“I think the only thing we can do is to keep pushing back against these narratives because they're not going to go away…We have to challenge them. We need to do so more visibly and more consistently and more forcefully.” ~Dani Ishai Behan
In this next Jewish “High Holiday” episode, NARM Training Director Brad Kammer welcomes author Dani Ishai Behan to Transforming Trauma to discuss the nuances of the Jewish experience in Diaspora, and specifically the challenges around years of ethnic oppression, anti-Semitism and intergenerational trauma.
Dani, a writer for the Times of Israel focuses his writing on the post-colonial traumas and anti-Semitism faced by Jews, and has become an advocate for reclaiming Jewish identity, as he advocates for the inclusion of Jews as an indigenous population of the Middle East (specifically, the Judean region, now referred to as Israel by the Jewish people).
This isn’t solely a religious or political aim for Dani, but a deeply personal one. As a child, Dani was largely disconnected from his Jewish identity, associating it through the traumatic retelling of Ashkenazi Jews who recounted the horrors of anti-Semitism in Europe in the 1800 and 1900s, as his ancestors were forced to live in squalid conditions, alienated from the mainstream society, and constantly endured individual and state-organized attacks (“pogroms”) which culminated in the Holocaust where 1/3 of the world Jewish population was murdered. In his earlier life, Dani was involved in the Punk Rock community and was surrounded by people that were fervently anti-Zionist, the level to which made him question that specific hatred toward one group of people. The unease prompted Dani to look inward to his own relationship to being Jewish, and he started asking questions like: Why did my Jewish family look different from other “white” families? Why did the neighbors treat my Jewish family differently from other “white” families? He realized that something about his “being Jewish” had always nagged at him on a cellular level and he began to seek answers.
One answer was about the experience of whiteness in America, something that Dani had always wondered about with the Jewish side of his family. They were dark-skinned with curly hair and other Middle Eastern features, and were often taken to be other ethnicities. Dani and Brad reflect on the errors of lumping Jews in as being White. Dani says, “There's a difference between white-passing and actually being white,” and goes on to painfully describe the many different ways Jews have attempted to pass as White in Europe and the US through various skin-lightening creams, straightening their hair, attempting to reverse their circumcision and use plastic surgery to change their Middle Eastern features, in addition to changing their names, running from their religious and ethnic practices and working hard to assimilate into the mainstream. But no matter how much Jews attempted to assimilate, it never allowed them to escape the constant threats toward their annihilation.
Through research and in-depth discussions, Dani began to put together pieces of the Jewish experience being expelled out of their native land of Judea and having to flee into countries around the world (the “Diaspora”). While he had always assumed that his Jewish Ashkenazi family was from Europe, and White, “we're not actually from Europe or from Morocco or from North America or wherever. We’re indigenous to the land of Israel.” Dani began to understand that his family, and the Jewish lineage, were actually Middle Easterners who had been exiled to European countries in order to flee persecution from colonial invaders.
This brings the conversation back to the current day in the United States and elsewhere where there is a strong movement to support and empower BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Color) who are fighting for a more equitable future. However, while these efforts to dismantle supremacist policies and systemic obstacles have been accepted on college campuses, within the social justice movement, and in many political groups, one ethnic group is often omitted from conversations centered on these complex traumas: the Jews. In fact, Jews are being labeled the colonizers of a native people (the Palestinians), which according to Dani’s research, is white-washing Jewish lineage and identity. And, yet another form of cultural trauma toward the Jews. While groups are working fervently against anti-Zionism, they are dismissing the right of an indigenous group to their native land and their collective right to self-determination.
While this could lead into a larger political discussion of the dynamics between the Palestinians and Israelis, Brad differentiates between the “political and the psychological”, and both Dani and Brad reflect on how these complex cultural and intergenerational traumas have and continue to impact them. And, they share the pain of the constant attack on their Jewish identity and the need for intergenerational trauma healing as a people.