Jewish

Don’t schedule important events on major Jewish holidays

A lot of things get scheduled on major Jewish holidays, in a way that prevents Jews from being able to participate. This needs to stop. 

If you’re in charge of scheduling things like:

  • Protests
  • Conferences
  • Public school orientations
  • College orientations
  • Exam schedules
  • Field trips
  • Other important events

Please avoid scheduling on major Jewish holidays. The most important ones to avoid are:

  • Rosh Hashana
  • Yom Kippur
  • The first two nights of Passover 

These holidays are at slightly different times each year, because the Jewish calendar is lunar. Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are in the fall, Passover is in the Spring. You can check when they are at hebcal.com, and hebcal.com also has a calendar you can subscribe to that says when the holidays are.

Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are the times at which Jews who don’t go to synagogue at any other time of year go. (In the same way that some Christians only go to church on Easter and Christmas). They are also major family holidays, even for people who are otherwise secular. Yom Kippur is a 25 hour fast (from both food and water) and most people who observe it are pretty wiped out immediately afterwards. 

The first two nights of Passover are when Jewish families hold Passover seders. It’s a major family holiday, even for people who do not consider themselves religious and never go to synagogue at all. Nearly all Jewish families have some sort of seder. 

It is considerate to also avoid scheduling important events that would require travel on the day before and after these major holidays. It is critical to avoid scheduling events on the holidays themselves.

There are other Jewish holidays that will create conflicts for some Jews, but they’re not as important to most Jewish people. 

tl;dr: If you value Jewish participation and solidarity with Jews, it is critically important to avoid scheduling important events on on Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and the first two nights of Passover.

Advice about contacting rabbis to discuss conversion

Anonymous said to realsocialskills:
Hi! Do you have any advice re: contacting a rabbi to discuss [reform] conversion? I am disabled and struggle with a lot of anxiety (especially around communicating clearly and needing accommodations!) Please let me know if you’d rather I message you off anon. Thank you and have a great day <3

Realsocialskills said:

A few things (this is US-centric advice; it’s somewhat different in other countries):

The short version: Send them an email, say you’re interested in conversion, and ask to meet with them. If you can’t find their email on the synagogue website, there will probably be a general office email — email that and say you want to meet with the rabbi about conversion. (If you’re a college student, you might want to start with the Hillel rabbi, but you don’t have to.)

Probably what will happen next is that they’ll set a time to meet with you. Probably what will happen at that meeting is that they’ll ask why you’re interested, along with general getting-to-know-you kinds of questions. They’ll also probably want to know if you’re dating anyone, and they may want reassurance that you understand that Judaism is not a form of Christianity.  

They’re likely to tell you to take an introduction to Judaism class, through their synagogue or through a local organization. Not everyone does this, but it’s really common. Conversion almost always takes at least a year, in part to make sure that prospective converts have a clear sense of what they’re getting into.

There’s a myth that rabbis tell you to go away three times — *some* Orthodox rabbis do that, but it’s *really* uncommon in liberal movements. I know a lot of rabbis, and none of the rabbis I know would do that. You don’t have to prove your worthiness, and you don’t have to be sure what you want. 

It’s ok to feel anxious and uncomfortable. Most people do when considering conversion, especially when making first contact.

In terms of needing accommodations — there’s a *huge* range of where Jewish communities are in terms of accessibility (I’m working on improving this). I can’t tell you what your particular community is like, or how they’ll regard disability. (One thing I can say is that Jewish conversation patterns are different than the mainstream, and some people find them intrinsically more accessible. But again, I can’t say what your experiences will be access-wise.)

Also, religious descriptions of Judaism and books written for people considering conversion can sometimes be misleading about what communities are actually like. One way to learn some of the things those sources don’t cover well is to look at Jewish humor. This huge set of Jewish jokes may help. 

when a seder is overloading

alexeidarling:

realsocialskills:

thelimpingdoctor replied to your post: Passover asks?

How do you deal with sensory overload in a situation where you can’t leave?

realsocialskills said:

Based on context, I think you’re probably asking about being overloaded at a large noisy seder.

There might be more options for leaving and taking a break than you might realize. I’m going to discuss those, then some thoughts on how to deal with it if leaving isn’t an option.

Some options for taking breaks:

Helping in the kitchen

  • At seders, there are often (not always) things going on in the kitchen that people would welcome help with
  • If you find doing stuff in the kitchen less overloading than being at the table, excusing yourself to go help might be a socially acceptable way to take a break
  • Some examples of things people might welcome help with:
  • Cutting vegetables
  • Serving soup
  • Bringing out other things
  • Washing dishes

Playing with the kids:

  • At a lot of seders, there are little kids who kind of run in and out
  • If these are kids you know, or they’re related to you, it may be socially acceptable for you to take breaks and play with the kids
  • This depends on the culture of your family or community; it’s fairly common for it to be socially acceptable, but it’s not universal

Pretending you have to go to the bathroom:

  • At a long seder, most people will excuse themselves to use the bathroom at least once
  • If you take a break for about that amount of time, that’s what people will assume you were doing
  • (You can also actually go to the bathroom even if you don’t need to use it - bathrooms can sometimes be a good place to take a break from sensory overload since people will usually leave you alone for a few minutes if you’re in the bathroom)

Options if you can’t take breaks or taking breaks doesn’t help enough:

Get oriented:

  • Sometimes sensory overload is caused as much by disorientation as by sensations
  • One way to become more oriented is to think through in advance what’s likely to happen
  • If you feel like stuff is more predictable, it’s likely to be less overwhelming and sensory stuff might be easier to manage
  • If this is a seder you’ve been to before, it might help think about what usually happens. Who will be there? How do they usually act? Who will ask the four questions?
  • It also might be a good idea to look through the hagaddah. Here’s one online.
  • If you’re feeling overloaded during the seder, it’s worth considering the possibility that you have become disoriented
  • If you look through the haggadah, figure out where you are in the seder, and how much is left, it might help you to become more oriented and less overloaded
  • It may also help to use a visual schedule, which shows you at a glance what to expect and in what order. Here’s one you can print, organized by cup.

