Volume 28, Issue 2, Fall/Winter 2008
Judith W. Kay
The Exodus and Racism
Paradoxes for Jewish Liberation
THE EXODUS STORY HAS BEEN A SOURCE OF BOTH IDENTIFICATION AND conflict for American Jews and blacks. As a source of identification, blacks saw themselves as Hebrew slaves pitted against white Pharaohs, while blacks' plight resonated with Jewish immigrants. As a source of tension, the Exodus story obscured how Jews were caught between blackness and whiteness. Jews were neither Pharaohs nor slaves but instead functioned as agents of the ruling elites over blacks. Jewish vulnerability derives from potential abandonment from below and above, a type of oppression not captured by the Exodus story. When Jews combat racism and forge black—Jewish alliances, they reduce their susceptibility to becoming isolated from potential allies. Combating racism thus is central to Jewish liberation. White Christians have an important role in preventing anti-Semitism from disrupting efforts to eliminate racism and build an effective black—Jewish coalition.