Being Jewish

What is Our Story? Oy Vey (Acts), The Jewish Manifesto, Jewish Joy for Justice

The Story of Becoming Us

In a Jewish creation myth, the Ein Sof (without end) must contract from the universe in order to make space for creation. It’s only by contracting a bit of Itself that we, in all of our glorious messiness and webs of connection exist. Flora, fauna, amoeba and quarks, Dam Square and Times Square, you there in the coffee house with a laptop and a cappuccino: you exist because Gd contracted.

A spiral galaxy against the vastness of space

But Oy Vey Acts? Why do we exist? That’s a question we are still asking. And it’s a question that Sandra Ball of the Lowlander Group has been helping us answer. First, she helped us get to know each other through our stories of self. And then in November of 2022, she helped us find a way to tell the story of us.

We’re still working on that story and this blog post is one step in that direction. It’s the story of learning our story, together, as Oy Vey Acts.

We’re Surviving

Not thriving.

We’re striving. Surviving.

The trauma of the Shoah has scarred the Jews of the Netherlands, and its horrors still hang over us. But there is light. There is a spark, and that spark is us. We are looking for each other, looking for other Jews to connect with, celebrate with, march with, and form community with. We are finding each other slowly, day-by-day, person-by-person.

We don’t want to be Jewish in the context of any-semitism, anti or philo!

Just as antisemitism is corrosive to Jewish life, so is anti-antisemitism. It frames Jewish life and Jewish activism too narrowly against outside factors. And not just any outside factors: but those that harm our communities, whether it’s with intention or not.

And don’t get us started on the passivity of those around us who wish us no harm, but can’t be bothered to learn about antisemitism or to call it out. We need better allies.

Remaking the Mold

Some of us got this mold of what Judaism should be from grandparents, some of us had to find the mold ourselves. What we all know is that the times have changed, our surroundings have changed, and the mold – too – can use a little changing.

As one of the participants in our Story of Us session said, “My mission is the survival of the Jewish community.” This means we need to reshape, remake, and recuperate.

It’s like we are waking up from a coma and have to learn to walk all over again. Our walk may not be the same one we had before. It may look and feel strange at first. But if we don’t walk now, we never will.

Jewish Joy in Justice

If I am not for myself, who is for me? When I am for myself, what am I? If not now, when?

We need to organize around joy, to find ways to embody Jewishness and Jewish activism in the face of a resurgence in the very conspiracy theories and antisemitism that often lead to anti-Jewish hate.

Planting our roots deeper into our own culture, history, and tradition, can lead us to more meaningful community and more meaningful activism. In the process, we can connect with other groups who are somewhere on a similar journey, to connect with and celebrate with, as well as to bring about change and justice.

Just being Jewish is activism.

If I am not for myself, who is for me? When I am for myself, what am I? If not now, when?

אִם אֵין אֲנִי לִי, מִי לִי. וּכְשֶׁאֲנִי לְעַצְמִי, מָה אֲנִי. וְאִם לֹא עַכְשָׁיו, אֵימָתָי[1]

Two people, one holding a lit candle one holding a challah
Shabbat on the Dam. Photo (c) Stuart Acker Holt

Our challenge as Jews in the Netherlands is to reconnect after being forcibly driven apart, disrupted, and destroyed.

The time for that is always now.

We looked for each other for a long time. We went shul-hopping, tried out J-Swipe and J-Date, studied ourselves, stood on the frontlines challenging the status quo, and talked to our families. We looked for people we could connect with who would help us learn and mend and reclaim the ritual and community that had been violently stolen from us.

So if not now, when?

If we aren’t for ourselves, someone else will claim the space we are leaving empty.

So if I’m not for myself, who is for me?

We Don’t Need to Apologize

We need more confidence about the ways in which we are Jewish and the ways in which we are activists. We can claim our space strongly, without justifying ourselves or our tip-toeing.

Being Jewish is a Privilege

We’re not out to prove to anyone that being Jewish is great. We’re not trying to rope anyone into the religion or our way of doing things. That’s not our shtick.

Our shtick is finding our own place together to breathe, to be ourselves, to create magic and community. And if that’s yours as well. Great. If not, so be it.

We love being Jewish. We love the perspective it gives us. We love its magic, the connection to ancient people, the questioning and discussion. We even love the disagreements.

We Are Still Making, Still Creating, Still Finding Our Magic

And there so many ways to create with us. We are having conversations through Het Joods Manifest. events through Oy Vey, Shabbat gatherings, and Joyful protests through Oy Vey Acts. Do you want to add your voice?

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[1] (Rabbi Hillel: Pirkei Avot 1:14)