What Happened To This Black Jew Was A Lynch Mob In The Making
On Monday morning, a black Jewish man named Yehudah Webster survived a lynch mob of in Crown Heights.
Yes, I said lynch mob. The thugs in question were Chasidic men and Chasidic private security who used their vehicles to block Yehudah from leaving beacuse they were suspicious of him having a Torah scroll.
In this incident, which Yehudah describes as a nightmare, the men screamed at him to “explain himself,” and they called the NYPD to come arrest Webster.
Miraculously, when the officers arrived, they sided with Webster, instead of ending his life as they could have so easily done, and Webster was allowed to go free. But the NYPD’s refusal to arrest Webster for the crime of possessing a Torah scroll infuriated the chasidic men who had attacked him.
I call this a lynch mob because that is plain and simple what happened here. This scene is no different than the ones I grew up all my life hearing, stories involving white people crazed with hate, stories involving blood-thirsty Klan members. For anyone who is familiar with living in America as a black person, this story is familiar.
There’s this pernicious myth that the white Jewish community is less racist and more safe for black people than other white communities. Admittedly, it’s a myth that I previously believed — because I wanted to, because I needed to.
But now, after having the experiences that I’ve had, after speaking with countless black Jews and black people about their experiences, this myth drives me up the wall. It leads me to places of frustration and anger that I never thought possible.
I know that people think I have an “obsession” with white Jews. I don’t. I generally don’t care enough about white people to ever have an obsession with them. What I do have, however, is a deep hatred of injustice, hypocrisy, gaslighting, and abuse of power. Right now, that is what black people in Jewish spaces are experiencing – and none of us are allowed to talk about it truthfully.
I say black people and not black Jews in this piece for two reasons. For starters, people seem to think that questions surrounding a person’s halachic status as a Jewish person can excuse the racism against them. So let’s just eliminate that excuse right now. But it’s also becoming increasingly clear to me that not only are black Jews not safe in their own communities, but that non-Jewish black people are also unsafe in white Jewish communities.
In his role as a community organizer, my partner works with many different faith congregations, including a few Jewish ones. I recently attended a meeting of his where a white Jewish woman stated that her synagogue was furious at their rabbi’s attempt to participate in protests against police brutality because “The Jewish community needs them to protect us against the crazy white supremacists.” She was apologetic and embarrassed, but her meaning was clear, “Please be patient with us. We’re not really white, and one day we’ll realize that. But until then, just know that this isn’t coming from a place of racism, but of fear.”
Bullshit. White people do not harass, demean, and harm black people because they are fearful of us. They want power over us. And this dynamic does not change simply because the racists in this situation are Jewish. The racism we experience is not coming from a unique place informed by trauma – it’s coming from the same place in the soul that other white people hate us with.
After the meeting, I looked my partner in his eyes and I told him that the idea of him entering that synagogue scared me to death. What if a congregant who didn’t value his black skin decided to shoot, believing him to be a threat? What if he played his rap music too loud as he approached, and the police were called on him?
If my partner had swapped places with Yehudah Webster, I’m not sure that he would have come home to me that night. He doesn’t identify as Jewish so the police wouldn’t have seen a kippah and he wouldn’t have had a white Jewish friend there to vouch for him. He would have been alone, cloaked in only his blackness.
Black people are demonized all throughout this country, and this demonization isn’t lessened when we are in the Jewish community.
The Jewish community — no matter what race or ethnicity — has suffered an immeasurable amount of trauma. But this trauma doesn’t cancel out white privilege if one possesses it. It doesn’t give people a special lens that enables them to view the world in a non-racist way. Implying that it does erases the very real experiences that people of color have in the white Jewish community, experiences that — for them — are no different than any other white group in America.
When one is surrounded by a lynch mob, it is not helpful to point out that their attackers carry ancestral trauma. It is not helpful to point out that their attackers are hated by the KKK too. It is not helpful to point out that 71% of the people with the same identity as their attackers voted against Donald Trump.
First of all, that statistic only proves that Jews have more common sense than most, not that they are less racist. Secondly, that statistic doesn’t even specify how white Jews voted compared to Jews of other races. It proves nothing and excuses nothing.
And yet, black people are expected to be understanding and gentle about the hatred that they receive from white Jews. They are supposed to listen with open minds and open hearts as white people tell them how they aren’t white, and that their racism against black people is “nuanced” and “justified.”
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there is nothing particularly special about anti-blackness in white Jewish communities, particularly in America. There is no magical formula or theory or think piece that will explain it away.
Whiteness is the explanation.
The obsession with the “threat” that black people pose to the Jewish community isn’t because of misinformation or miseducation that can be easily rectified. In this matter, most people are either ignoring information or refusing education.
The truth is that black people do not seek to destroy Jewish people. They do not seek to annihilate them. As a people, we don’t have enough resources to ever be able to do so. But more importantly, we are simply not motivated by a hatred of Jews or Judaism.
What black people do hate is being abused. We hate being condescended to. We hate being gaslighted.
Black people can clearly see when we are unsafe, when we are being discriminated against. And when what we can clearly see is denied and obfuscated — by anyone — the insult to our intelligence is deep.
Black people do not pose a threat to the Jewish community.
I know that blaming black people for anti-Semitism is the easier route to take. People like Yehudah are more easily locked up and dealt with than the real enemy.
But unfortunately, anti-Semitism won’t be solved by obsessing over poor black followers of the Nation of Islam or by harassing black Bar Mitzvah tutors.
And it’s past time to focus on anti-blackness in the Jewish community.