A female rabbi from Berkeley wants me to give up my white supremacy
Rebekah Stern, associate rabbi at Congregation Beth El in Berkeley and a member of the California Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, told a panel recently:
I hope Jews of Ashkenazi descent will begin or continue their own individual process of recognizing the white supremacy from which they benefit.
It does seem possible that Rabbi Stern, 39, a mother of two, benefited from what she describes as "white supremacy." A profile of her published four years ago in the Jewish News of California describes her deep roots in Berkeley.
"A big part of my formative Jewish experience was singing in the [Beth El] choir," she recalls. "Being part of the music then with Cantor Brian Reich and [choir director] Achi Ben Shalom, I remember a calming, warm feeling that has stuck with me ever since."
During her college years, Stern earned money serving as a song leader at Camp Kee Tov and attended a leadership session at URJ Camp Newman in Santa Rosa – experiences that opened the door to a career as a Jewish professional.
After graduating U.C. Berkeley with a degree in psychology, she considered law school but instead found herself drawn to the rabbinate. So she began interviewing rabbis.
I am 70 years old and grew up in Jeffrey Manor, a neighborhood wedged between the former U.S. Steel South Works and the Chicago City Incinerator. We lived at 9808 South Clyde, about 24 blocks from the home at 7436 South Euclid, where Michelle Robinson (later Obama) grew up.
Approaching the end of high school, Mother sat me at the green Formica table in our kitchen, saying that I could attend any college I wanted, as long as I lived at home, paid for it myself, and helped in Dad's newly opened used car lot. I was accepted to Roosevelt, DePaul, and U of I-Chicago, choosing DePaul. (Its downtown campus was across the street from the clothing store where I worked.)
For 25 years, Dad operated Leonard Motor Sales, at 90th and Ashland Avenue. The money to start it came from the $300 I'd received in bar mitzvah gifts, a like amount my brother had gotten, and another $300 he and Mother had managed to save, plus $1,000 borrowed on his life insurance policy.
The first day I worked at Dad's lot, he handed me a shovel, instructing me to clean up after the dog he had recently taken in trade. I began a business career shoveling dog poop.
At DePaul, I was elected sophomore class president, ran the homecoming parade, and graduated with a degree in economics. One of my friends was applying to graduate school. That sounded like a good idea, so I began studying for the Graduate Record Exam. When the scores came back, and I showed the 99th percentile report to my adviser, he said, "That's funny, I didn't think you were that smart." A half-century later, it is still painful.
In time, I completed a master's degree in economics, entered journalism, won a wire service award, worked for trade papers, did market research, became a stockbroker, published a market letter about troubled companies, and ran a couple of firms myself. In various positions, I have made thousands of cold calls.
Is it really that simple: grow up in Berkeley, go to Jewish summer camp, graduate U.Cal. Berkeley, become a Progressive? Live at home, commute to college, pay for it yourself, become something else? Looks that way.
There is one aspect of Rabbi Stern's remarks with which I agree. She wants to make America great again. That may not be what she meant, but it's what she said:
I believe that in today's political climate, white Jews have a tremendous opportunity to do meaningful work in repairing the brokenness of our nation.
I'm white and I'm a Jew, and I agree. Let's make America great again.