Leaning in to belong

By Dr. Joshua Yudkin

In the American context, we may think of African American citizens like Charlotte Brown when we hear about being “ordered to sit in the back of streetcars.” Charlotte Brown challenged the discriminatory practices of Omnibus Railroad in 1863 and won the suit in a court of law. Yet, as described in Madeleine Albright’s book “Prague Winter,” it may surprise us to read about how Jews were “ordered to sit in the back of streetcars,” that exact same phrase, almost 80 years later in Prague when the Nazis invaded then-Czechoslovakia.

When looking at the early 20th century in American history, higher education institutions discussed a “Jewish problem” and limited the number of Jews admitted to certain universities. Similarly, many institutions around America had quotas to limit the number of Black persons (including prohibiting Black persons from attending at all in parts of the South).

As the horrors of the Holocaust were shared with the public and wounds from the Holocaust began to scar, antisemitism declined, although it did not disappear, in America. American Jewish leadership focused on supporting vulnerable Jewish communities around the globe (e.g., Jewish communities located in the former Soviet Union) and also vulnerable communities right here at home in the United States. In fact, in the 1960s, about 50% of the civil rights attorneys in the South were Jewish and over 50% of the White population who challenged the Jim Crow Laws in 1964 in Mississippi were Jewish.

In March of this year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released a supplement to the “2021 Hate Crime Statistics.” As I read through the original report and supplement, I noticed that anti-Jewish hate crimes represented most religious-based hate crimes committed in 2021 and anti-Black hate crimes continue to be the majority of race/ethnicity/ancestry-based hate crimes. The man who, late last month, drove a truck into the barriers around the White House and stated that he aimed to kill the president had a Nazi flag in his truck.

Jewish and Black history share similar truths in our American context. For very different reasons, both groups report feeling unsafe due to their identities. For very different reasons, both groups report having to hide parts of their culture and identity. Not all members of our society demonstrate decent dialogue and relentless respect for others.

Traumas are not competitive — they build bridges. Belongings are not competitive — they are synergistic. Empathy serves as the indestructible basis for building sustainable forces for good. We all belong to many groups, giving each person their own complex and beautiful mosaic of an identity.

Lean into your own personal and collective experiences as bridge-building opportunities. After all, in her book “The Atlas of the Heart,” Brené Brown teaches us that true belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.

Dr. Joshua Yudkin currently serves as an executive committee member of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and works at the intersection of community building and public health.

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