Using solid objects to ground yourself:

  • If you’ve become really overloaded or disoriented, sometimes grabbing hold of something solid can help a lot
  • If you’re at a seder, the most readily available solid thing is likely to be the table
  • If there’s someone present you trust who is ok with it, holding someone’s hand can help a lot too in ramping down overload

Sit in a less overloading place in the room:

  • Sitting on the edge of the room is likely to be less overloading than sitting in the middle
  • Sitting on the end or near the end of a table is likely to be less overloading than sitting between several people
  • Sitting near the door is likely to be less overloading (especially if you get overloaded from feeling trapped)
  • If there are florescent lights in the room, it helps to pay attention to whether one of them is flickering
  • If you’re already overwhelmed going into the room, you might not notice right away, even though it will bother you later. If flickering lights bother you, it’s worth making a point of checking to see if the light is flickering when you decide where to sit
  • If the room is likely to be very loud, you might be more comfortable if you use ear plugs. You can get disposable ones for cheap at a pharmacy

Stimming:

  • Some people can stop overload by moving in certain ways
  • Most people can at least mitigate it a little
  • Rocking back and forth can help a lot (and it’s not that weird in a lot of Jewish settings, particularly if there are a lot of religious people present.)
  • If you have stim toys that usually work for you, it might be a good idea to bring them
  • If you’re worried about stigma, it might work better to use different things
  • (That said, if a room is crowded and noisy and overloading, it’s very likely that no one is actually looking at you)
  • If you wear rings or bracelets, you can play with them
  • You can also play with the silverware if the seder isn’t extremely formal. You probably won’t be the only one.
  • You can also stim with the haggadah. (by holding it in your hands, flipping the pages, looking through it, or even reading it.)
  • If you have a water bottle with a stem you can chew the stem
  • (You can also eat stuff as a way of getting to chew to reduce overload. If you do that with stuff like celery rather than stuff like chicken it’s less likely to make you uncomfortably full)
  • You might be able to bring seder-themed stim toys to use, particularly if you bring enough to share. (For instance, if you bring out plastic frogs for the ten plagues, probably no one will think twice about you continuing to play with them)

Participating actively also might help to handle overload:

  • Sometimes it can be less overloading to participate in something than to be passively present while something is happening
  • This isn’t true for everyone, but it’s true for a lot of people
  • For instance, if people are singing loud songs and it’s overloading, you might be more physically comfortable if you sing the songs too
  • (This doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for some people)
  • If it’s a big seder and people are going on and on and you’re overloaded, ignoring what’s going on and reading the haggadah might work. (In that setting, you’re probably not going to be the only one doing that.)
  • Asking questions and arguing might be less overloading than being in the room while other people are doing that

Talking to people might also be an option:

tl;dr Passover seders can be really overloading. Scroll up for some ideas about how to deal with that.

Tip for stimming - dollar stores usually sell packages of small rubber frogs. My aunt used to scatter them on the table when we arrived for the Seder, and everyone would play with them throughout the evening - kids and adults alike!

Another tip for integrating stimming into the Seder is plague bags. I’ve been doing these for the past two years with my Hebrew school students, and are a great way to get kids involved in the Seder while sneaking in some stimming material for yourself. In this year’s plague bag, I used sunglasses to be darkness, which might help with bright lights, and squares of bubble wrap to represent boils (who can resist popping bubble wrap?). Last year’s bag had little flea and grasshopper finger puppets, which also make for good stimming. And both bags have said rubber frogs, and one has spiders made of the same material.

A thought on asking rabbis questions

Content note: This post is more Jewish-specific than usual. (As usual, anyone who wants to reblog one of my posts should go ahead and reblog it.)

animatedamerican

replied to your post

“Seders go better if you have substantial food for karpas”

Strictly speaking you shouldn’t eat anything between kiddush and motzi, and the karpas breaks that usual pattern; many still hold, though, that for that reason the karpas should not be anything substantial. If you or anyone else at the seder holds that way, eating something substantial shortly before candle lighting is a good alternative.

realsocialskills said:

I’m not concerned with that opinion, for reasons are beyond the scope of this blog. That said, I think there’s something it’s important for people in communities concerned with that kind of thing to know:

Strict opinions do not necessarily apply to everyone. This is true in every community, even communities generally regarded as extremely inflexible.

If you ask “Is it permitted to do x?” as a generic question, you will usually get the default theoretical answer based on sources. If you ask “given my particular circumstances, is it permitted for *me* to do x?”, you will usually get an answer that takes your circumstances into account. These answers can be completely different.

People who sound super-strict in public (even angrily so), often give very different answers in private when they know your circumstances. 

