Whoopi Goldberg doesn't decide what Jews are - we do - opinion

We will continue to be painted and contextualized by others – as long as we allow them, as long as we give up the authority over our own narrative.

 HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR Artemis Miron shows her Auschwitz death camp number tattooed on her arm at her home in Kfar Saba in 2020. (photo credit: NIR ELIAS/REUTERS)
HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR Artemis Miron shows her Auschwitz death camp number tattooed on her arm at her home in Kfar Saba in 2020.
(photo credit: NIR ELIAS/REUTERS)

Last week, after Whoopi Goldberg commented about the Shoah, then sort of apologized, then went on Stephen Colbert and doubled down on her original comments, an article appeared on my Facebook feed by Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin from Florida. He published it through Religion News Service, ReligionNews.com, titled “What Whoopi Goldberg got wrong about the Holocaust.”

Salkin wrote, “Just so you know: This is what Jews have been enduring, almost since the end of the siege in Colleyville, Texas… A school board in Tennessee has pulled Maus, Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel about the Holocaust, from its school reading list. There were swastikas on pillars at Union Station in Washington DC. There were antisemitic flyers in Surfside and Miami Beach, Florida, claiming Jewish connections to COVID-19. Neo-Nazis marched in Orlando, Florida – a march which Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has refused to condemn. Amnesty International branded Israel an apartheid state…”

I would also add a series of attacks last Shabbat involving vandalism and physical violence throughout the Jewish neighborhood of West Rogers Park, Chicago. Salkin concluded that “These attacks on Jewish sensitivities and sensibilities have been happening on an almost daily basis.”

For any aware Jew in America, it has been disorienting, to say the least. If you came to hear me rail against Goldberg, I’m sorry to disappoint, too many smart people, too many Jewish leaders have fallen into the trap of debating whether we’re a race or not. Once again, too many Jews falsely believe that education will heal Goldberg. She’s not ignorant. Goldberg is educated, successful and has just as many Jewish friends as you or I. It’s time that American Jews be educated.

Our Judaism is not up to Goldberg. Our Judaism is up to us.

 WHOOPI GOLDBERG (credit: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue/TNS) WHOOPI GOLDBERG (credit: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue/TNS)

We will continue to be painted and contextualized by others – as long as we allow them, as long as we give up the authority over our own narrative. We are the only minority in the America who continues to be defined by others. In a society, where people are free to choose their gender, their pronoun, their sexual orientation, their political affiliation, their religious affiliation, only Jews are again and again defined by others.

This week, I visited a doctor’s office twice and I was handed a form that asked for my ethnicity twice. I checked – as I always do – other and then wrote Jewish. Just as often happens, the secretary looked at the form and commented that she’d never seen that response before.

I’ve been responding like this ever since I confronted the new sensibility of woke progressives who allow every kind of self-expression – which is fine – except that Judaism does not fit into any box.

I know that Jewishness is not Caucasian – we’re not white colonialists because my grandparents were put in boxcars, as they weren’t white enough. I don’t fit into a framework of racism as a white and Black context. I’m not white and I’m not Black.

The context of white and Black racism is not my narrative. It’s not my family’s narrative. Does it mean that I dismiss it? Of course not. Does it mean that I impose my explanations to white people or Black people about their place and their context according to my own definitions? Of course I wouldn’t.

SO, LET’S TALK about our context. All of these occurrences happened last week because it was International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Does anybody notice that I didn’t comment or acknowledge the day in person or on social media? Has anybody stopped to think why?

The United Nations (UN) General Assembly designated January 27 – the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau – as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The UN did so in 2005.

That’s 54 years after the Jewish People established our commemoration, known as Yom Hazikaron Lashoah Velagevurah Yom Hashoah (Yom Hashoah) – a Day of Remembering the Holocaust and Acts of Heroism, which occurs on the 27th day of Nisan on the Hebrew calendar. That date marks the anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising. The date was selected by the Knesset in 1951.

Two very different days, established by very different bodies.

Our people established Yom Hashoah to remember the choice-less reality our people faced and we did so on a day that remembers the few who decided to fight, even until their last breath. The International Holocaust Remembrance Day remembers the nations who liberated us. The problem is that our liberation is only one display in a museum and that’s not the narrative of the exhibit. That does not capture our narrative.

The UN has no moral authority to tell my family when to grieve for the 200 of our family members who were murdered in the European furnaces of the Shoah.

The fact that we decided on a time and manner in which to grieve and 50 years later the world decided to do it in a way that pats themselves on the back is degrading, appropriative and insults the concept of Jewish self-determination… as long as we allow it.

Our story is not up to the UN. It’s not up to Goldberg. It’s not up to Amnesty International. It’s not up to the New York Times.

For respect for Jews to exist in this world, we must begin with self-respect.

Worry less about Goldberg, and worry more about actual Goldbergs. Worry more about providing for the last Shoah prevailers amongst us. Worry more about commemorating Yom Hashoah in a way that’s meaningful and shows others its meaning in a proud way. Go participate in living Jewish experiences. Help living Jewish communities. Support the living Jewish state.

It’s not up to Goldberg, it’s up to us and we’ve got serious work to do. So, let’s get to work!

The writer is the rabbi of Adat Shalom, a Conservative synagogue in Los Angeles.