On Sunday, October 22, Tucson Jewish Museum & Holocaust Center (TJMHC) hosted the third installment of the Lakin Lecture Series on Antisemitism. More than 100 people came together to listen to internationally recognized educator and author Ben M. Freeman and learn more about his advocacy for Jewish Pride. Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) Director Lynn Davis spoke with Freeman about the goals of the modern Jewish Pride movement, the history of Jewish identity, and who gets to define who is Jewish.
Freeman believes that Jews are behind other marginalized groups in developing pride in their culture and identity, which has been suppressed by external hatred and antisemitism. This can be manifested in de-emphasizing ‘Jewishness’ to assimilate, like vocalizing only conditional support for Israel or having plastic surgery. Freeman himself experienced this form of self-hate as a gay man who wrestled with internalized homophobia as he was coming out to the community.
Part of the challenge in building Jewish Pride is the vulnerability in revisiting a violent history as a people. Freeman points out that the community needs to have the space to have their own conversations about identity but are always fighting external enemies defining ‘Jewishness’ for Jews. He believes that the best place to start celebrating the wonderfulness of the culture is with younger people, in kindergarten and elementary school. Building pride is always valuable but it becomes a sort of ‘intervention’ with adults to undo self-hate.
He also emphasizes that Jews are not looking for special treatment, just equal recognition as a unique and tangible identity. “Don’t Jews deserve a pride movement, too?” he asks. Part of that movement includes the right to set the boundaries with non-Jews and encouraging others to listen to the Jewish experience without feedback.
The full hour conversation, along with answers to questions from the audience, can be found here.
Freeman is the author of Jewish Pride: Reclaiming a People and Reclaiming Our Story: The Pursuit of Jewish Pride. His next book will focus on Jewish indigeneity to Israel and how that connects with a national Jewish identity. He has written for the Jerusalem Post, Medium, and Jewish Journal among other publications.
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