If the answer to a halakhic question you’re asking matters, it’s usually worth saying why. If you’re asking a rabbi, maharat, yoetzet, or other halakhic expert a question, they will give you a better answer if you give them more context.

So here, someone who asked “Can I eat substantial food for karpas” might get a completely different answer than “Every year I find that I am too exhausted from hunger to participate in the maggid. Can I eat substantial food for karpas?”. 

tl;dr If you’re in the kind of community where people ask rabbis halakhic questions, it’s often worth telling them what your situation is and why you’re asking the question. The answer to abstract questions is often very different than the answer to questions about a specific situation.

Dealing with boring seders

Content note: This post is more Jewish-specific than usual. Feel free to reblog if it speaks to you for any reason.

A lot of seders are boring, but the haggadah itself is interesting.

One way to deal with boring seders is to ignore the boring conversation and read the interesting parts of the haggadah.

Unfortunately, a lot of haggadahs are printed in ways that make the content seem boring. Cheap haggadot tend to have really lousy translations that make it seem incomprehensible. 

Understanding the interestingness of the haggadah can require some context. If you get a haggadah with good commentary, the story is likely to seem much more interesting. 

One way to find good commentary is to go to a bookstore, flip through some different haggadot, and see which ones look interesting to you. If you bring a good haggadah, you might be more interested — and might be able to make the conversation more interesting for others as well. Haggadot.com also has some things that might help.

Another thing you can do is find supplements and alternative texts. A lot of organizations, movements, and even fandoms have them. For instance, Keshet has a whole collection of LGBTQ haggadot you can print, and here’s a Hamilton Haggadah. If you search for “[group/movement/fandom you care about] haggadah” you will most likely find something. 

(Speaking of additions, here’s the original story of where the orange on the seder plate came from.)

(My other organization, Anachnu is actually working on a disability commentary, but it’s not out yet this year.)

Whatever text you’re using, here’s an approach to asking questions that are interesting to you.

Tl;dr Seders are often boring. The haggadah itself is interesting, especially with good commentary. Scroll up for thoughts on getting access to the good parts.

Some thoughts on asking questions at the seder

Content note: This post is more Jewish-specific than my posts usually are. Feel free to reblog it if it speaks to you.

Seders are supposed to be about asking questions, but that doesn’t always happen in practice. (For any number of reasons.)

Here’s one way to look for questions to ask about the seder. You can look at any piece of it and ask:

  • What is this doing in the haggadah?
  • What does it have to do with the Exodus from Egypt?
  • What does it have to do with the world the rabbis were living in? 
  • What does this have to do with the world we’re living in?

And if you’d like some examples, here are some of the questions I’ve been thinking about:

What’s the deal with dayenu?

  • There’s a whole long list of things that we seem to be saying “It would have been enough” about. 
  • Which ones make sense to you? Which ones don’t? Why?
  • Why do you think we say all of these things?
  • Is there anything you think belongs on the list that isn’t there?

What’s the deal with the four sons/daughters/children?

  • Why are we even talking about this here? Why talk about this rather than details of the story of leaving Egypt?
  • What do you think of the categories? Do these seem like real types of people or types of responses to you?
  • What examples can you think of?

Regarding the “one who does not know how to ask”:

  • What are some reasons that some Jews aren’t able to ask their questions at the seder?
  • What could be done about that?
  • Which questions do you have that you aren’t able to ask? (Or aren’t yet able to ask).
  • What might make it possible to ask them?

What does freedom mean this year?

  • Some parts of the haggadah say that we used to be slaves, and that we are now free.
  • Other parts say that we are still slaves, and that we hope to be liberated.
  • What does this mean to you? Why do you think the haggadah says both?
  • Do you think that there are ways in which we are both free and unfree?
  • What liberation are we still hoping for?

Why do we open by making promises we can’t keep?

  • The beginning of the story part (maggid) opens with ha lakhma anya (this is the bread of affliction.
  • As part of this, we say “let all who are hungry come and eat” and “let all who are in need come and offer the Passover sacrifice”.
  • We know that people are hungry who we’re not really inviting to eat, and that we’re not going to offer the Passover sacrifice at this meal.
  • What’s the point of saying this?

(And actually, wearing my other hat, I’m involved in a weekly Twitter parsha discussion). This week (Thursday 7:30 EDT April) we’re going to be discussing seder-related questions instead of parsha questions.

Tl;dr Passover Seders are supposed to be about questions. Scroll up for an approach to looking for questions, and some of the questions I’ve been asking.

Seders go better if you have substantial food for karpas

Anonymous said to realsocialskills:
One of the things that’s hardest about Seders is how long they can be. I pretty quickly become exhausted and by that time I haven’t eaten anything of the meal yet. Advice?

realsocialskills said:

One thing I advise seder leaders to do is to use substantial food for karpas instead of just having parsley dipped in salt water. I do that when I lead seders, and I’ve found that it makes for a much better discussion. People don’t tend to have good conversations when they’re hungry and exhausted, and making food available makes a huge difference. 

The point of karpas was originally to dip food in other food. This was apparently not a normal thing to do at that point in the meal, so it was supposed to be unusual and get the kids to ask questions. 

For some reason, that got reduced down to dipping parsley in salt water in a lot of communities. What I do is include more substantial kinds of dip and foods that can be dipped. (Eg: chips and dip, strawberries and chocolate syrup, etc. I know someone who sometimes uses fries and ketchup for karpas too.).

