Jewish Mamas - What do you think of the words "Shvartza" and "Goyim"? - Mothering Forums
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#1 of 22 Old 05-15-2003, 01:32 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Both of these words have perfectly acceptable meanings when they are translated directly. Goyim means "nations" in Hebrew, used in context to mean people of the *other* nations, i.e. not the Jewish nation. In the singular, "goy" (masculine) or "goyah" (feminine) mean a non-Jewish person. The word "shvartza" refers to the color black in Yiddish (I think) and is used to refer to black people. I use both words, but sometimes others use them, especially the word "shvartza", in a way that I find offensive, as if the words are racial slurs.

Do you use these words? How? Do you find others use them in a way that you troubles you? How do you react?
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#2 of 22 Old 05-15-2003, 02:06 PM
 
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I don't think I've ever used the word shvartza because it was always, always used as a racial slur in my presence. I don't remember a time when I felt okay about tolerating racial slurs. I started interrupting ethnic jokes in first grade, and never looked back.

I have used the word goy but I wish I hadn't. (!) I don't like the sense of othering that goes with it. But sometimes I'll do it with my husband or a close friend, just to be funny. (Generally to highlight my connection to the other Jewish person by describing a thing as having "goyish" style.) I feel bad about it.

Jewish people are human beings, so we shouldn't act like all other human beings are different from us. Of course, "goy" doesn't actually mean "all other human beings"--not really. It's a way of saying, "those non-Jews in the majority of whom I am somewhat afraid." Which is ugly too, isn't it? In a society totally free of anti-Semitism, we would never make a word that means non-Jew into something pejorative.

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#3 of 22 Old 05-15-2003, 02:39 PM
 
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I agree with CO on the use of the word Shvartza. I never use it or the K word that is its hebrew equivalent. I feel no need. If my sons want to ask about different coloring in people they have spoken about "menachem's tatty having brown skin". I don't see anything wrong with that. I am not sure about the use of the word shvartza for a native yiddish speaker though. Shvartz (Shwartz) means black, the color. A svartze shich is a black shoe. It is as much a slur for someone who speaks yiddish regularly to use the word "shvartze" to describe someone as it is for an english speaker to call someone "black". Sine many POC prefer the term person of color I am not sure if black is considered a racial slur...

As far as the word goyim. I don't have a big problem with my kids using it. Seeing as how they speak hebrew and yiddish in addition to english and the word used in both languages for nonjews is "goyim". If they are talking about an individual I will say "not jewish". I see what CO is saying as far as "othering". To the rest of the world we ARE "other". To us too. There is just no way around that in my mind. Jews have 613 mitzvos, goyim have 7. Our lives have different purposes.
The time that the use of the word "goy" by my kids bother me is when they describe the destruction of the beis hamikdosh and say "the goyim destroyed it" or in the purim story "haman was a goy". We try very hard to point out that goy is in no way synonomis with rasha. Which was easier back in brooklyn. I could point out to him that his doctor was a goy, the firefighters were goyim, etc, etc. Here it is not that easy.


Torie the use of the word shvartze when you are not even sure of its meaning is troubling and sad to me. How often to you feel the need to use that word? Mabey you are doing too much classifying of people by race.

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#4 of 22 Old 05-15-2003, 02:59 PM
 
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I no longer use the word "shvartze" b/c it seems offensive in it's use (though it does only mean black). However, goyim is a word that means "nation" and in the Torah even refers to Jews ("goy kadosh" - a holy nation). However, many non-Jews and non-Orthodox think it is offensive word, so we have had to teach our children not to use the word in common parlance. We moved to America from Israel 4 years ago and had a few touchy moments with my boys (who spoke Hebrew and as BB mentioned, it means "non-Jew"!) when they used the word. Including my 4 year old telling the non-Jewish wife of a shabbos guest "you're a goy". OY.
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#5 of 22 Old 05-15-2003, 03:23 PM
 
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Same here. They're words with legitimate uses and meanings, but have been used otherwise and have been tainted because of it.

So they're not in the vocabulary.

Our Rebbe z'l has a beautiful story (on the "Nachamu, Nachamu Ami" album) called "Shvartzevolf," about a community outcast, and that's the man's name, Shvartzevolf, and listening to that is the only time I hear the word at all. It's just not said by anyone I know.

The only time I've used the word "goyim" is when I give DH grief for his occasional missteps (read rudeness) in the subway, or on the bus, or in the store ... I might ask him, by way of suggesting he do it differently, "Where you an 'ohr la'goyim' or not?" Meaning, were you "a light onto the nations." Nicer way than suggesting that by being rude while wearing a yarmulke he was making a khilul HaShem (desecration of G-d's name).

