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Chicago Jewish LGBT Leader: ‘To Be Told I Don’t Belong Feels So Sad’

Stephanie Goldfarb is a social worker at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and also the winner of “America’s Best Cook” on the Food Network and proprietor of Seven Species Supper Club, a bimonthly dinner at her home in Edgewater. As a member of both Chicago’s Jewish and LGBTQ communities, she was upset by the ejection of three Jewish women from last Saturday’s Dyke March and wrote a Facebook post about her reaction: “What happened yesterday isn’t shocking to me, because SO many of us queer Jews have been battling anti-Semitism in the queer community.”

The post generated a lot of conversation, and I called up Goldfarb to talk more about her observations about anti-Semitism in Chicago’s LGBTQ community and how the knot of anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and leftist ideology can be untangled. At the time, Goldfarb was at the airport getting ready to fly to Israel, where she was going to attend the ROI Summit, sponsored by the Schusterman Family Foundation, where, she said, “my goal is to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders and figure out a way to think through how to untangle this stuff.”

I didn’t expect my Facebook post to go so viral. I’ve been asked by lots of people about my opinion. I don’t represent Jews everywhere. I work at a Jewish institution. I’ve dedicated my life to the Jewish community, but not to oppressive policies set in place by the Israeli government. I want Palestinians to be safe and protected in their homeland, just as much I want that for Jews. There has to be a solution there, and just because we haven’t found it doesn’t mean I’m giving up on Israel and Palestinians. To be told I don’t belong, that I’m not a feminist, that my voice is not acceptable, feels so sad. It makes our work much harder. I want very much to collaborate with organizations like Dyke March, to be included and taken seriously. I want community to understand the nuances. There’s a difference between Zionism and Judaism. It’s very important to make that distinction. Dyke March doesn’t make that distinction.

Dyke March is very important. Pride marches don’t represent people of color. But they shouldn’t be excluding people, especially on the day of the event. It hurts. It hurts.

Stephanie Goldfarb. Image by Courtesy

There’s been a lot of rejection of the word “anti-Semitism.” There’s a lack of willingness to understand what anti-Semitism looks like and feels like to Jews. The minute it’s used, people turn off. They don’t want to be oppressors.

For sure there are people on the left who don’t like Jews. Not all Jews want to bulldoze Palestinian homes. Being fed rhetoric from an anti-Semitic place doesn’t mean people are anti-Semites, [but] they don’t realize [they’re] reading as deeply anti-Semitic. They’re not listening to actual Jews. They would listen to people of color if they were telling you what you were saying was racist. They would listen to a survivor of sexual assault.

People on the left are not interested in listening to Jews. We’re seen as white, people of privilege, fragile of identities, oppressors because of affiliation with Israel. Everyone has different affiliation. Not everyone who loves Israel want to banish Palestinians. The majority of Jews in this country very much want healing and a two-state solution. We read headlines and feel embarrassed. We have other identities, and mine happens to be a queer identity. I would very much like to have a queer Jewish identity, but I’m being asked to hide part of my identity. It’s very confusing and painful.

I hope something good can come out of this. I think of when Trump was elected, all the social justice work that started happening. It will be messy. People will make mistakes. That’s one of my critiques of the left, and social justice communities. People aren’t allowed to make mistakes, to ask questions, to grow. Everyone needs to be perfect with their best politics right now. It’s too bad. In order to heal this situation, mistakes do need to be made. People learn and grow. I hope Dyke March can learn and grow. Jews can learn and grow. I hope we can lighten up a bit.

I run a supper club. I donate proceeds to community organizations. Last year I donated to Dyke March. I’m giving thought to having a series of dinners for interfaith dialogue and intercommunity dialogue. I can combine my talent with food and my love for progressive thinking and community. Food is a good bridge builder.

Aimee Levitt reports regularly on Chicagoland for the Forward. Contact her at feedback@forward.com. Follow her on Twitter, @aimeelevitt.

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