I was humbled and honored to be invited to contribute an essay on allyship to this new daily Omer series... also soon to be a book, featuring a spectacular range of voices, which will become available on Wednesday / Trans Day of Visibility.
Deep thanks to Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (and their scholar-in-residence R. Mike Moskowitz, my dear friend and Bayit cofounder) for putting this together and for inviting me to take part. Here's how my essay begins:
Allyship means placing myself in the shoes of someone experiencing marginalization or oppression, “taking on their struggle as my own,” recognizing where and how today's structures give me privilege that they don't have, and trying to transfer the benefits of my privilege to them. Allyship asks me to be active in standing up for those who are oppressed or marginalized. And allyship asks me, when I inevitably err, to take responsibility, to apologize, and to learn better and try better next time.
One way to understand allyship is through a Mussar lens. Mussar is a Jewish practice of self-refinement through focusing on and developing our middot or soul-qualities. When I think of allyship, the middah that comes to mind is achrayut, “responsibility.” The term is related to the word achar, “after.” We need to pay attention to what happens after we act (or refrain from action). If I ignore injustice or power disparity because I’m not the person being harmed, what happens after? If I speak or act (or fail to speak or act) in a way that causes harm, what happens after? Achrayut reminds us of our ethical obligation to keep impacts and outcomes in mind.
But put a different vowel in that word, and achar becomes acher, “other.” That suggests another, equally important, implication of achrayut. When we care for each other, we express and strengthen our achrayut. Achrayut means actively taking the responsibility of caring for another, or an “other.” Achrayut means centering the needs of the other. Unlike the term “allyship,” achrayut doesn't presume a power differential between the person with needs and the person with privilege who's centering those needs. Still, the middah of achrayut can fuel our allyship...