Though, of course, since the word "goyim" itself appears regularly in the Tehillim (Psalms) I say it in prayers all the time. So I use it a lot, I guess. When reading Tehillim.
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#6 of 22 Old 05-15-2003, 03:54 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Quote:
the use of the word shvartze when you are not even sure of its meaning is troubling and sad to me. How often to you feel the need to use that word? Mabey you are doing too much classifying of people by race.
I do know the meaning of the word shvartza. I simply wrote "I think" because I am not (much of) a Yiddish speaker, and felt that perhaps I wasn't defining the word as precisely as I might.

The reason I bring up this topic is because I do live in a Yiddish/English speaking community where people use the word regularly. Its use offends me. I have, however, been influenced by my community in that it is the only term people use when referring to "people of color" (BTW- I hope I am not offending any one with the term "black people", many "people of color" I am aquatinted with use the phrase and prefer it. I am still, of course, open to using the any other, potentially more respectful terms suggested to me, such as "people of African decent" perhaps, as it seems some dislike the term "African-Americans". However this is not for me decide...). I do not generally like to classify, if fact, I am always getting into fights with my Jewish neighbors and friends over this very word and how I feel it is inappropriate. In my neighborhood, the *vast* majority of residents identify as either Jewish or African-American (as per the census results with which I am familiar). Local Jews use the above mentioned terms to refer to African-Americans. I do have an issue with it, but I feel as if I am fighting a losing battle. They either insist they mean nothing insulting by it, or more recently, I have heard bitter comments referring to the "race riots" that occurred here in 1991. I don't know what to do. I am honestly at the point of tears over some of the discussions I have had with persons (Jewish) close to me. I wanted to be honest and admit, that I, too, have used the word. I can never use it again (bl"n). I thought that the word was potentially redeemable, as people do use it in a neutral context, and but seeing the strong reaction you have had, I suppose it is not, and must not be
used. What is the PC Yiddish term for "people of color"? I do need help with this...

I feel sick...
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#7 of 22 Old 05-15-2003, 04:14 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I'm back...

I'm in tears.

I always hated it when a certain close relative would make racist statements when I was a child. I tried to stand up to him, but I could only say so much since I was the child and he the authority figure. Now I am having the same issues with some very otherwise wonderful people who use this word. When I speak up, I am silenced. I am told I am a bleeding heart liberal, that x, y, and, z. That I don't know what I am talking about. That I have bought into a "liberalist" religion, that Torah calls "black 'black'", that Torah isn't tolerant or PC.

I feel I am already being too specific, I don't want to slander any one group of people (Jews or otherwise). I came here upset, and I'm afraid I should just shut up.

I feel sick.



Edited to obscure the identity of a person mentioned in post
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#8 of 22 Old 05-15-2003, 04:22 PM
 
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... and then there's the term "shiksa" (not sure of the spelling) to describe a non-Jewish female. That word, along with goyah, were applied to me frequently while I was working for a Jewish newspaper and dating a Jewish man. I can say, from experience, that being referred to by my lover or his family or my co-workers as "goyah" or "shiksa" even when it was in jest, still left me feeling ultimately excluded and "less than". I did have a problem with the "othering" aspect. However, truth being truth, I am a different 'tribe' simply by the fact that I wasn't Jewish. So my experience of feeling excluded did not necessarily have to create hurt feelings on my part. Maybe my need to feel included, regardless of my spiritual beliefs, had more to do with my own insecurities. If I was dating an African-American or a Latino I wouldn't expect them to 'include' me by ignoring my skin color and making me one and 'the same' as themselves. Difference is o.k., I think, but labeling does create problems, no doubt about it. But how do we find the language to talk about the beauty in our differences without risking the ugliness of exclusion? Language and intent combined make for powerful influences.

just my .02

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#9 of 22 Old 05-15-2003, 06:22 PM
 
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Okay Torie, I don't know anything about Yiddish but it seems to me, reading this thread that you are looking for two things: Confirmation of your inkling that these terms are racist and an idea of how to handle it when people use them in your presence. I think our Jewish sisters have made the answer to the first pretty clear. The second, clearly, is causing you a lot of turmoil. Many of us have been there... just maybe not in Yiddish.