Is there a way you could make that happen at the seders you go to? Might whoever is in charge be open to that?  I’ve found that a lot of people dislike the way that the storytelling part drags on because everyone gets hungry and grumpy, and only do it that way because they don’t know there’s an alternative.

If you’re concerned with the halakhic or ritual structure of the seder, you shouldn’t eat matzah/matzah crackers and haroset until later in the meal. Other dipping stuff should be fine though.

One advantage to seder stuff is — if people will think it’s weird and question it, that’s actually a good thing! Because seders are actually supposed to involve doing weird things to get people to ask questions. So if someone says “but people will think it’s weird”, sometimes you can successfully convince them that that’s a good thing and not a bad thing by saying “then they will ask questions and we’ll be able to have a good conversation about it.”

If you can’t do that, might it be possible to sneak off for a few minutes and discreetly eat a snack?  

tl;dr The storytelling part of the seder can get very unpleasant when everyone is hungry and grumpy. One solution to this is to make substantial food available during the karpas, instead of just parsley and salt water, and then leave it on the table during the storytelling. That tends to make for a much more pleasant discussion.

In which I respond as a Jew to an anon telling me off for using the word “Jew”.

Content note: This is a response to a hostile anon. (I normally don’t post hostile asks. When I make an exception, I post a content note so that people who avoid hostility can skip the post if they want.)


Anonymous said to realsocialskills:
That awkward moment when a social skills blog calls people of the jewish faith “jews”


realsocialskills said:

I’m about to be ordained as a rabbi in a few weeks. 

I’ve been in an intense graduate program for the past five years, I went to yeshiva before that, and I majored in Jewish history undergrad. I think I’ve earned the right to an opinion on this.

And since I’d rather procrastinate than work on cleaning my apartment for Pesach, I’m writing a long reply to this about why I have the language preferences I have:

I’m not a big fan of ideological commitment to person-first language in any case. I identify as disabled and autistic rather than as a person with autism. For similar reasons, historically-popular euphemisms like “people of the Hebrew persuasion” and “people of the Mosaic faith” make me really uncomfortable, and insistence on “Jewish people” over “Jews” makes me mildly uncomfortable. 

That said, I try not to get too fussed over language disputes, for reasons that are captured well in Amorpha’s “On Language Dickery”. I think that what matters most is respect, and also respecting the language used by members of the group you’re talking about. (Including respecting a legitimate range of preferences within groups you’re part of.)

I don’t know anyone who refers to themself as a “person of the Jewish faith”. I’m sure there are some people who identify that way, but it’s very much not the norm in any communities I’m part of. There are people who have strong preferences about “Jewish” vs “Jews” as ways of referring to themselves — personally, I use the terms interchangeably. (Depending on which words make for the most clearly understandable sentences.)

In my experience, Jews do not define ourselves solely as a religious group, and it’s pretty weird to insist on referring to us as “people of the Jewish faith”. There’s a reason why “Jewish studies” is its own subject and generally speaking not a subset of “religious studies”.  Judaism is a religion, and that’s an important part of Jewishness and Jewish culture, but it’s not the *only* important part.

One way I’ve encountered this in my work is that when I did a chaplaincy rotation, when I’d introduce myself to Jewish patients, they’d usually start the conversation by saying “I’m not religious” — and we’d still have a lot to talk about. People who come from minority cultures have all kinds of experiences and perspectives relevant to that, regardless of what they believe about God and religion.

You can also see this on the level of Jewish organizations and Jewish movements:

For instance, BBYO is a Jewish youth organization that has much more to do with being part of a minority culture and learning to be a strong leader than it does with religion. 

Similarly, the National Yiddish Book Center is a Jewish organization, but it’s not a religious organization. It’s an organization dedicated to the preservation of Yiddish and Yiddish literature, a language which is endangered because a high percentage of its speakers were murdered by Nazis, and a high percentage of speakers in other countries were forced to stop speaking it.

Similarly, Zionism was initially an avowedly secular movement, and the rebirth of Hebrew as a spoken language was not religiously motivated. (And in fact met fierce religious opposition.) Jewish literature in Modern Hebrew is not an intrinsically religious thing. It runs the whole range of perspectives, just like any other language. 

There’s even a Secular Yeshiva in Tel Aviv, which has the mission of giving secular Jews access to the skills to read traditional Jewish texts *as secular Jews*. I don’t think “people of the Jewish faith” describes this group particularly accurately. 

Nationality and language aside, there’s also a strong tradition of Jewish humor (some of which is pretty dark, because our experiences over the centuries have been really dark and sometimes laughing is better than crying). Here’s a page with a large collection of it. Some of the jokes have to do with religion, some do not. One iconic Jewish joke is:

  • A violent antisemite stops a Jew in the street and demands: Who is responsible for the war?
  • The Jew replies: The Jews and the bicyclists.”
  • The antisemite replies: “Why the bicyclists?” 
  • The Jew replies: “Why the Jews?” 

And many of the Jewish jokes that address religion are decidedly irreverent:

So it seems that these four rabbis had a series of theologicalarguments, and three were always in accord against the fourth.   One day, the odd rabbi out, after the usual “3 to 1, majority rules” statement that signified that he had lost again, decided to appeal to a higher authority.

