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Judaism: Indigenous Mode Of Spirituality, Identity, Ethnicity And Nationhood

being indigenous with Ryan BeleroseI am going to go on a rant.

When I started talking about indigenous status for Jews, it wasn’t so some asshats who don’t even understand the basics about what that means could use it as an excuse to be asshats. It was to help Jewish people advocate for their indigenous rights and stand in solidarity with other indigenous peoples struggling for recognition and human rights.

It was to help Jews understand that their identity no longer has to be viewed through a white European colonialized lens, that their so called religion is not a religion but an indigenous mode of spirituality that is intertwined with their identity, ethnicity and nationhood. It was to help them take back what is theirs, their identity.

It’s really simple: for two thousand years Jews have resisted assimilation. They NEED to understand what got them through was their identity, their connection with their identity which was forged in the Levant, Israel and beyond. Its not simply the religion – religion is a white European concept. Judaism – Jewishness is bigger than that.

So listening to people who do not get that being indigenous is a responsibility as much as a benefit, is annoying to me. If you do not want to be seen as white, privileged, entitled asshats then you have to stop acting like that. You will have to understand that YOU have to get involved.

You want to be taken seriously as indigenous people by indigenous people? You have to do more than say “Hey guys, I’m indigenous too”. You will have to get off your ass and go to events, you will have to build bridges, you will have to be visible and vocal, you will have to actually stand in solidarity with indigenous people.

There are Jews in my community who do it, and I see more and more doing it as well, but that’s the only way. You already are indigenous to Israel, this is not a debate, but you don’t need to debate, you need to change the perception of your people. You need to change an entire paradigm and merely talking, just saying the words, is not going to do that.

You want to be Jewish? Learn what that means. It’s not just about wearing a kipah and doing Shabbat once in a while; it’s not saying a few prayers sometimes; it’s a way of being, a totality of belief, action and life. You are not white Europeans, you have to stop thinking like them let alone acting like them. You even have a blueprint for it: it’s called the Torah.

Even if you aren’t religious, you don’t need to be, you just need to start being Jewish. The longer I am in Israel the more I am seeing the effects of resisting assimilation on your people. The more I see how important UNDERSTANDING what being indigenous really is.

It’s not easy; in fact it’s gonna be damn hard, believe me. But it is worth it. Your identity is the only thing nobody can ever take – it’s yours and only yours.

12 thoughts on “Judaism: Indigenous Mode Of Spirituality, Identity, Ethnicity And Nationhood”

  1. ahad_ha_amoratsim

    “religion is a white European concept”
    Which may be why there is no word in the Hebrew language for religion.
    Ryan, you clearly get it. Why do so many of us Jews NOT get it?
    Thank you for an amazing musar shmooze. (Forgive me for the Yiddish, but I’m not sure how to say it in English.)
    Kudsha B’rich v’Yisrael v’oraisa Chad hu! (The Holy One Blessed be He, the people and land of Israel, and the Torah, are unique/one/indivisible)

    1. shmooze – a colloquial term for a brief speech or lecture. The word also means chatting, and is etymologically derived from the word for rumors (which are the kinds of things a crowd of people tend to chat about).
      musar – a term for the body of Jewish thought and literature on human character, and how to become a better person. Etymologically, the word means “to hand over”, and stretches to encompass morality in two senses. One, the context of values being handed down from one’s parents (and teachers too, I suppose), and two, in the sense of giving somebody rebuke (very much like “letting him have it”, a phrase which also works in English).
      In yeshivas, it is often traditional for a Rabbi to give a brief lecture on ethics and character improvement, for say 20 minutes, after one of the prayer sessions, or during some other juncture of the study day.
      Both of these words are fundamentally rooted in Hebrew.
      So, Ryan, ahad_ha_amoratsim is complimenting you on giving a powerful little lesson on being a better Jew.
      I concur. It’s good to have an ally like you.
      Please continue to inspire us, but also, please make us Jews in Israel more aware of ways we can meaningfully aid and inspire your people and other indigenous peoples. We in Israel are far away and have less disposable income than North Americans, but there’s probably something we can do. North American readers will have an easier time on these fronts.

      1. I second this comment including the last paragraph. Ryan I want to know what U.S. indigenous peoples are right now working on. I want to be aware.

      1. ahad_ha_amoratsim

        Wow, were your right! I was fortunate enough to hear R. Friedman in person a few times when I was first exploring being Jewish, and he is always phenomenal. And his post is a perfect example of why religion is not a Jewish concept, although Jewish certainly is.

      1. ahad_ha_amoratsim

        Gam ken ani.
        But Ani Yehudi simply means “I am a Jew.”
        And unfortunately not every Yehudi is a maimon (believer), a shomer mitzvos (one who guards and observes the commandments), a Ben Torah or a machshiv Torah (one whose entire life is Torah, or one to whom Torah is important), or a yiras Shamayimor a yiras chet (one who is in awe of G*d, or who fears to sin). In fact, I would wager that more Jews today than not are probably (as I was) raised as tinokos sh’nishbu (Jews raised with no knowledge that Torah and mitzvos exist and have a reality).
        Going back to my original point. We have words for outlook, wisdom/thought system, Jewish thought system (yahadus, though that word may be relatively recent), worship/service, but none, as far as I know, for religion. And if we do have one for religion, I suspect is was added by Ben Yehuda or later, and does not exist in earlier Hebrew.

  2. Wow! What’s so remarkable about your perspective on this issue, Mr. Bellerose, is that you have an indigenous identity that is complete, but different, and it gives you the capacity to be both objective and utterly involved in the Jewish quest all at once. You’re a treasure!

  3. Hello Ryan.
    I went to a loving and lovely event today at the Beth Tzedek synagogue in Calgary. It was put on by the Calgary Interfaith council and led by Doreen Spence. I found the flyer for it on a wall at a church. It was not advertised within the Jewish community at all. It was, however, filmed and will be available at some future date.
    In attendance were workers from various social service organizations, none of them Jewish, a few representing the city and several curious church members and, I think, a few Muslim men. The only Jews were one member of the Beth Tzedek congregation, the Rabbi of the congregation, and me.
    Yes…I asked why the Jewish community was not informed. I will answer that privately if you email me.
    At the end of the event when we were all asked to share our comments I said,
    “As an indigenous woman, a Jewish Indigenous woman of the land of Israel, I feel warmed by this event. Indigenous people the world over are attacked whether by colonization or assimilation and we must work together. Thank you for leading this event.”

    FYI, the flyer read:
    You are Invited to an Interfaith Workshop to learn and explore
    with Doreen Spence (Elder, Teacher, Healer & Activist)
    at Beth Tzedec Synagogue
    1325 Glenmore Tr. Sw, Calgary T2V 4Y8
    20 January 2016 Noon – 3:00 pm
    Kosher lunch Provided
    please RSVP to Beth Tzedec 403-255-8688
    for more information contact [email protected]

  4. Jacqueline here again….
    I must add that I didn’t know it wasn’t advertised within the Jewish community. I have not been in touch with CUWI or anyone in my community much lately. I actually thought members of CUWI would be there…that it would have been very well represented. I only found out that it was not publicized in the Jewish community when I got there. Otherwise I would have shared the info. Lesson learned…pass on whatever information I get from now on. Got it.

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