A member explains what the mainstream media is getting wrong, and why the community matters to feminist, queer, and non-Zionist Jews
For many of us in Jewdas, it’s been a surprise to find ourselves suddenly at the centre of international news this week. Since Jeremy Corbyn privately attended our Passover Seder on April 2 – and this fact was leaked to right-wing blog Guido Fawkes during the event – we’ve been at the eye of a media storm linked to the Labour anti-semitism controversy. On the front page of this morning’s Daily Mail, we were labeled a “militant Jewish group” that “mocks Judaism” and “made sickening attacks on the Queen”. As usual, there’s a great deal that the Daily Mail gets wrong in its report. (And no, Corbyn wasn’t chanting “fuck the police” at our Seder.)
Jewdas is a left-wing Jewish collective based in the UK, with members and followers around the world. The group was founded in 2005, and in those 13 years has grown into a thriving and evolving community of left-wing Jews running events, initiatives, and ironic social media accounts.
Some of our events and initiatives involve a handful of people (others, like this week’s Passover Seder, have 100), and most of us study and/or work alongside the campaigning we do with Jewdas and beyond. We have no formal organising structure, and being part of Jewdas can mean anything from following our Facebook page to coming to events to running them.
For many of us, one of the special and invaluable things about Jewdas is that there’s no other Jewish community like it. Jewdas welcomes and embraces non-Zionism, feminism, and queer identities in ways that are hard to find elsewhere.
Baffled that anyone could say we are a source of antisemitism. Jewdas has a long and proud history of fighting antisemitism on the right and left, including being the only group with a sensible solution to the Ken Livingstone saga pic.twitter.com/25l8LEMq5g— jewdⒶs // יידהודה (@geoffreyjewdas) April 3, 2018
We do multiple things under the umbrella dream of bringing about a freer, more equal world. We run the language school Babel's Blessing, which offers free English classes to immigrants in London. We organise biannual trips around Europe called BirthWrong (a classic Jewdas pun on Birthright) where we explore and reconnect with different Jewish cultures, histories, and identities. We campaign against fascism, and against antisemitism on the left and on the right, running workshops and creating educational materials to help other people and organisations do the same. (And we’ve been campaigning against antisemitism on the left since before it became ‘cool’.)
We also participate in solidarity campaigns to support other oppressed minorities, including sustained pro-Palestine activism, interfaith events with the Inclusive Mosque Initiative, and yesterday’s rally at East London Mosque to counter the so-called #PunishAMuslimDay.
“For many of us in Jewdas, this is the Judaism that we want and connect to: multilingual, transnational, diasporist, and left-wing”
Crucially, Jewdas doesn’t just offer a space for Jews to identify and live as non-Zionists: it also offers a positive alternative way to be Jewish. The idea of diasporism, as expressed by Jewdas co-founder Joseph Finlay, is that you can live a fully Jewish life wherever you are. This is actually a rarely held belief within Jewish organisations today. For many of us, the more prevalent Zionist ideology has created a hierarchy between living as a Jew in the state of Israel and living anywhere else – a hierarchy that many of us don’t agree with or connect to. Many of us don’t identify as nationalist generally, and oppose Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza. We see Judaism as transnational and multilingual. We live Judaism in the diaspora (which is everywhere outside the state of Israel), and celebrate that vision and experience of Jewishness.
As much as Jewdas is about singing in Yiddish and Ladino (Judeo-Spanish), eating jar after jar of pickles, and insisting on the pronunciation “beigel” (rather than bagel), it also offers a Jewish experience and a possibility of Jewish identity that for many of us simply does not exist elsewhere. Even still, plenty of Jewdassers are active in more traditional or so-called “mainstream” Jewish communities, from synagogues to community centres to rabbinical schools.
For many of us in Jewdas, this is the Judaism that we want and connect to: multilingual, transnational, diasporist, and left-wing. It provides a crucial community and space for those of us who struggle to find belonging and connection elsewhere. Pass the pickles.