I’m So Over Euro-Centric Jewish Presumptions

by Loolwa Khazzoom • May 26, 2010 • Jewish Multicultural Corner

I had a meeting with a rabbi today, the head of a spiritual community that has a whole lot of cool funky types who share my general life vibe. But then there’s that Euro-centric orientation that is so entrenched that it is not even recognized. It leaves me feeling alienated.

So I contacted the rabbi to talk about my feelings from a personal perspective, and she was very positive in her response. We met today to discsuss. I came as an individual in the community, period. I did not inform her of my two decades of ground-breaking work on Jewish multiculturalism. I did not send her ahead of time any of the plethora of articles I have written on the topic, for mainstream and Jewish periodicals. Nor did I send her a link to my bio, with its laundry list of prestigious institutions where I have offered Jewish multicultural seminars to educators and students, Jewish and non-Jewish alike.

I left all my credentials and body of work behind, arriving  metaphorically naked as the rabbi and I met for the first time. On the surface, everything was cool in our conversation. But somehow I left feeling shamed, angry, humiliated.

Part of it may be that before leaving, I offered her one of my babies — one of the last ten copies of my book, now out of print. Granted, I explained to her that I needed to lend it to her, rather than give it to her, for that very last-ten reason. Regardless, as I recall, she neither thanked me nor seemed particularly interested in the book. The vibe I got actually felt like something along the lines of irritation that I was asking her to read it. As I recall, the only comment she made was, “It’s great you have a book,” which was pretty much missing the point of both its existence and why I was handing it to her.

Other than that, I think the yucky emotional residue stemmed from me trying really hard not to challenge the rabbi in her thinking, but rather, to focus on her positive intentions. But I ended up walking away feeling as I had felt when I was 20 years old – following the extremely distressing meeting that instigated my becoming a Jewish multicultural educator. That day twenty years ago, leaving the Jewish Office at Columbia University, I promised myself that I would never again ask a Jewish community leader to please, please include non-European Jews in the presentation of Jewish life. Instead I would launch a movement demanding that inclusion.

And yet, there I was today, essentially making that request again. Which leads me to conclude that the only way I can intersect with the Jewish community is in fact as I have been doing it for two decades — as a professional Jewish multicultural educator. Becuase either way, I end up in conversations where I have to challenge (or suffer from) a whole lot of Euro-centric presumption. And at least in the latter capacity, I get paid for it.

Anyhow, I’m still processing this whole conversation and my feelings around it. I do believe that this rabbi had good intentions, and I genuinely appreciate that she took the time to meet with me. But I am left, yet again, wanting and — perhaps more importantly — expecting more from the leader of a progressive Jewish community. Because among other things, the closer that something hits to home, and the less home-like it actually is, the more it hurts.

4 Responses to “I’m So Over Euro-Centric Jewish Presumptions”

  1. T
    May 28, 2010

    the closer that something hits to home, and the less home-like it actually is, the more it hurts.

    SO TRUE!!!

  2. zalel
    Jun 06, 2010

    The problem, Loolwa, is that the rabbi thinks about Jewish inclusiveness (or however one might describe the goal of grappling with diverse perspectives about All-Of-Us) the same way many European Americans think about an action like voting for Obama: Click. Next item, please.

    Such a person really doesn’t want to have a deeper grasp, they want to get back to dreamland. They lack the imagination that’s required to give your concerns real consideration. And anyway, they don’t believe that those other flavors really matter.

  3. daniel najjar
    Jul 26, 2010

    i am a half ashkenaz half yemenite american-born jew and at 56 i finally figured out i could just avoid ashkenazis altogether. i am verging on an ashkenazi-free life. it’s liberating, exhilarating. so i’m not left with too many jews, but that’s the price of freedom. seek out others. ashkecentrism will never be diminished.

  4. kapoore
    Jan 01, 2011

    If you as a Sephardic Jew feel alienated you probably have a better understanding of what a non-Jew feels. I have for many years been married to a Jewish man and have lived in a jewish world, that is, Jewish neighborhoods, Jewish friends, etc. It’s not that I don’t value all that because in some ways I do, but I also never cease to be amazed at the blindness of the culture. There really is only one perspective; it’s a little like a force of gravity. I give up. I found your article by writing in the search engine: “I’m so over Jewish.”

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Loolwa KhazzoomLoolwa Khazzoom has worked with leading media outlets, including The New York Times, CNN, Rolling Stone, and ABC News. In addition, she has published two books and has lectured at prestigious venues including Barnard Center for Research on Women, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Harvard University. Loolwa is passionate about health, music, dance, multiculturalism, and Judaism.

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