Thursday, April 23, 2015
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
"The bad goyim have always wanted to kill the Yidden." “Bad Goyim” here could mean bad non-Jews who want to kill Yidden versus good non-Jews who do not or simply that Goyim are by definition bad and want to “kill out” (Yeshivish for genocidal murder) the Yidden (Yiddish for Jews). I believe the intent of the Hagadah is the first. There are indeed those in every generation who may hate Jews and despise our the ethical monotheism we stand for and try to destroy us and our message. God protects us and our mission from ultimate destruction. I deeply believe that. At the same time, I think most children would read the words as "Goyim are bad and always want to kill Jews."
A people that dwells alone!
The Talmud explains that Bilaam’s blessings were really curses. To be alone and isolated is no blessing. Indeed, as Rabbi Sacks, points out one of G-d’s first comments to man is “Its not good for man to be alone.”
"To be different is not necessarily to be alone. Indeed, . Singular, distinctive, countercultural – yes: these are part of the Jewish condition. But alone? No. That is not a blessing but a curse."
Given this vision of the world we are lead to two social strategies, isolation or assimilation. We can either segregate ourselves and protect our fragile world under siege or avoid the hate by giving up our identity. The latter strategy is pretty successful in the United States, it would seem. But so it seemed to some in Germany as well. When the Nazis came to power even the most assimilated German Jew was not safe. As we are often warned, “You just wait. It can happen here too!” Neither isolation or assimilation are reliable refuge.
What is the third option? We in the United States, at least, have the option of living robust, happy, enthusiastically observant Jewish lives while actively engaging our non-Jewish friends and neighbors in such a way as to help them appreciate who we are and what we stand for. Jewish life need not be a mystery. How many of your non-Jewish colleagues have any idea what Shabbat means to you? Do they know why you keep kosher? Do they know what kind of God you believe in? In my experience, most non-Jews know little about Judaism or what it means to be Jewish.
Won’t this lead to assimilation? Aren’t friendships and relationships just the precursors to assimilation and intermarriage. Maybe. Yet the walls of distrust have not prevented assimilation. It was this isolation that has driven the vast majority of Jewish people away from out faith. They left the isolation but they took some with them. Ironically many very assimilated Jews prefer to live in fear that one day they will be “outed” or to identify with Israel’s plight as the “pariah” among nation-states. They prove everyday that you can be assimilated and still be alone.
I don’t deny there is plenty of genuine Jew-hatred in the world. This year, in the wake of horrific attacks on Jews in Europe, no one would say there is not. I don’t know that you can cure anti-Semitism completely but I do know that you can refuse to let it make you sick. Being hated is not an identity for a healthy people.
"To be a Jew is to be loved by God; it is not to be hated by Gentiles. Our ancestors were called on to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” The word , “holy,” means set apart. But there is a profound difference between being apart and being alone…"
This Zayde too raises his voice and beams with pride at his family and celebrates his Jewishness. I too will assure my children of the survival and thriving of the Jewish people. I too will affirm my faith in God and gratitude for the mission He has given us. I will tell them that embracing our holiness means re-embracing our mission to be a “light unto the nations” not in some patronizing way but in the way of teachers, friends and colleagues. It means to share the wisdom of Torah and to be willing to hear its echoes in the voices of other peoples, other nations and even other faiths.
Sunday, November 23, 2014
Many have wondered, "How can I possibly earn the coveted Jihadi Jew 'Hater of the Day' Award?" Here are a few simple guidelines for being a a more effective, and even award-winning hater. These very same principles, adapted for domestic use, can turn your very own home into a war zone.
1) Never refer to “them” by name. Try “These people” or “You people.”
2) “These people” are two dimensional beings who only have one motive at a time “kill, kill, kill” or “Gimme, gimme, gimme.”
3) “These people” have no innocent children only enemies in training
Hate breaks the boundaries of the ordinary. It empowers us to do the impossible.
