There’s No Place For The Poor In America’s Jewish Communities
Thank you for publishing Sharon Pomerantz’s important essay about class anxiety and Jewishness. One could easily say that Judaism in its American manifestations turns us away, just as much it turns us off when many of us face financial and class barriers.
I find this to be at the center of my own lifelong struggle with my Jewishness, and Ms. Pomerantz’s piece made me feel real physical and psychic pain as it made me relive some of my own childhood experiences. I note she recounts 1978; 1960 was bad, too, when my father died and my mother had to raise me, 4 years old, and my sister, 6. We were two blocks from a synagogue. But we couldn’t attend. We were too poor, and my mother bemoaned her pariah status as a widow. This was West Los Angeles. Everybody was Jewish. This meant I was eternally excluded from everything Jewish my classmates experienced. I was a pariah, and continue to feel this way today as a 61 year old single lesbian. Believe me, not much has changed since the 60s.
Of course, many will argue that today there are many opportunities, including adult education. It’s just not the same as living Judaism in a family situation. One grows up as an outsider. I mean, even if somebody invites you to a bat or bar mitzvah, you don’t have anything to wear or bring because you are poor. And you don’t know what’s going on. It’s horrible and scarring and drives many of us away. To this day, as you can probably discern, I’m troubled by this truly unwelcome facet of Jewish life in America. It seems to betray everything I’ve tried to learn about Jewish faith and culture independently.
I suspect Ms. Pomerantz’s piece resonates with those of us who now walk around with profound spiritual longing and nowhere to go to learn and sing and pray. It’s our tribe’s loss. It’s a shonda . Please continue to explore this topic as we watch the gulf between rich and poor widen in this country.
Dena J. Schoen, Seattle, Wa