Thoughts on Race and Judaism by Adriana Liwsky

I was born and raised in Argentina. My country is 90% White and doesn't have a Black population. There were no plantations in our past and the story of slavery is short because the slaves were able to soon buy their freedom back in the 19th century, due to working in urban areas.  The majority of Argentinians are of European descent. (Argentina still has a small indigenous population who continue to suffer neglect, lack of education and political manipulation.) Similarly, the overwhelming majority of Jews, in this, the largest Jewish community in Latin America, are of Ashkenazi descent.

My father was a jazz lover who always told me that Black people - or, as he would call them, "jazz musicians" - are just the same as the rest of us. My mother, on the other hand, believed that anybody with darker skin than ours had a lower IQ.   My father was also a Zionist leader. He would give ardent speeches to our Jewish community telling them to send their children to Israel. However, back in the privacy of our home he would never allow his daughters to even suggest leaving Argentina for Israel..

Being born and raised in a country where the anti-Semitism is deeply ingrained in the religious culture forced me to have a deeper understanding of segregation and unfairness. Memories of being bullied, just because I was Jewish, are many. I remember already in first grade, my classmates jumping around me screaming "let's not play with her, she killed Jesus Christ".   My seventh-grade teacher lectured the class that "there is a rotten apple here." I didn't even know she was talking about me, but later another teacher warned my parents about it. My parents were too afraid to say anything about it.   At my first job I made a new friend. When she learned I was Jewish she said to me "I am so disappointed, I really liked you".

The bloody, US-supported, coup d'état of 1976 brought concentration camps and extra-judicial executions killings to Argentina. Of course, Jewish prisoners suffered worse torture treatment than others, if they survived at all.   The 1994 bombing of the Jewish Mutual Association killed 85 people. The TV news reports that terrible day announced "some innocent people had died too." Meaning, non-Jews also died in the terrorist attack. It seemed like the Jews who died were not innocent victims of terrorism.

So, when I immigrated to the US I had favorable and compassionate feelings toward African Americans and other people different from me. I had suffered as a Jew in Argentina and I believed that since Jews and people of color had suffered similar discrimination we had a common bond.

Well, was I in for a big surprise! Professionally I am a doula. I worked for several years with underprivileged families. The majority of them were women of color. I supported pregnant teens and their babies in an environment of abuse, ignorance, and neglect. I underwent an immersion in cultural and historical injustice and an understanding of how different our backgrounds really were. 

I came to understand that by virtue of my skin color I was privileged, respected and well-treated in all ways that these girls weren't. My work was a lesson in humility. I understood that generations of injustice could not magically generate trust from these families to me. I had to earn their trust and it was hard. I wanted to make a difference. I believe I did, in some cases, if not all. All these connections made a difference in me.

And for that, I am thankful and forever in their debt.