Midway through the new book by Penny Rosenwasser, “Hope into Practice: Jewish Women Choosing Justice Despite Their Fears,” is a telling anecdote:
“At a workshop about race, a white Jewish woman brought up anti-Semitism and asked all the Jews to stand up. ‘I was physically in agony,’ Elly groaned. ‘I hated her. I thought, we’re here to deal with real issues like racism. And besides, if I stand up and am seen, they’ll kill us!’”
Elly, the Jewish woman at the racism workshop, didn’t realize that her embarrassment at being called to stand up and be counted as Jewish, coupled with her feeling that anti-Semitism wasn’t “real,” is, really anti-Semitism, internalized.
Rosenwasser explained this concept in an interview from her home in Oakland, CA. Certain behaviors, she said, “have been passed through our families through generations…in response to historical persecution.” She mentioned hypervigilance and worry as two examples.
Rosenwasser urged Jews to recognize these learned behaviors, passed down like cultural DNA, so that we don’t act on them unaware.
Recognition is only the first part of the book, and her upcoming talks. The second is a call to action, a call to be brave. She said, “We must take Egypt out of the Jews. Our responsibility is to have the courage to face our fears, not act on them: to choose justice in spite of our fears.”
Her events are interactive. In each location, she chooses participants ahead of time to read the different voices woven throughout the book. Rosenwasser has found that using this model “makes people think of their own experiences and their own stories, and we end up with a lively discussion.”
Her hope is that people will leave her events and be motivated to start their own groups to explore their own Jewishness.
The book came out of Rosenwasser’s doctoral dissertation at the California Institute of Integral Studies in Transformational Learning & Change and experimental work that focused on racism.”
Rosenwasser is a former Jewish Caucus Chair of the National Women’s Studies Association and is a founding board member of Jewish Voice for Peace. She teaches an Anti-Semitism/Anti-Arabism class with a Palestinian colleague at the City College of San Francisco and belongs to Kehilla Synagogue.
Rosenwasser will speak on December 14 at 10 a.m. at Temple B’Nai Israel, 1 Wave Ave., Revere; on December 14 at 4:30 p.m. at Congregation Dorshei Tzedek, 60 Highland Street (sanctuary, library), Newton; and on December 15 at 7 p.m. at Workmen’s Circle, 1762 Beacon St., Brookline.