I think that for you to feel okay about this you need to take a simple stand. When someone uses these terms inappropriately, ie not refering to a black shoe but to a human being, not refering to a historically, scripturally other nation but refering to an individual in a condescending fashion as 'not one of us' you need to speak up. Your responses here make it clear to me that your concience cannot tolerate anything less any longer. Don't engage in a debate with people about it. Simply say "I cannot tolerate that kind of talk," and prepare to walk away. It took a while for it to sink in with my family but it finally did. I don't kid myself that they have stopped using racist language but they don't use it around me or my child.
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#10 of 22 Old 05-15-2003, 09:51 PM
 
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I don't use "shvartze." I agree with the majority of what's been stated.

Goy - try only when referring to "the nations" but also I see how too often it's used as a derogatory word.

Like other Yiddish words with benign origins, they have been adopted by English speakers to be used as derogatory words. I immediately also thought of "shiksa." Literally it means "non Jewish woman," but I often hear it used in a negative way among English speakers. So I don't use it.

Yiddish is, by its nature, a colorful language--I don't think that there are PC words or expressions in it for certain things. Maybe that's one of its downfalls, but it's also one of its attributes. They simply weren't concerned with PC ettiquette back in the day.

Unfortunately, I think that in some communities it's simply ignorance and community norm. Shvartze is simply *the* word that's used. People don't think twice, and I honestly believe that they don't think it's derogatory. Or to use "goya" for the cleaning help (Torie - I know of others in your community who use that word, and think nothing twice of it. I think it's a shonda to use it in this context...but then again, my grandmother said, "the girl" which I feel is also derogatory). When it becomes so regular and part of the lexicon, it's not seen as wrong.

Another example - faigele- which literally means little bird but is used for homosexual. In English we have PC words (homosexual or gay) and non PC (don't think I need to give examples). But in Yiddish I can't think of any other words. And so it becomes the word to use in Yiddish as the appropriate and only word, but seeps in to English as simply a derogatory word. So, perhaps it makes sense to use these words when speaking a fluent Yiddish, since that *is* the word. But when speaking English it's just taken out of context and used only negatively.

What's one to do?

Just not use them.

I know that's hard because you're surrounded by it. If you feel ok, then continue to speak up about it. But we all know we have to choose our battles. If you find you're getting no where, then maybe stop. Maybe you can find a rav in your community who supports your feelings?

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#11 of 22 Old 05-16-2003, 12:00 AM
 
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I actually might have to revise my statements. I don't use words like "shvartze" and "goy" b/c it would be inappropriate for where I live, who I am, etc. I'm not sure that you can say the same thing for a Yiddish/English (Yinglish?) speaking community. I mean - the word in Yiddish for a black person is "shvartze", just as someone in English might say "Black". For the community that BY lives in, I don't think that any offense is meant and you would be fighting a losing battle to try and change this community/societal norm. You can yourself be aware of how this sounds to those outside the community and not use the term.
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#12 of 22 Old 05-16-2003, 12:37 AM
 
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I don't know about the "Yiddish is a colorful language" argument. I think it's just a measure of the fact that we aren't fluent in Yiddish. People who know Yiddish get really annoyed when folks assert that Yiddish has no ways to express enlightened ideas or polite sentiments.
Yiddish speakers "back in the day" certainly were interested in political correctness--in fact, they invented it! Yiddish speakers were not only Hasidim and Mitnagdim, they were also socialists, anarchists, communists and plain old progressives.

In fact, the Yiddish resurgence today is full of all of those well-educated religious and political people, again. Yiddish also has words like gerechtigheit (justice) rachmones (mercy) and edelkeit (gentleness.)

Torie, if you think they are saying something racist, then they probably are saying something racist. Don't be afraid to stand up for yourself when this happens. You know you are right. What Kama'aina Mama said--just don't tolerate it. If it makes you upset, well, okay. That's because it's really important that Jewish people not be racists. So, don't shut about it.

Typing that makes me tear up, too. It's for our children that we have to tough this one out.

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#13 of 22 Old 05-16-2003, 01:32 AM
 
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R'Molly, I thought of "shikseh," too, when I first read this thread. And I've never heard it used positively, either. Along with the male counterpart, "sheygetz." Then again, I don't hear them very often, either. My DH insists on calling my mother his "shvigger," but not when she's in the room. Does that mean it's a negative term? Hey, we're BTs, it's hard enough having to learn Hebrew, one language at a time, please ... :LOL

And slightly off-topic, we have a close friend named Fay. We have always called her "Faygie" or "Faygeleh," and never thought twice about it. Though I do know it is used as a derogatory term referring to gay men, now that you mention it ... but does that mean we can't call her that? It is, after all, her name.

