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An Open Letter to Jessica Krug on Rosh Hashanah

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Jessica Krug

On 3rd September 2020,  two weeks before the High Holidays, a confessional letter written by the associate professor of history at George Washington University, Jessica A. Krug (aka Jess La Bombalera, a white Jewish woman who grew up in suburban Kansas City), sent shock waves of disbelief throughout North American academia and in particular, the black community.

All the achievements of Jessica Krug came crashing down when she admitted her black identity was an ‘invented persona’ and the better part of her life ‘has been rooted in the napalm toxic soil of lies.’ 

The echoes of such a dramatic fall from grace reverberated throughout the world, triggering headlines around the globe. Social media once again indulged in lashing out at the fallen. The responses from her friends, colleagues, students, supervisors, subordinates, including her own birth family, have been overwhelmingly gloomy. Even her neighbour (with whom Jessica appears to have had some dispute over their bikes) did not miss her opportunity for 15 seconds of fame. She took delight in calling her ‘white trash’ – the epithet Jessica apparently used in reference to her.

The extent of Jessica’s attempts to belong to the black community, and the efforts she undertook in order to make it possible, even if only temporarily, are truly breath-taking. They point to the absence of any meaningful connections in her life. This is laid bare in every pronouncement she makes, including her multiple references to others as ‘her brown siblings’.

Despite her self-flagellation, and the avalanche of media shaming and disowning, I have got some good news for her. Here goes…

Dear Jessica

I have got good news for you.

Now that the façade of your ‘invented persona’ has been ripped off, you have been given a unique opportunity to dig deeper into the depth of your soul, where you will find your true identity.  You will come to know that one’s identity is buried under the surface of the multicolour coatings of the skin. 

You can embark on a journey of the discovery of a self, which is neither defined nor limited by our poor decisions and choices. True identity is a colour-blind notion and thus, free from any racial/class belonging. 

If you are reading this letter, which I hope someday you will, consider it as Divinely-sent – the plan to take you back to your true identity. If you embark on this road, you will get to know that a ‘persona’ is an invented term – it has no place in a human soul. 

Perhaps you will come to embrace your true identity instead of eschewing it, as you admit doing ‘in your lived experience as a white Jewish child in suburban Kansas City’. 

You admit that ‘you know right from wrong . . . but you don’t know what to build from here’. In fact, in your 1237-word confession, the most frequently used phrase is ‘I don’t know’.

I have got good news for you: you do not have to know. The Author of the puzzle, of which you are a small piece, knows what would be next even though you don’t. 

The most alarming part of your confession is your misguided assumption that ‘you do not deserve trust, care, grace or kindness’ and ‘you would never ask for nor expect forgiveness’.

With all due respect, you are incorrect about ‘expecting forgiveness’.  The concept of forgiveness is rooted in oneself.  You can and should forgive yourself, even if some people will not. 

Even though you admit to being ‘alienated from your birth family and society’, it seems that Jewish values are a dominant factor of your personality. 

You claim to have ‘a very clear, loud conscience’ and to ‘having operated with a radical sense of ethics.’ You believe in ‘restorative justice, and accountability’. Your desire to restore, to redress, to repair your relationships those affected by your lies, including the dead (your parents, perhaps?) only confirms your strong belief that justice must be done whatever the cost.

Again, the good news is that Tikkun Olam, a Jewish concept defined by acts of kindness performed to perfect or repair the world, is there for you to access and utilise.

You admit that you ‘run away to a new place and become a new person’.  

The good news is that you do not need to travel anywhere in order to become a new person. 

You lament that ‘you have no identity outside of this [black life]’.  

The good news is that you do have it – you are simply not aware of it. Identity is an inherent value within oneself.  It is not something you need to ‘create’, because it is given to every creature by its Creator. Your identity is already there, it always was there, and it will always be there until you discover it. Now that the facade of falsehood has been ripped off, sparks of your soul will guide you to find it. Trauma, and other difficulties can subdue our identity with multiple layers of false personhoods, but they can never erase what lies beneath an ‘avalanche of deceit’. Just like a priceless gem covered with dust and mud, once you scrape away all that is pretend, it will reveal its beauty and value.  It is not accidental that this special time in the Jewish calendar signifies this return –  the act of discovery of how far we have drifted from our ‘identity’.

Since you do not know where to start picking up the pieces of your life, why don’t you start with hearing the sound of  the Shofar, the raw outcry of a soul expressing our primordial loneliness and the feeling of abandonment.

I can assure you that the waves of the Sound of Shofar are stronger than any other voices, including social media,  and they reverberate more powerfully than all successes or failures of this world. When you hear this sound, you would know that you are invited back to the Master’s table. It might be the right time to roll up your sleeves and get ready for preparing your Rosh Hashanah table for your Divine Guest.

Shanah Tovah U’Metukah!

Thea

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Dr Thea Gomelauri is a Research Fellow at the Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities, and a former Chevening Fellow at the University of Oxford.  She is the member of the British Association of Jewish Studies, and serves on the Board of the Oxford Council of Christians and Jews.
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