And love breaks the boundaries of the ordinary. It empowers us to do the impossible. Love will help us to see ourselves in the mirrors of our beloved’s eyes. Love will give us superhuman strength and stamina. Love will get us up early to do good for our beloved and keep us up late at night thinking of how to please them. Love will make us heal and build. We will beautify our whole world to make it fit for our love. We will do everything and sacrifice anything for love.
The imperative to “Love your neighbor as yourself” or "to want for others what you want for yourself" is God's boldest dare to humanity, the challenge to break the boundaries of our own hearts. If we don't, the world is terrifying. And if we do? Love won't solve the big problems. It won't stop poverty, oppression, or violence against the innocents of this world this instant. In the end maybe opened hearts, and minds and ears will. It is just a start. An experiment. A direction. A dim flicker of light in a world that seems pitch black. I am going to try to take the dare and see what happens. I hope maybe you will too.
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
In that, I am just the same as the person who taunts me.
Where I differ is that as much as I sometimes want to, I don’t believe that I have permission to give up. I feel compelled by the example of Abraham, who pleaded to God for the murderous idolaters of Sodom. My struggle, like his, is to strive to uplift humanity in any way that I can, not to wish for its destruction, not even the destruction of the worst of us. Abraham believed that even a few righteous people could turn around an entire world gone crazy. So I reach out to the righteous, encourage the good where I can because it’s the only plan I have got.
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Sunday, July 27, 2014
Several people have expressed wonder as to why I would post such a thing. This is the start of an answer.
While I am surrounded by people who seem so certain, I am find myself questioning. Throughout the past two weeks, my questioning has been understood as "breaking ranks" with one or another side. My moral exploration and reflection has been dismissed as seeking "moral equivalency". From where I sit (and I think Shira Lipkin experienced the same thing) I am engaged in a genuine struggle. It is a moral struggle and a spiritual struggle. It is a struggle with myself, with my faith, with my sense of the world and sometimes with friends and family.
Here are a few of the things I struggle to understand:
- How my friends, neighbors and acquaintances so quickly manage to get their opinions in line with each other when I can not.
- How is that people who live in a pluralistic society here in America, who profoundly benefit from that society and its values of tolerance can so completely abandon those values to the extent that any kind of coexistence with "others" is unimaginable or even anathema to them?
- What God's promise of a "Promised Land" means when the grip on that land must be held through a violence that can be both oppressive and brutal
- How does what is happening in the Land of Israel relate to the Torah's "conditional use permit on the land" the promises of security in the land if we are righteous and absolute insecurity if we are not. How much of this is US, how much is THEM, how much is God?
- How much of what people say about THOSE PEOPLE is true? The claims are so black and white and exaggerated. "Palestinian mothers really hate us more than love their children. Palestinians are content to be used as human shields. Palestinian children a fed on a childhood diet of pure hate. Israelis are racist haters who won't be happy til every Palestinian is gone. Zionism is Naziism." The world is awash in these messages. What do you DO with all that besides say everything WE say is true and everything THEY say is a lie?
- How the same people who could quote hundreds of ahadith demonstrating the gentleness of Muhammad, and may be very gentle in their private lives can be so harsh in the context of strife.
- How is it that in conflict so many of us who LIVE great values in our interpersonal lives somehow drop them when we are in conflict? Polite people become rude. Merciful people start to sound cruel.
- How to square my fierce love for Judaism, Torah and the Jewish people with Rabbis and others (who may know much more than I do) who increasingly de-emphasize the Torah of kindness while promoting a Torah that endorses military force even against "civilians."
- How what are for ME deep and difficult questions have been replaced by hashtags, memes and slogans that seem to discourage any creative thinking.
- What does peace mean? Everybody seems to want it and nobody seems to want it.
I have lots of questions. These are really just a few of the greatest hits. I am too mentally exhausted to write a complete inventory.
So, if I seem confused, I am. Some of you wish I wasn't. I kind of wish you were.