we know — like those are statistics and we have them and they’re horrible, but it runs a lot deeper than that and we don’t even usually see it.

So anyway, okay. I want to move from here. Let me just say this before we go on — this is “Becoming Less Racist: Lighting the Path to Anti-Racism” and I’m here today with Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, who is a fantastic writer and a force on Twitter. If you don’t follow her already, you must, and we’re talking about whiteness and anti-Semitism, and I want to ask you, Rabbi, moving into the personal. We know, and we learned from childhood about the dangers of anti-Semitism, and I want to ask you, what do we do with that knowledge? How do we move from knowing that anti-Semitism is all around us, into taking action?

Ruttenberg:
Hmm, that’s a good question. You know, I think step one, as ever, is learning, right? Committing to learning more about Jewish history, Jewish context, unseating old assumptions. Folks who are Christian, I think have a lot of work to do in terms of like, what is what’s going on in their theology? How are they reading their sacred texts? What assumptions are undergirding how they’re reading their Bible? What are the implications? And a lot of understanding about, you know, the Judeo Christian tradition, which does not exist. Most of Judaism was actually developed by Jews who are living in the Middle East, Iraq, North Africa, you know

But, you know, and I think for all of us, it becomes this project of being willing to name and untangle. We haven’t, right now, we haven’t touched what — I feel like is the elephant in the room and I’m just going to say it — Israel. And the occupation is, you know, extremely challenging on a lot of levels — obviously human rights, you know, international law, and also in these conversations about anti-Semitism, right? The question of Jews in power, it gets super complicated there. So being able to understand, you know, if we’re talking about things related to Israel, that criticizing a government’s policies, government-specific actions, is not inherently anti-Semitism. Painting a whole people or a whole country as a thing, is anti-Semitism. Assuming that all Jews are somehow representatives of the Netanyahu government — We are not — that’s anti-Semitism. But there’ll be times in my mentions when I’m on Twitter, which is when, you know, strangers come to talk to you about all sorts of things.

I’ll be talking about something totally random around Judaism, and people will be like, well, what about, you know, it’s like — well, first of all, you know, go Google the person you’re trying to get a gotcha on it. Find out if I’ve ever said anything about the occupation, but, you know, people who understand that if you know, a Muslim person is talking about, I don’t know, how the Ramadan fast is going and you jump in and ask them to defend the Taliban, like people understand that in… Some way that that’s problematic. But I think somehow in our cultural discourse, people want to conflate because I think probably because we’re not conscious to the ways that this mythology about Jews in power functions. And so people kind of buy into it or, you know — like being able to see Jews as a really diverse community that’s always fighting with each other about a lot of things, as opposed to a monolith or, like, yeah — I think starting to be more attuned to how anti-Semitism functions can help you start to notice when it’s cropping up in our world, basically.

Singh:
Yeah. That’s really helpful. As we move into the question portion of our conversation — and I invite everyone to submit any questions you have in the comments section — I want to continue on with this pragmatic line of questioning. So we had this question from Neha who asks — first of all, she’s, she’s grateful to you for talking about conditional whiteness and she wants other passing minorities to think about and understand conditional whiteness, as some of them choose to remain silent about the struggle of Black and nonwhite races in America. Ao that’s a comment from Neha and then she asks — what are your thoughts, Rabbi, on what we owe the next generation in terms of anti-racist lineage, heritage, and ideology, and thought, and action.

Ruttenberg:
So we owe the next generation so much work, right? I mean, I think, God-willing all of us, I hope everybody tuning in who is a parent or who may ever be a parent, is already working hard to try to teach their children anti-racism, which — white parents in particular, not talking about race is not how you do that. You have to actually talk about it. We need to raise a generation of people who understand that we have an obligation to show up for everybody. That standing in solidarity with others is a) critical, b) can be really hard work. And we need to know, thinking about anti-Semitism, particularly in anti-Semitism, around, you know, people say –what about anti-Semitism on the left? Like there is, this is like any ideology. It’s in everybody’s air and water and, you know, people are drinking it. Being deep in relationship and developing relationships of trust, where you can help people to unpack what they’re unconscious to is really critical and saying — I’m not going to say… There are white Jews who will say, I’m not going to stand up for racism anymore because — Gee, somebody might say something anti-Semitic and it’s like, no, we all need to be together to unpack white supremacy.

This is a group project, and we need all hands on deck. And I have brought up in, you know, white supremacist anti-Black culture, and I am still teasing out all the ways that’s impacted my thinking. And I’m grateful to people who helped me do that work. And when people manifest anti-Semitism, we have to help them do that work. And that’s how we’re going to get any — that’s how we’re going to move this. Right? That’s how we’re going to make the change we need to make.

Singh:
Yeah, that’s great. I had a feeling just knowing you as a mother that you might like to take that question on and probably had given it some thought. Yeah. I think as parents, a lot of us thinking about, yeah, how do you raise these kids in this, in this world? Let me take you to another question — to what degree is our whiteness in the US contingent on assimilating externally into the mainstream? Would you say the same for identifiably Hasidic Jews who may benefit from whiteness, but are still daily targets of anti-Semitism? I’ve read some of your writings on this. So I’d love for you to take this on for us.