“Oh, God!” he cried. “I know in my heart that I am right andthey are wrong! Please give me a sign to prove it to them!”  It was a beautiful, sunny day. As soon as the rabbi finished his prayer, a storm cloud moved across the sky above the four. Itrumbled once and dissolved. “A sign from God! See, I’m right, Iknew it!” But the other three disagreed, pointing out that stormclouds form on hot days.  So the rabbi prayed again: “Oh, God, I need a bigger sign to show that I am right and they are wrong. So please, God, abigger sign!” This time four storm clouds appeared, rushed toward each other to form one big cloud, and a bolt of lightning slammed into a tree on a nearby hill.  "I told you I was right!“ cried the rabbi, but his friends insisted that nothing had happened that could not be explained bynatural causes.  The rabbi was getting ready to ask for a *very big* sign, but just as he said, "Oh God…,” the sky turned pitch black, the earth shook, and a deep, booming voice intoned, “HEEEEEEEE'SRIIIIIIIGHT!”  The rabbi put his hands on his hips, turned to the other three,and said, “Well?”

“So,” shrugged one of the other rabbis, “now it’s 3 to 2.”

That joke is actually based on a story in the Talmud.

Every rabbi I know makes jokes like this; nearly every Jewish person I know makes jokes like this. 

I could go on, but I have a thesis about Jewish liturgy and Jewish ritual to write, so I think I’ll stop here.

In short, I think that insisting that we should refer to ourselves as solely as “people of the Jewish faith” amounts to erasure of every aspect of Jewishness and Jewish culture other than religion. I think it also amounts to erasure of our history in which people have responded to us as a racial and ethnic group in ways that had very little to do with religious. These things are vitally important components of who we are, and I am not ok with erasing them.

tl;dr A hostile anonymous person sent me a message telling me off for saying “Jews”, and insisting that I should use “people of the Jewish faith” instead. I’m Jewish. I disagree. Scroll up to find out more about why.

Webinar tomorrow “Using Jewish Culture to Understand Autism and Inclusion”

I hate Autism Awareness, but I love how autistic Jewish culture is. So I’m doing a webinar about that on Monday, April 3rd from 1-2pm Eastern time. (Wearing my rabbinic hat).

CART captions will be available. Webinar will be recorded. You can register here.

You can see recordings, slides, and transcripts from past webinars here.

Responding to a question about Jews and race

Anonymous said to realsocialskills:

I really don’t want to be rude but can you explain to me why there is some sort of line between being Jewish and white? I keep hearing this sentiment that people should not compare the two because of religion and culture but that to me is like Russian people saying they aren’t white because of religions and culture. I don’t mean to hurt feelings but I’m black and Native and I’ve face discrimination based on my looks but I’ve never been able to tell when a person was Jewish just by looking them. Help?

Also I know that there are Jewish people of color but this goes back to my ask of what do people see on them, their Jewishness or their skin color because unless Jewishness is a part of color then we would call them mixed instead of Jewish poc because that skin and lineage mixes with another skin and lineage and produces someone with a dual identity. If I’m out of place, sorry but I’m confused cause I’ve never thought anyone was Jewish from looking at them unless they had a religious identifier.

Realsocialskills said:

The very short version: All Jews are affected by anti-Jewish racism. Some Jews, in some contexts, also have white privilege. Both of these things matter.

White supremacists don’t think that Jews are white. And other ideologies of racism have intensely targeted Jews. (Including Nazism, but not limited to Nazism.)

Most living Jews are very closely related to Jews who were murdered by anti-Jewish racists. (Grandparents, parents, great-grandparents brothers, sisters, spouses, cousins, etc.)

Many living Jews are first-generation refugees from anti-Jewish racial persecution, (or closely related to people who are). Jews have been repeatedly expelled from many, many places.

There are a lot of towns in Europe in which every Jewish resident was murdered. And a lot of Jews who were the sole survivors of those places, and who lost their entire families.

(There are few speakers of Yiddish today because so many Yiddish speakers were murdered by racists. The National Yiddish Book Center is dedicated to preserving as much literature as possible).

This isn’t just about culture and ethnicity. Converting to another religion did not save Jews from racial persecution. Neither did assimilating and acting like everyone else. And this isn’t a new thing, throughout history, Jews have been seen as racially suspect even if they convert to Christianity or another religion, regardless of actual behavior

Race and color are not the same thing. Color is a physical fact. Race is a social construct. And it’s socially constructed in different ways in different times and places. In the US, race mostly gets defined in terms of color. It’s defined differently in different times and places. In Europe, demographic forms have often listed “Jewish” as a race.

It’s also true that in the United States, light-skinned Jews have a degree of white privilege. Especially in liberal cities. Especially in comparison to black people and Native people. Jews are far less likely to face employment discrimination, and far less likely to face police violence. (It happens to Jews too, but it happens to black and Native people a lot more.) And any number of things.

But Jews are only seen as white some of the time. There are physical racialized characteristics associated with Jews. For instance, big noses.  There is also an antisemitic belief that Jews have horns, which used to be commonly believed in the US. It used to be fairly common for Jewish women to get nose jobs to escape from that racial characterization. For most white people, being seen as white has not required body modification.

