DJJ Leaders at Shavuot

DJJ leaders did an awesome job teaching some of the sessions at the Tikkun Leil Shavuot event hosted by Congregation T'chiyah and the Downtown Synagogue.

Here are some of their reflections on what they taught and how it connects to their work with DJJ:

From Marni: It was so wonderful to teach and partake in Tikkun Leil Shavuot this year.  I have participated in the program for several years now, always keeping my Latin Dance  session as an exciting way to re-energize in the middle of the night.  This year, there was an incredible turnout and such a variety of sessions.  I loved learning about so many different topics from combating anti-Semitism to a text study about the symbols of night time in Judaism.  It was a wonderful opportunity to enjoy learning and connecting with so many great people in the community.  I cannot wait to partake in it again next year!


From Eleanor: For Shavuot, I presented as a representative of the Detroit chapter of If Not Now -- a national movement that works to end American Jewish institutional support for the occupation, with a vision of freedom and dignity for all in Israel/Palestine. The conversation I facilitated, however, focused on white supremacy in America. In part, we discussed white supremacy as defined as a pervasive system that is political, economic, and cultural. But we spent most of our time focused on discussion of those who specifically and purposefully identify as white supremacists -- Neo-Nazis, the KKK, and unfortunately, many other groups -- and whose racist beliefs build off a foundation of anti-Semitism. As Jews, it is important to confront the dangerous ideologies of these movements in order to understand our stake in fighting them -- especially in the context of the Trump administration, which thrives off of white supremacist thought. This understanding can sharpen our analysis, our commitment, and our ability to work in solidarity with all people targeted by white supremacy. My group dove courageously into the conversation and I learned so much from their insights and emotions on the topic. (Much gratitude to Eric Ward, whose essay "Skin in the Game: How Antisemitism Animates White Nationalism," fueled much of our discussion.) I was most inspired by folks' thoughts on how we can take action against white supremacy -- at home and abroad. Just a couple hours before, we had gotten news that Nazis showed up at Pride downtown, a threatening reminder of why this work is so important. I was so thrilled to be part of a such a special evening overall -- so cool to see such a big group of people amped to stay up late learning from one another.


From Jake: I love Tikkun Leil Shavuot, the practice of staying up late and learning Torah (writ large) with pals, because it provides a low-stakes opportunity to explore a new topic, have meaningful conversations and experiment with different models of education, facilitation and holding space. This year I opted to use my session as a time to workshop some ideas that have been floating around my head re: Judaism and anarchism.

There’s a rich history of Jewish anarchism -- and Jewish leftism and radical politics of all stripes, to be sure -- that we didn’t explore much in this session. Rather, we looked to the attitudes of the early rabbis, as canonized in Pirkei Avot around 2000 years ago, to see how even in their hierarchical, meritocratic (not to mention patriarchal / misogynistic!) worldview, there are currents of radical, anti-authoritarian thought that can serve as sources of inspiration for anarchists and activists of all stripes today.  (Consider, for example, this practical advice from Rabban Gamliel in Pirkei Avot 2:3: “Be careful [in your dealings] with the ruling authorities for they do not befriend a person except for their own needs; they seem like friends when it is to their own interest, but they do not stand by a man in the hour of his distress.” Edgy!) 

Our session just began to scratch the surface before time was called to move on, but even from this microdose, it’s clear that exploring Judaism through anarchism (and vice versa) facilitates exciting questions about our relationship to both.Cindy Milsten, a contemporary Jewish anarcha-feminist, describes direct action as “When we seek to act as if we are free -- because in acting that we are free, we begin to be free.” What does that mean for how we celebrate Passover, when each person is obligated to see themselves as if they’ve escaped from slavery (Mishnah Pesachim 10:5)? How can the Talmud’s explanation that we should relate to the temporary sukkah as-if it were a permanent dwelling (Sukkah 26b) give us a frame to understand temporary experiments in autonomy, failed revolutionary projects, or organizing efforts that don’t take off? Can’t we understand Judaism itself as a movement to manifest that socialist/anti-globalizaiton/pan-revolutionary slogan “Another World Is Possible”?  

This kind of riffing may seem irrelevant to organizers who prefer problem-solving to movement-building, but I believe that it’s essential to ground ourselves in a vision of the world we wish to see, as we work and struggle for the reforms that pave the way towards radical change. Our collective ancestors - whether rabbis or revolutionaries - have bequeathed us with a tradition of inspiration, provocation, and a baked-in attitude of internal critique, re-evaluation and reconstruction. As Jewish activists, it’s in our interest to see how this might strengthen us in our work, and this unique heritage is one of the special qualities that we get to share with others when we show up to do this work as Jews. 


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