Judaism and The Blues Part Two: An interview with Rabbi Mark Borovitz
By Matthew Greenwald and Stephanie Lager
“It’s a natural. Black people suffer externally in this country/ Jewish people suffer internally. The suffering’s the fulcrum of the blues…” – Michael Bloomfield
In part one of this series, we explored the intricacies of this quote with Rabbi Mark Borovitz, who commented on Blues as a general concept and as a human experience. In part two, the Rabbi digs deeper into the more Judaic and historical significance of this reference, which proves to be timely, as well as timeless.
Q: Specifically regarding that quote, I was thinking that black people too suffer externally, and as Jews we suffer internally, because Jews are part of the white, privileged majority – but obviously, because of the holocaust, Jews suffered externally as well. And with black people, their external struggle leads to an internal struggle…
A: Yeah, that’s interesting…the truth is that as long as I suffer internally, I don’t have to suffer externally; meaning ‘I don’t have to look at me…’ For me, my own internal struggle is my own wrestling. So, I think that’s part of the problem, and it’s a very good point. And the other myth—and trust me, it’s a myth—is that Jews don’t suffer on the outside. I mean, forget about the Holocaust, that’s just one piece, but Jews have been kept out of all types of places and schools, places of higher education, etc. because we’re Jews.
Q: Would you say that’s because it’s inflective that so many Jews were, in fact, very active in the Civil Rights movement?
A: What I’m talking about was going on well before the civil rights movement, but yes, I would say that we were active in the civil rights movement because we understood persecution, and we understood that everyone deserves and needs to be free, and that’s one of our guiding principals, so that would be the reason that we were at the forefront there.
But see, part of it is the little-known history, so I’m really speaking to Stephanie [23 years old] and her generation, who just—with all due respect—have it wrong. We’re not the big, bad wolves; we’re not the ones who didn’t take care of our brothers and sisters. We have. At times we’ve rejected them, and at times we’ve been rejected by them, which is also true. However, we’ve suffered. Nobody in the history of the world has suffered more persecution than the Jews, and I believe that’s because we don’t accept Christ as our personal savior. I mean you want to talk about insanity?
Our suffering is inner and outer, because…Rabbi Heschel said it best: “Judaism believes that in a free society, some are guilty and all are responsible.” In the anti-war movement, Jews were in the forefront because, ‘How can I pray when thousands of innocent Vietnamese people are on my head, from Napalm and bombing and everything, and hundreds and thousands of people who were killed that were innocent…and as a Jew, I’m nuts by it!’ It’s what’s going on today in Syria; it’s what’s going on in the streets of the United States of America. It’s the politicians who want to repeal Obamacare! Why would you want to repeal healthcare to everyone?! And I don’t know if all this shit is right…but to get to the nitty-gritty of it, the premise that every citizen has what every fucking congressman’s got. They’re not taking it away from themselves, but they want to take it away from other people, and they’re willing to make the entire county suffer; they’re willing to play chicken with each other – both parties! They’re willing to play chicken with our lives, our reputations, and everything we built up. Yeah, that does aggravate me as a Jew, because we’re supposed to take care of the widow, the stranger and the poor person. Every person that’s locked in a prison, we cry for, and none of us can be free, until all of us are free.