The Jewish Telegraphic Agency posted an interesting profile this week called, “Meet Australia’s Aborigine who is president of her Orthodox shul.” In looking at the two photos posted with the story, one of Lisa Jackson Pulver, the woman being profiled, and the other of a group of “Indigenous students,” I couldn’t help but wonder if the phrase, “Funny, you don’t look Aboriginal” is as offensive to some folks “down under” as the phrase “Funny, you don’t look Jewish” is to a growing number of Jews here in the United States and around the world.
This article is yet another reminder that you can be Jewish “and something else,” because there are so many broad ways of defining Jewishness, and because as artificial constructs, race and ethnicity are not in conflict with Jewishness—despite what is unfortunately maintained in some quarters. Everywhere Jews have wandered on this planet, they have intermarried, and their physical features have reflected that generation-over-generation of intermarriage. Some may no longer identify as Jewish. In the article, Jackson Pulver points out, “The first Jew came here on the First Fleet in 1788, and since then Jews have been marrying Aborigines because white women wouldn’t marry them. There’s a big mob of black Cohens out there, and they’ve got Jewish ancestry.”
Yet Judaism is still a powerful influencing factor in the world today, not because of some genetic magic in our bloodline but because it has inherent value that offers meaning in people’s lives, and that meaning can override the pull of assimilation. About herself, Jackson Pulver explains, “There is a natural relationship between my Aboriginal spirituality and my Jewish religion. The things that bring us together are our history of dispossession, a deep sense of family, community and tribalism, and a deep sense of what’s wrong and what’s right. I keep a kosher home, and I make my own challah every Friday. And I attend to cultural and spiritual practices of my grandmothers’ [Aboriginal] cultures.” The article recognizes how Jackson Pulver serves as a bridge between the two communities, and building bridges is an important calling for Jews who have a variety of racial and ethnic identities—and their empathy from person experiences a great advantage in helping them do so.
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