Imagine if Israel had embraced the Jewish refugees from Iraq, Yemen, Morocco, Iran, and other countries throughout the Arab and Muslim world. I mean, if Israel had really embraced us – inviting us to lead the government instead of sweep the streets. Diplomatic conversations could have been conducted in Arabic and Farsi, instead of the intermediary language of English. And while the relationship still would have been complex, it also would have been familial instead of foreign.
Since I was a teenager, I have attended a plethora of Arab-Jewish and Black-Jewish bridge-building programs that completely ignored the fact that there are Middle Eastern Jews and African Jews, among other Jewish nationalities and ethnicities. In these gatherings, progressive Jewish leaders of European heritage twisted themselves into pretzels, trying to conjure up points of connection, while failing and even refusing to recognize the glaringly obvious points of connection already in place.
At one such gathering, in the mid-1990s, a Black Jewish friend and I listened politely throughout a program on Black-Jewish relations, which said not one word about Black Jews. At the end, my friend asked the program facilitator where he saw someone like her. As he looked straight at her Black Jewish face, he proceeded to explain to her that Jews are white. “Look at my skin!” my friend said, exasperated, holding up her arm to the facilitator’s face.
It was both infuriating and fascinating to witness this interaction unfold. People start off with a preconceived notion, I realized in that moment, and impose it on the situation before them, rather than allowing the situation before them to challenge their preconceived notion.
Around that time, when I was the program director of a local Hillel, and attending the national conference for Hillel program directors, I wanted to pull my hair out during a workshop, as leaders of European Jewish heritage yet again twisted themselves into pretzels, brainstorming innovative Passover seders (ritual retelling of the story of Exodus), to engage students who were bored by the same-old, same-old ritual from Central and Eastern Europe. When I raised my hand and suggested incorporating the Passover seder from Egypt – where Passover itself took place – as well as incorporating any of the tens of other lively Passover seder rituals from around the world, I was dismissed.
After a full weekend of these repeatedly frustrating interactions, I’d had it and stormed out. Several program directors who had witnessed thse recurring exchanges got up and followed me out the door, saying, “Loolwa, we get it now. We see what’s happening. You shouldn’t have to do all the work. We want to advocate for you.” And so we created a little Hillel program director Jewish multicultural uprising – this being way back in 1994.
But that’s another story for another time.
In 1990, I pioneered the Jewish multicultural movement. In the decades since, I have developed a plethora of ground-breaking tools for learning about, teaching, and practicing Jewish heritage from across the globe. If you’re a Jew of African, Asian, Chicano/Latino, or Southern European heritage you’ll find yourself reflected in, validated by, and empowered with my articles, books, music, and videos. If you’re an Ashkenazi Jew or non-Jew, you’ll deepen and enrich your understanding of who Jews are, where we come from, how we’re all connected, and what Jewish practice looks and sounds like.
You can find these products at KHAZZOOM.com/Shop.
In addition, when you become a Patreon member, you’ll have access to pre-releases, exclusive content, and exclusive discounts for all of my products and programs – including access to my forthcoming album, ANCESTRAL WAYS: Iraqi High Holy Day Hits, which I am releasing to my patrons only, the week before R’shana (Rosh Hashana) this year. I’m singing one of the selections, in the video above.
Become a Patreon member, or learn more, at Patreon.com/KHAZZOOM.
I’ll also be offering it as a free gift for people who participate in my Iraqi High Holiday Hits class on September 18. I’ll be announcing details shortly on my newsletter. Subscribe to my newsletter on KHAZZOOM.com. When you do, you’ll receive a coupon for a free digital album or book of your choice on my shop!
In the next week or two, I’ll also announce my new membership level, Press Patron, offering access to my media archive – including hundreds of my Jewish multicultural articles, published in mainstream media including Rolling Stone, The Washington Post, and BBC News, as well as in Jewish media including Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, and The Forward. Subscribe to my newsletter for details!
If you find value in this video and blog post, please share it, like it, comment on it, and subscribe to my channel. You can find me on all social media channels at /KHAZZOOM (except Twitter, where I’m /LOOLWA).