Back on topic ... point being that there are times when things are taken too far. There are certainly some people who use those terms with no derogatory intent. Particularly in large Yiddish-speaking communities (and it is very far from a dying language : ). My community's Yiddish is more along the lines of Yeshivish ... the English is peppered with Hebrew and Yiddish, but not too many Yiddish speakers. So it would be certainly ... noticeable, I guess is the word ... if someone used the term in my community. And by extension, it would be considered derogatory.

Am I making sense here?
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#14 of 22 Old 05-16-2003, 10:14 AM
 
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Amy, not to worry - Shvigger means mother in law, no derogatory intonations.

If Faige/la is the person's name, then that's her name. Again it's the context that matters.

Going back to Yiddish is a colorful language: it is. I thought that my comment inferred that it is not a simple or "backwards" language. Of course Yiddish has had great writers, performers, artists within its culture. Its "color" would come from the variety of intonations, idioms, and verve (whether they came from the shtetl or the big city). While I'm not fluent, DH is and I've heard some of these cool expressions.

My reference to "back in the day" meant when Yiddish was spoken in greater numbers. Certainly it's not a dying language, and we should be thankful for all of the work that YIVO has done and currently does. However, there is a difference between Yiddish spoken today and Yiddish spoken in the culturally rich communities of Warsaw and Vilna between the wars as well as pre WWI. The theater performed, books and newspapers written, radio shows, etc. were not comparable to what's around today.

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#15 of 22 Old 05-16-2003, 12:03 PM
 
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Yes, YIVO's done a lot for the nominal number of nonreligious Yiddish speakers. But go to Boro Park, Williamsburg ... in those neighborhoods it's many people's first language, what they speak with their children at home.

Me'ah She'arim & Geulah, too ...
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#16 of 22 Old 05-16-2003, 12:10 PM
 
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b'h

i don't agree. the term shvartze is used to refer to people of color. it's not derogatory. it's used to refer to jewish people of color as well, and if it were derogatory, jews would not use the term on other jews. i personally know black jews, a classmate of mine actually just got engaged to a black jewish fellow.

goy, as well. it just means someone who's not jewish. goyya is the feminine of that, and likewise is not derogatory. shikse, on the other hand, is derogatory.

i use the terms shvartze and goy, and i don't see a problem using either.
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#17 of 22 Old 05-16-2003, 01:04 PM - Thread Starter
 
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bs"d

Thank you everyone for all your thoughtful replies.

Chani- I was just going to post about the very thing you wrote about. I asked my next door neighbor, a nice frum lady who happens to have a son whose kallah (bride) is a person of color (not that this fact makes her the authority on the kashrus of the term), if she felt that the use of "shvartze" is racist. She said she uses the word herself as if she were saying "black person" in English, but that it depends on the context. If a person is saying something rude about a black person using that term, well, of course, it becomes a slur.

I guess this is why I have become unsure of how to react. The term in question is used in a neutral context, and even in a positive one regularly. The perception that the term is a slur, coupled with the instances of truly derogatory use of the term (which, unfortunately, also happens ), however have tainted the word, resulting in the uncomfortable feeling I get from it. I probably don't even notice many of the times people use the word, because it is so neutral. I once heard that my neighborhood is "the most integrated in NYC (in the US?)" (no, I don't have a legit source for this). Jews and people of color live side by side, there being black people on all of the most Jewish blocks, and vice versa. The two races, or however else we'd like to explain this, have quite different lifestyles (Most people would probably think their lifestyle is quite different from Chasidic Jews), and it isn't always a smooth ride. Overall, relations are friendly-- I think.

Perhaps I should tell others not to "taint" the beautiful Yiddish language (we can't have perfectly good words becoming slurs, can we?) when I hear the term used in a way that obviously conveys derision, and forget it otherwise? I have already "taken a stand" with a few people in my community when I was newer here, not intending to argue about it, but I suppose my "stand" put people on the defensive. It always blew up into a big deal. It's just so contextual... just about everyone in my community I've asked agrees with Chani and doesn't take issue with it.

Maybe I should forget the *WORDS* and respond to people's *ATTITUDE*!

Well, thank you for allowing me to think by typing my feelings.

