Growing Up Hasidic — and Racist

Shaindy Urman writes:

In the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic community I grew up in, racism is a common aspect of life. It is seen as necessary in order to maintain the separation from goyim, or gentiles, and uphold the status of chosen nation (and as Hasidim, chosen Jews). As young children, we were educated about the horrors of the gentiles, who were out to destroy the pious Jews. ”In every generation,” we read aloud each Passover, “they [the other nations]stand ready to destroy us.” We are further taught that Esau, who symbolizes gentiles, forever hates Jacob, the Jewish nation.

As a young child I accepted what I was taught about the outside world without question. My exposure to non-Jews was limited to the few words I exchanged with the old Polish woman with the tattered kerchief on her head who cleaned our house once a week, and to passing by our black neighbors on the streets of Crown Heights. Any interactions with people outside the community were nonexistent — and unnecessary — since everything we ever needed was accessible through other Hasidic Jews just like us.

As a female I was taught to think, act and appear modest and demure at all times, hidden behind a mechitzah, the partition in the synagogue, and by layers of clothing wherever I went. I couldn’t talk or interact with boys past preschool, sing around men once I turned 12 or learn the intricate Jewish texts like the males in my family did.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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