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How to React When Your People’s People are Targeted

“I know you’re not a Facebook person, but I think I need you to say something,” I said to my husband the day after the Tree of Life shooting

I had been doom scrolling social media for hours, my heart in my throat. I watched as everyone in my Jewish community shared their outrage, their fear, their heartbreak. I watched as our friends and allies spoke up and out. Those who stayed silent did not go unnoticed. My husband, who is decidedly not a social media person, did not post, retweet or share. And even though I knew, of course, that he condemns acts of hate, there was something in me that needed him to stand up and say something publicly—something personal, something beyond that all hate is reprehensible and will not be tolerated. I needed him to say: “My wife is Jewish. My children are Jewish. Hate against mine is hate against me.” 

All of this came flooding back last week, when a young, white terrorist in Atlanta walked into three separate Asian-owned massage parlors and murdered eight people, six of whom were Asian American women. 

This time, it was my spouse’s people being attacked, and it was my turn to speak out. Despite the crystal clear memory of every act of anti-Semitism over the last few years, I felt frozen and unsure of what to do. I was quick to amplify Asian voices and Asian Jewish voices, but struggled to form my own words. 

I was terrified of making the wrong move. I felt sick to my stomach watching names roll in. Admittedly, it was not the gut punch of Tree of Life, rather a slow, sinking dread. The pain was there, but it wasn’t the same. The view from the sidelines felt awful, and I wondered, “Is this how he feels when anti-Semitic incidents occur?” 

As someone who is only Asian–adjacent (my husband’s father and family are Japanese), it really didn’t feel appropriate to raise my own voice. In addition, as my husband is biracial and our children are white passing. This privilege means sending them into the world unafraid that their ancestry will result in an attack. At the same time, their grandfather, aunties, uncles and cousins are all vulnerable.  

I am used to feeling like we don’t count: We are not Jewish enough, not Asian enough. I hear this from the outside world, and honestly I hear this much closer to home, too. But how Jewish do you have to be to feel the sting of anti-Semitism? How Asian do you have to be to experience hurt by anti-Asian racism? The few friends who reached out to me last week to check in on us made me feel seen as what we are: a Jewish and Asian family. It offered hope we would get the same kind of support when the next anti-Semitic act occurs… because it will happen again. 

The nuances of blended identities and families paint all of this a terrible shade of gray. Last Wednesday, my thoughts went to all the Asian members of my Jewish community. I also thought of all of their partners since I know firsthand about those blurred lines of identity between me and mine. When many bravely stepped up to hold space for those grieving, those spaces were open only to those of Asian ancestry. This, of course, makes sense and I am so grateful there were so many spaces held for community care.  

At the same time, I thought of all of us who do not identify as Asian and love them, those who are their partners and their parents and their families, and we whose hearts break at the rise in anti-Asian crime that has skyrocketed over the last year, and who fear for their safety. It makes me think of our partners’ grief when Jews are the target, and their anxiety when doing something as mundane as dropping us off at synagogue or day school or the JCC means we may be at risk. 

As a leader in Jewish community, I want to set an example. Thanks to changemakers like No Silence On Race, I have been in more anti-racist spaces this past year than ever before, and I have learned that there is no one right way to show up. With all the best intentions in the world, you are still going to mess up, but what matters is that we continue to show up, speak out and try to do better. I struggle with whether my words are taking up space better served by an Asian voice, and then I think of everyone like me who might need to feel seen today and hear that their pain also matters.  

Lauren Schreiber Sasaki

Lauren Schreiber Sasaki is the Jewish Life programmer at The Miles Nadal Jewish Community Center in downtown Toronto, and the coordinator of their Jewish& program, which seeks to explicitly gather and support multi-faith, multicultural and mixed heritage Jewish folks and families. She grew up an Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jew in Montreal and her partner is from a Japanese & Irish Catholic home in Ottawa. Their kids are being raised “Jewish&” in Toronto; where they think it is important they be exposed to and immersed in all their ancestries.