Ruttenberg:
Yeah. I mean, you know, this is why conditional whiteness is such a useful phrase. I mean, this is a very key example of this, people whose hair, whose clothing, whatever, marks them as visibly Jewish, are targets for anti-Semitism in a way that people who do not walk in the world flagging that, that they’re not. And, you know, speaking personally, like, you know, as somebody who, when I’m outside in the world flagging Jewish, I’m wearing, not — I’m not dressed in a gender normative way. I’m wearing a kippah, a yarmulke, which is something associated with men. So it’s very confusing to people. But Hasidic Jews, for example, meet a bunch of stereotypes that people have in their heads and are on the receiving end of anti-Semitic attacks and assaults and verbal abuse and all of that in a way that Jews that look white do not. And the minute somebody would — if a Hasidic Jew changes their clothes, puts on a baseball cap instead of kippah, you know, whatever, their experience of the world is very different. That’s conditional whiteness, right? That you can turn it on or turn it off. Everybody’s children are home and mine are invading the world. Okay. There’s no escape. Okay, moving on.

Singh:
Yeah, no, I appreciate that answer. And, yeah, my baby’s sleeping right now, so there’s going to be one day where she wakes up from her nap and I have to run and go pick her up. But yeah, a totally welcome interruption. Let me ask you about — I got a question from Brian Shivers that I’m seeing you here –I’m so thankful for you Rabbi Danya, your presence on social media and in the world is a light. Would you have any thoughts about the importance of proximity in anti-racist work?

Ruttenberg:
Yeah, ideally this work is happening in relationship, right? And in the context of committed ongoing relationships, of trust — and those relationships take time, right? You can’t show up one day and be like — read a book, like, you know — make me your leader. Like there needs to be a lot of humility, like particularly for white people — there needs to be a lot of humility in showing up to anti-racism work, a lot of being willing to shut up and let somebody else drive the train and, you know, find out — do these chairs need to be stacked. Like — how can I be of service as opposed to jumping in and asserting oneself. And yeah, you know, I think the deeper relationships can be developed and the more meaningfully they can be cultivated, it opens up new possibilities for, you know, both the work out there and also the work in here.

So yeah, I mean, it’s so important. And right now we’re in the middle of a pandemic and people are probably going to be home in front of their computers for the foreseeable future. So if it can’t be physical proximity — like what are other kinds of proximity right? Show up to the Zoom call, like, initiate a one-on-one. If you can’t go out to coffee with somebody, can you get on the phone? You know, whatever ways you can.

Singh:
Yeah, that’s great. I’ll offer one more question. And this comes from Aaron. Thank you so much for this conversation. I was wondering if Rabbi Ruttenberg can suggest any materials or tools for responding to subtle white nationalism in a large corporate organization.

Ruttenberg:
Subtle white nationalism in a large corporate organization? That’s disturbing. I think — so Skin in the Game, by Eric Ward, is an article. It’s very short, just Google it. It’s a really, really helpful set of things. There’s a Jewish organization called Jews for Racial and Economic Justice that does a lot of really great work and puts out fabulous materials, check out their website. You know, I know, Talia Lavin has a new book coming out about white nationalism online and what happens there. And so, you know, I imagine there’s amazing stuff in there. I have not been privileged to read an advanced copy yet.
And just the more you can — I think the more you can learn about white nationalism and its ideology, the more you can name what’s happening when it’s happening, because so much of what they do is meant on these sort of subtle, coded dog whistles, and what you can learn about anti-Semitism. And when somebody says globalist or cosmopolitan, or, you know, New York values was a talking point some election cycle. Like the more you can understand what those coded messages are and what they’re communicating, the more you can sort of name and interrupt them. Thank you.

Singh:
Thank you. Okay. Well, thank you so much, Rabbi. It’s so kind of you to take out time to speak with us and to share your insights. You know, I’ve been following your work for a long time and knew when we decided to do an episode on anti-Semitism and racism, that I wanted to hear from you. So, yeah, you’ve just been such a great source of wisdom and knowledge and also for joy and humor. So I’m grateful to you for all of that.

Ruttenberg:
Thank you. Thank you. I’m glad we’re friends.

Singh:
Yeah, same. And if you don’t follow, the good Rabbi already, you find her on Twitter as @TheRaDR and you can also find some of her books online and more of her writing and speaking on her website at danyaruttenberg.net. So thank you. Thank you again for being here with us and thank you all for joining us today. really see this as a collective journey to become less racist and move towards anti-racism. Next week, we will be on with some amazing guests on Wednesday. We’ll look at the intersection of white supremacy and the Asian American experience with Jeff Yang and Phil Yu. And on Friday of next week, we’ll be joined by Linda Sarsour to talk about Islamophobia as racism. So thank you all again for being here and, look forward to seeing you next week. Take care.