When people look at skin color, they will probably see a white person. When they know that someone is a Jew, they may not see a white person anymore. It’s not about religious beliefs — Jews are seen as less white regardless of behavior and regardless of belief. (Jews who practice Judaism are often more *visible* as Jews, but anti-Jewish racism can’t be reduced to religious differences.) The novel/movie Gentleman’s Agreement is a good depiction of this issue. (It’s on Netflix, and your public library likely has a copy of the book.)

Related to this, white supremacists don’t think that Jews are white. As you know, white supremacy is still significant in the United States. Steve Bannon’s role in the Trump administration is causing Jews to fear for their own safety. People who are consistently seen as white are mostly not asking themselves “Do I need to flee the country?” (Unless they’re also gay or lesbian or trans or disabled or otherwise marginalized.)

There are significant numbers of antisemitic hate crimes in the United States. They’re reported as religious bias crimes, but that’s somewhat misleading. Eg: This article has an image of anti-semitic graffiti with a swastika and the words “Make America White again”  

Tl;dr The answer to “Are Jews white?” is “sometimes, and it depends on what you mean by white”. If you mean ‘light skinned people who have privilege over black and Native people in the US’, then yes, light-skinned Jews are white. If you mean ‘people who are safe from racialized persecution in the US and worldwide’, then no, Jews aren’t white even when they have light skin.

Light skinned Jews have some degree of white privilege in the US, but it only goes so far. Other white people can count on being seen as white. Jews can’t. Even in situations in white Jews are safe, Jews carry the effects of generational trauma from racial persecution, recent and ancient. The ways in which light skinned Jews have white privilege matter, and the ways in which light skinned Jews do not have white privilege also matter. In most contexts, both of these things are important, and both need to be acknowledged.

On finding out more about Jewish heritage

Anonymous said to realsocialskills:
My grandfather was Jewish, and I’ve become interested in learning more about Judaism and Jewish culture. But I’m not sure how to go about it, since the rest of my family is Christian and would not be supportive of me converting. There’s a lot to learn and finding a good starting point is hard, plus I don’t want to intrude in any Jewish spaces where I wasn’t welcome.

Realsocialskills said:

There are a lot of ways you can find out more about Judaism and Jewish culture without converting. If you want to convert, that’s fine, but you don’t have to start there. That’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself, especially if you know your family won’t be supportive. 

It may be better to just start from the point of wanting to find out more — you can learn about Judaism and value your connection to it without converting. As you find out more, you may feel like you need to become Jewish yourself, or you may not. That’s not a decision you have to make now. 

So, how can you find out more? I’m answering with the assumption that you’re in the US, because that’s the area I’m most familiar with. (If you’re not, some of this will be wrong. If you’re somewhere else, if you send another ask with your location, I may be able to tell you more accurate things.)

There are some good books and good websites. Some I’d suggest:

  • MyJewishLearning.com has a lot of information about a lot of different things. Some of it is very introductory and could be a good entry point — and there are also more complex articles that will become understandable as you find out more.
  • Hebcal.com can tell you when the holidays are, and what Torah portion (parsha) we’re reading this week. It has links to the full texts of the readings, as well as commentaries from various organizations. This could be a good entry into learning about how Jews understand the Bible.
  • Harry Leichter’s Jewish Humor http://www.haruth.com/jhumor/ is a huge archive of Jewish jokes, and information about Jewish jokes. Humor is fundamental to Jewish culture; learning to get the jokes can take you pretty far.
  • The Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem conservativeyeshiva.org has a lot of online resources http://learn.conservativeyeshiva.org in English about Jewish texts. (If you’re able to travel, they also have really good in-person programs)
  • There are also a lot of Jewish movies. Here’s one list. http://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/news-bfi/lists/10-great-jewish-films

Some books worth acquiring:

  • A siddur (Jewish prayer book) with commentary. Jewish liturgy is really different from Christian liturgy. The Artscroll Siddur (Orthodox) and Siddur Lev Shalem (Conservative) both have a lot of commentary that can help you to understand how Jewish liturgy works. (For some reason, neither is distributed through Amazon, but they’re both pretty easy to get from the publishers and Jewish book stores.)
  • A Passover Haggadah. This is the book used for the Passover Seder, a central Jewish ritual. Understanding it will tell you a lot about Judaism and Jewish culture. I’d recommend A Different Night as a fairly understandable haggadah with good commentary. 
  • Etz Hayyim, or another Jewish commentary on the weekly Bible readings. These are used in synagogues, and can tell you something about how Jews understand the Bible. 
  • If you want to learn more about American Jewish history, “The Jews of the United States, 1654 to 2000” by Hasia Diner is a good starting place.  “American Judaism: A History” by Jonathan Sarna is also good. They’ve also both written more specific books, which might be good if you know where your grandfather was from or where he and his Jewish family lived in the US.
  • (There are also a lot of “Introduction to Judaism” type books, but they’re all kind of specific to one community, and none of the ones I’m familiar with are better than what you’d find on myjewishlearning.com). 
  • There are also a lot of books about how to observe the commandments — but I’d caution about reading those books before you have more direct exposure to Jewish community. Most of them describe more what the authors wish Jews would do than what most Jews actually do. (A lot of people have made themselves insufferable by reading these books and deciding that the Jews they interact with are Doing It Wrong.)

There’s also a limit to what you can learn from books. Jewish culture is complicated and hard to describe. Attempts to write about Jewishness are always at least a bit misleading. There are things you can only learn from interacting with Jews directly and seeing Jewish things happen in real life. So, how do you do that?

