Intersectionality and Judaism

April 30, 2021
Maia Goldberg

Portland, Oregon, USA

Class of 2022

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Hine ma Tov umanaim shevet achim gam yachad: a Hebrew verse (Psalm 133) translated as "Behold how good and how pleasing / for people to sit together in unity." A core belief of Judaism is social justice, the responsibility of giving back to those in need and standing up for human rights. This points to the idea of intersectionality, a framework that has been spotlighted lately amid many current societal issues.

What is intersectionality? Intersectionality was created almost 30 years ago by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a lawyer and civil rights advocate who invented this term to describe the layers of oppression she faced as a Black woman. It is the idea that all social issues connect and that many of these social issues shape the layers of our identity. To take action to address a problem, we must reflect on how it links to other topics.

When taking it to the streets to march in protest against the climate crisis, people can't leave racial inequality out of the demonstration because of the overlying concept of environmental racism. When discussing the local impacts of homelessness, we need to discuss how to improve mental health awareness and de-stigmatize suicide prevention. When holding conversations about anti-Semitism, the privilege that white-identifying Jewish people have needs to be acknowledged, and the community must uplift the voices of Jews of color.

This brings us to the concept of identity. Intersectionality can additionally describe the many layers of oppression that an individual faces, including race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, socio-economic status, disability, et cetera. As a white, Jewish woman, I have personally faced anti-semitism and sexism in my life. However, I can't and will never experience racism. Jews of color confront another aspect of oppression, and this can often become complicated when experiencing discrimination from the Jewish community and anti-semitism from the Black community.

In Judaism, the themes of Tikkun Olam ("to repair the world") and acts of mitzvot (conscious deeds of kindness) emphasize the underlying presence of social justice and allyship in our religion. Acts of mitzvah and allyship don't give us "brownie points"; instead, it is a continuous part of our Jewish people's responsibility. Furthermore, mitzvah and allyship acts are not transactional: people should expect nothing in return for standing up for others.

In our BBYO community, we can apply the idea of intersectionality to our local Stand Up causes and philanthropy initiatives. Similarly, people can connect this idea to other programs relating to the AZA folds of social action/education and the BBG folds of social action/community service. When organizing a program concerning a Stand-Up cause, how can we expand education to other social issues? When choosing an organization to donate to, how can we hold ourselves accountable so that giving back is an ongoing part of our personal lives and beyond?

Intersectionality is a concept that can be difficult to grasp fully, as it links to identity, privilege, discrimination, advocacy, and so on. It can be intimidating to think about how intersectionality's interconnected nature results in the inability to "solve" a single social issue because of inequality overlapping systems. However, our religion and culture are centered around complicated human problems and discussing and debating them.

As young Jewish leaders, let's use this framework of intersectionality to commit to social justice. "Behold how good and how pleasing / for people to sit together in unity."

Maia Goldberg is a BBG from Evergreen Region.

All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.

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