Quote:
Amy, not to worry - Shvigger means mother in law, no derogatory intonations.
Amy-
Does dh like your mother? Maybe it is a slur. :LOL :LOL
JK, I'm sure your Mum is great!
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#18 of 22 Old 05-16-2003, 04:27 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally posted by BY
Maybe I should forget the *WORDS* and respond to people's *ATTITUDE*!
BY - I think that is bottom line and what I was trying to convey in my second response. I know where I live, within certain parts of the Orthodox community the words "goy" and "shvartze" are used with no negative connotation. HOwever, my husband and I interact with the wider Jewish communtiy where such words have taken on a negative connotation (I was once told that the word "goy" is a considered a curse word within the Reform community by members of a Reform synagogue where I was teaching at the time). So I am very aware of how these words sound to the community at large and have taught my children not to use them. However, I hear them within the Orthodox community on a regular basis and the context always determines whether it is a slur or not. Does that make sense? For example, there is a big difference between saying "We don't drive b/c it's shabbos - but for a goy it's fine." (OK, not a *great* example, but you get my jist) and saying "a shiker is a goy".

Just an aside - I work in a hospital unit that started out at the old St. Louis Jewish Hospital. Many of the older non-Jewish nurses were educated there and know more about Judaism than the average Jew. They will often refer to themselves as "shiksas" - as in "that [Jewish] girl didn't know what a chuppah was. Even a shiksa like me knows *that*!"

Anyway - have a great shabbos!
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#19 of 22 Old 05-17-2003, 12:59 PM
 
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Sorry to jump in late.

I can relate to that last paragraph. Me: very white, Germanic Long Islander, raised Lutheran. My maternal grandfather was Pa Dutch to add to it, didn't speak English, only German, til Jr high. He and Grandma lived in Lindenhurst LI all my life (where Grandma was born), a German stronghold. So, I am familiar with the German language, took it in school too, and see its relationship to Yiddish (had to learn it so my mom adn grandma couldn't get away with, halz mau, die Kinder, when my sister and I would walk into the room!).

Add to that, most of my schoolmates were either Jewish, or Italian or Irish Catholic (first generation LIer's, their parents were from "the City" and their grandparents all lived in Brooklyn or Staten Island!), I was raised in a very diverse environment. Altho, no POC back then, tho.

Just wanted to say, many of my dearest friends were Jewish, we all loved language and each other, and if any of them, or their parents, wanted to call me a little shiksa or a goy, I did not mind. Y'all can call me one, if you want.

Yeah, I know what a chuppah is. I used to be a florist.


IME, only my friends' grandparents would use the word schvartze tho. It sounded old school even back then, to me.
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#20 of 22 Old 05-17-2003, 05:38 PM
 
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I heard an Austalian talk show host here in LALA land use the "N" word one night on air eleven years ago.

In his native Australia, it did not have the power or meaning that it has in this country. Therefore, he did not know the fire and venom that the word evoked in this country.

It was his last show. He was fired...

...He did make use of his final minutes on that particular show saying that giving power and meaning to a "word" is wrong...

I just think that words convey an idea, a concept, and we should choose our words carefully.

Time also changes the meanings that words have. The English language is a powerful conveyor of words and meanings. English absorbs words from other cultures very readily and gives the words meanings that may be unintended.
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#21 of 22 Old 05-18-2003, 08:54 AM
 
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Torie, I hope this thread has brought you some clarity.

Quote:
Originally posted by chani
[B]b'h

i don't agree. the term shvartze is used to refer to people of color. it's not derogatory. it's used to refer to jewish people of color as well, and if it were derogatory, jews would not use the term on other jews. i personally know black jews, a classmate of mine actually just got engaged to a black jewish fellow.

I don't know what to say, Chani. Mabey you have been in some parellel universe where there is no sinas chinam or prejudice within the jewish community......
Haliviy!!

-BelovedBird

Mom of 5 boys- 13, 10, 8, 2 : and newbie Aug. 24th, '09 . babywearing advocate . Cook, baker, homemaker, wife to a man with another woman's kidney (live altruistic, unknown donor).
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#22 of 22 Old 05-18-2003, 09:54 AM
 
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Many Jewsofcolor in my community. Halivii, as BB said, that they would agree, chani, that there is no prejudice amongst Jews. But they would most emphatically not agree.

Sad to say.

The Ethiopian community in Israel might want to weigh in along those lines, too. And fully half or more of the Israeli population is Sephardi ... and they'd have something to say about it, too. None of it pleasant.

We're coming up on Lag B'Omer. Remember why R' Akiva's students died ... well, at least one explanation, anyway ... they weren't kind to each other.

The tradition, sadly, outlived them.

Something else to pray for.
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