In the US, it’s really normal for non-Jews to be curious about Judaism and want to find out more. It’s especially normal for people with Jewish ancestry. Most communities expect that this will happen from time to time. It’s not offensive. The main thing is that it’s important to respect the boundaries between Christianity and Judaism, and to understand that certain things are sensitive subjects. (Eg: don’t go into Jewish community and try to convince Jews to accept Jesus.) (And to understand that Jews are people trying to live their lives, and that they’re not Jewish culture objects).

In the US, most synagogues periodically offer Introduction to Judaism classes. (In larger communities, they may be offered jointly by a few synagogues.) They’re usually intended in part for those considering conversion, but also for people who just want to find out more about Judaism and Jewish community. Having Jewish ancestry and wanting to find out more about Judaism isn’t the most common reason, but it is a normal reason. Many communities charge for classes (but if you really can’t afford it, that’s usually negotiable).

In the US, it’s usually ok to visit synagogues to find out more about what services are like. (It may not be ok in other places where people are more afraid of antisemitic violence, especially Europe.) A lot of people go to synagogue services to find out more about Judaism, for a lot of different reasons. (Including, some people do it for comparative religion classes).

One thing to be aware of is that there are certain prayers that need ten Jews, so they need to know that you’re not Jewish. It may be a good idea to tell someone at the synagogue ahead of time that you’re not Jewish but you want to go to a service to find out more. (Again, this is a completely normal thing to do in the US.) Many synagogues also have holiday programming that you might be able to go to. (For instance, second night seders for Passover). For that, it would definitely be good to ask first — different communities see that differently.

It’s also worth being aware also that there are different kinds of Jewish communities and Jewish prayer services. (Eg: Orthodox synagogues separate men and women for prayer; most other movements do not.) There are a lot of cultural and religious differences and it would probably be a good idea to check out more than one community.

If there is a Jewish Community Center in your area, there are probably classes and events that you could go to. JCCs are generally not tied to a particular denomination, and often have a lot of programming that is more cultural than religious in nature. (Eg: movie nights, speakers, cooking classes, art.) 

If you google the name of your city/area (or the nearest larger city/town/area), and “Jewish”, you will probably find a page with information about events, organizations, and Jewish resources. There will likely be a lot of different things going on, most of which it’s fine to go to as a non-Jew. If you’re not sure, you can email or call ahead and ask if it’s ok. (Some communities even have things specifically for people from mixed families or people who have Jewish ancestors and want to find out more. It’s not all or even most, but it is something that exists in some places.) 

If you’re in college, you could talk to the rabbi at your college’s Hillel. It’s really, really common for college students with some Jewish ancestry to want to find out about more about Judaism and Jewish culture. You will probably not be the first student they’ve talked to about this. There will likely be a lot of events or classes it would be ok for you to go to, and they can probably give you advice on how to make connections. If you’re a student, it will probably be ok for you to go to most-if-not-all Hillel events, so long as no one thinks you’re trying to convert Jews to Christianity or something. (Again, outside the US, Hillel might work differently).

(A note about Chabad: Chabad is an ultra-Orthodox outreach organization, with presence just about everywhere. Even though they are friendly in a lot of ways, I would advise caution in interacting with them. They look more open and accepting than they really are. They are promoting a particular interpretation of Jewish legitimacy, which is not shared even by most people who go to Chabad. 

If you decide to convert with Chabad, you won’t be able to continue the lifestyle shared by most people who go to Chabad; you will be held to ultra-Orthodox standards. Chabad will say that they accept everyone and that denominations don’t matter, but they won’t accept a Reform, Conservative, or Reconstructionist conversion as valid. If you rely on Chabad for spiritual support in figuring these things out, it could lead to a lot of pain down the road.) 

If you’re in college, you could also take a Jewish Studies class. Some Jewish studies professors may also be willing to have a conversation with you about this (and have likely had other students in your position approach them about this). In addition to what you’d learn from the content of the Jewish Studies class, you’d also learn from how Jewish students respond to the content. (At many schools, you can also audit classes even if you don’t go there, but it’s less socially comfortable to do so if you’re not college aged.)

This is a list of some of the things I’m aware of; it’s not an exhaustive list. Jewish culture is wide, and there’s a lot going on. The short version is that there are a lot of ways in to understanding Jewish culture, and it’s ok to explore them whether or not you want to convert. If this list has been completely overwhelming, I’d suggest that you start by going to myjewishlearning.com and just click around for a while. You’ll find stuff you can learn from there.

T;dr Someone who has a Jewish grandfather sent an ask wondering how they might find out more about Judaism and Jewish culture. They said that the rest of their family is Christian and would not support them in converting. I suggested that they table the issue of conversion for now, and focus on learning more first. I also suggested a lot of different ways to find out more about Judaism and Jewish culture, some of which are US-specific. Myjewishlearning.com is a pretty decent starting point.

when a seder is overloading

thelimpingdoctor replied to your post: Passover asks?

How do you deal with sensory overload in a situation where you can’t leave?

realsocialskills said:

Based on context, I think you’re probably asking about being overloaded at a large noisy seder.

There might be more options for leaving and taking a break than you might realize. I’m going to discuss those, then some thoughts on how to deal with it if leaving isn’t an option. 

