PROTOCOLS by Ben Ratskoff

Photo Credit: Benyamin Reich, Challah, Photography, 2007

Artist of the Month, Ben Ratskoff, talks about the release of PROTOCOLS, a boundary-pushing quarterly Jewish journal that focuses on the endurance and dynamism of Jewish life and culture. Issue #1 Chosen went live on January 30 and features alumni Tom Haviv, Benyamin Reich, and Naomi Safran-Hon. Issue #2 is currently in the works and set to be released on May 2.

PROTOCOLS emerged out of a series of conversations and Facebook posts between peers during and after the 2016 election. A small network started to form of people who felt increasingly isolated from Jewish communities and, most importantly, didn’t see themselves represented in Jewish media. At the same time, there was a palpable ground-swelling of young Jews mobilized into political action, organizing around a variety of issues but increasingly willing to confront the American Jewish establishment. Many of us who were involved, directly or peripherally, in this growing political action wanted to carve out a space where thinkers, writers, and artists could critically engage the political conversations pertinent to Jewish communities as part of the collective work of building social movements.

The very idea of PROTOCOLS was also very much influenced by my own scholarly research and writing, which has focused on the leftist journal work produced by Jews and Blacks in the 1920s and 30s. There had been a reciprocal relationship between leftist politics on the ground and the elaboration of leftist politics in text and art. One particularly important example for PROTOCOLS was the work done by Afro-French Négritude writers and artists in journals like L’étudiant noir, Présence Africaine, and Tropiques. Instead of responding to the dehumanizing French racism by asserting their humanity, the Négritude writers and artists chose to reclaim their négritude—their blackness—and revalorize it, refusing to play white France’s game. We wanted to learn from this position. So as the writers and readers of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” imagined a group of Jewish men plotting global domination, we wanted to flip the script by showing a group of Jewish writers and artists gathering (online) to plot global liberation.

Tom Haviv, The hamsa flag

Over the course of a year, we hobbled together a team of editors, graphic designers, and web developers. We began soliciting pieces and spreading a call for submissions. We started designing and building out the website. Everyone involved was donating their time and labor so the project required a lot of patience and determination. Finally, our first issue went live on January 30, and it has been extremely gratifying and validating to hear readers’ excitement about the project. As an online quarterly journal, our next issue will go live on May 2. We hope, in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in queer and trans communities, undocumented communities, indigenous communities, and communities of color, that our journal is one small step towards building a more liberated world.

Siona Benjamin, Gouache on paper, 2004

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