Some options for taking breaks:

Helping in the kitchen

  • At seders, there are often (not always) things going on in the kitchen that people would welcome help with
  • If you find doing stuff in the kitchen less overloading than being at the table, excusing yourself to go help might be a socially acceptable way to take a break
  • Some examples of things people might welcome help with:
  • Cutting vegetables
  • Serving soup
  • Bringing out other things 
  • Washing dishes

Playing with the kids:

  • At a lot of seders, there are little kids who kind of run in and out
  • If these are kids you know, or they’re related to you, it may be socially acceptable for you to take breaks and play with the kids
  • This depends on the culture of your family or community; it’s fairly common for it to be socially acceptable, but it’s not universal

Pretending you have to go to the bathroom:

  • At a long seder, most people will excuse themselves to use the bathroom at least once
  • If you take a break for about that amount of time, that’s what people will assume you were doing
  • (You can also actually go to the bathroom even if you don’t need to use it - bathrooms can sometimes be a good place to take a break from sensory overload since people will usually leave you alone for a few minutes if you’re in the bathroom)

Options if you can’t take breaks or taking breaks doesn’t help enough:

Get oriented:

  • Sometimes sensory overload is caused as much by disorientation as by sensations
  • One way to become more oriented is to think through in advance what’s likely to happen
  • If you feel like stuff is more predictable, it’s likely to be less overwhelming and sensory stuff might be easier to manage
  • If this is a seder you’ve been to before, it might help think about what usually happens. Who will be there? How do they usually act? Who will ask the four questions?
  • It also might be a good idea to look through the hagaddah. Here’s one online.
  • If you’re feeling overloaded during the seder, it’s worth considering the possibility that you have become disoriented
  • If you look through the haggadah, figure out where you are in the seder, and how much is left, it might help you to become more oriented and less overloaded
  • It may also help to use a visual schedule, which shows you at a glance what to expect and in what order. Here’s one you can print, organized by cup.

Using solid objects to ground yourself:

  • If you’ve become really overloaded or disoriented, sometimes grabbing hold of something solid can help a lot
  • If you’re at a seder, the most readily available solid thing is likely to be the table
  • If there’s someone present you trust who is ok with it, holding someone’s hand can help a lot too in ramping down overload

Sit in a less overloading place in the room:

  • Sitting on the edge of the room is likely to be less overloading than sitting in the middle
  • Sitting on the end or near the end of a table is likely to be less overloading than sitting between several people
  • Sitting near the door is likely to be less overloading (especially if you get overloaded from feeling trapped)
  • If there are florescent lights in the room, it helps to pay attention to whether one of them is flickering
  • If you’re already overwhelmed going into the room, you might not notice right away, even though it will bother you later. If flickering lights bother you, it’s worth making a point of checking to see if the light is flickering when you decide where to sit
  • If the room is likely to be very loud, you might be more comfortable if you use ear plugs. You can get disposable ones for cheap at a pharmacy

Stimming:

  • Some people can stop overload by moving in certain ways
  • Most people can at least mitigate it a little
  • Rocking back and forth can help a lot (and it’s not that weird in a lot of Jewish settings, particularly if there are a lot of religious people present.)
  • If you have stim toys that usually work for you, it might be a good idea to bring them
  • If you’re worried about stigma, it might work better to use different things
  • (That said, if a room is crowded and noisy and overloading, it’s very likely that no one is actually looking at you)
  • If you wear rings or bracelets, you can play with them
  • You can also play with the silverware if the seder isn’t extremely formal. You probably won’t be the only one.
  • You can also stim with the haggadah. (by holding it in your hands, flipping the pages, looking through it, or even reading it.)
  • If you have a water bottle with a stem you can chew the stem
  • (You can also eat stuff as a way of getting to chew to reduce overload. If you do that with stuff like celery rather than stuff like chicken it’s less likely to make you uncomfortably full)
  • You might be able to bring seder-themed stim toys to use, particularly if you bring enough to share. (For instance, if you bring out plastic frogs for the ten plagues, probably no one will think twice about you continuing to play with them)

Participating actively also might help to handle overload:

  • Sometimes it can be less overloading to participate in something than to be passively present while something is happening
  • This isn’t true for everyone, but it’s true for a lot of people
  • For instance, if people are singing loud songs and it’s overloading, you might be more physically comfortable if you sing the songs too
  • (This doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for some people)
  • If it’s a big seder and people are going on and on and you’re overloaded, ignoring what’s going on and reading the haggadah might work. (In that setting, you’re probably not going to be the only one doing that.)
  • Asking questions and arguing might be less overloading than being in the room while other people are doing that

Talking to people might also be an option:

tl;dr Passover seders can be really overloading. Scroll up for some ideas about how to deal with that.

How to find out when Jewish holidays are

Jewish holidays (eg: Hanukkah) follow the Jewish calendar. The Jewish calendar is based on the lunar cycle (with an occasional leap-month to keep the months/holidays synced up with the seasons.)

This means that Jewish holidays fall on a different date each year on the secular calendar. 

If you want to know when the holidays are, HebCal.com is a really good resource. It has a list of when all the holidays are, and a lot of other information. It also has a calendar generator that can be exported to most calendar software including Google Calendar to make your regular calendar know when the Jewish holidays are. 

Is it a Jewish Holiday Today? is a website that tells you whether today is a Jewish holiday, and if so, which one. It’s only useful for telling you if it’s a holiday right now when you look; hebcal.com is much better for planning ahead.