web analytics
August 3, 2015 / 18 Av, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Looking at the World with New Eyes

By the time I was 10, my mother and I had hitchhiked for thousands of miles and befriended hundreds of exceptionally strange people.

fresh eyes

I know now that my family tree is adorned with rabbis and Hebrew novelists, Yiddish auctioneers and shtetl folk healers. But as a kid, I didn’t know a thing about it. I didn’t even know I was Jewish.

My mother, Claudia, pulled up her roots as a teenager and came west to San Francisco in the Summer of Love trying to find a new family – one based on a shared vision of communitarian love, not tribal bloodlines or ancient texts. She still hadn’t found what she was looking for by the time I was born at the end of the Vietnam War, and my early childhood was spent wandering the American West in search of an elusive utopia.

By the time I was 10, my mother and I had hitchhiked for thousands of miles and befriended hundreds of exceptionally strange people. We had danced around bonfires and lived in vans, buses and an ice cream truck. Some nights we slumbered blissfully under the stars; others I lay awake paralyzed by the howling of wolves.

Our quest for utopia stalled out in rural Washington State when Claudia married Leopoldo, a former Salvadoran guerrilla fighter who brought with him demons from the civil war in Central America and a serious drinking problem. My mother was convinced he was a messianic revolutionary hero she had foretold in clairvoyant visions. I was pretty sure Leopoldo was going to kill us.

In the summer of 1986, we moved to a temperate rainforest on one of the San Juan Islands. Leopoldo told us he was going to build us an ancient Egyptian-style pyramid to live in, but his plan failed when he threatened to kill the property owner. As the winter rains fell, we found refuge in a dilapidated little apartment in the town of Stanwood, Wash.

I found refuge in the local public library, where I began researching the Jewish legacy I’d just learned was my birthright. The ancient spirituality of the Land of Israel inspired me, and the rich tradition of the ancestors made me feel like I finally belonged somewhere.

But my mother’s political condemnation of Israel gave me pause – until I finally got access to a television after my seventh-grade teacher assigned watching the nightly news as homework. Claudia wouldn’t throw down $50 for a used television of our own, but she reluctantly agreed to let me watch elsewhere.

I had to admit that the moving color pictures gave me a new perspective on certain news stories. The Midwestern drought that Claudia had dismissed as a corporate scam to gain more farm subsidies sure looked like a bona fide disaster to me. And despite his evil policies, President Reagan actually moved and talked like a nice old man, not a demon loosely draped in human skin.

But the most startling difference was my take on the intifada. This was an issue that kept me awake at night. How was I supposed to take pride in being Jewish with genocide being committed in my name?

But now the intifada was being televised. Instead of a still, grainy picture of a Palestinian boy holding his leg in pain, I was presented with broad pans of hundreds of men hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails at almost impossibly restrained Israeli soldiers. I peered in to look at their skin color.

Claudia had characterized this conflict as a redux of the civil rights movement, except this time the dark-skinned, oppressed minority wasn’t just being denied its basic human rights and dignity, but also being targeted for extermination. But that wasn’t what it looked like on camera.

When presented with my thoughts on the issue, Claudia assured me my conclusions were all the result of selective editing and government manipulation of the media. But I wasn’t so sure.

Claudia’s grip on my worldview began to erode in front of the television, quickly disintegrating entirely. On one thing after another, I realized my mother was wrong.

Maybe the Israelis were actually decent people trying to make the best of a complicated situation. And if this were true, maybe the same could be said for America.

Maybe the police and the government and the corporations – everyone I’d been taught to hate and fear – were all fundamentally good people trying to do their best in complex times.

And what if black and brown people weren’t morally superior to white people? What if we were all just individuals who should be judged by the content of our character? Wasn’t that what Dr. King had been talking about anyway?

And if that were the case, maybe your politics shouldn’t define your moral worth. Maybe you could be an uber Republican but still be a good person. And maybe, just maybe, you could believe in the revolution and the people and still be a terrible person.

I walked back thinking about the river of ideas I’d been swimming in my whole life. All of the life choices my mother had made, all of the deprivations I had suffered –were they all premised on delusions?

The walls of my room were plastered with protest posters I’d picked up over the years, and I looked at them now with new eyes. First, I tore down Israel Out of Palestine! And then I tore down U.S. Out of North America! And then I ripped at my political wallpaper with the zeal of a recently deprogrammed cult survivor until all that remained was one anti-nuclear war poster. Then I tore that down, too.

About the Author: Joshua Safran is an attorney, writer, speaker and occasional rabbi living in Oakland, Calif. This article was excerpted from “Free Spirit: Growing Up On the Road and Off the Grid,” published earlier this month by Hyperion Books.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

3 Responses to “Looking at the World with New Eyes”

  1. WELCOME TO AN OPEN MIND.

  2. WELCOME TO AN OPEN MIND.

  3. WELCOME TO AN OPEN MIND.

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
It's a deal
New Poll: Americans Oppose Iran Deal 2 – 1
Latest Indepth Stories
Graffiti at Duma home that was torched in Samara.

Some Israelis seem to have forgotten no one has yet tracked down the murderers of Ali Bawabsheh.

On-The-Bookshelf-logo

Aside from my own 485-page tome on the subject, Red Army, I think Jamie Glazov did an excellent job at framing things in United in Hate: The Left’s Romance with Tyranny and Terror.

Saltsman-073115

“Isn’t it enough that the whole world hates us? WHy do we have to hate each other?”

"Pistachios in our Time!"
US Secy of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif shake hands.

Who said Kerry won no concessions from Iran? He secured pistachios and Beluga caviar for America!

In 2015, Israel’s fertility rate (3+ births per woman) is higher than all Arab countries except 3

The New Israel Fund, as usual, condemns the State of Israel rather than condemning a horrible act.

I sought a Muslim group that claims to preach a peaceful and accepting posture of Islam, Ahmadiyya

While Orthodox men are encouraged to achieve and celebrated for it, Orthodox women too often are not

Jonathan remember, as long as you’re denied your right to come home to Israel you’re still in prison

Reports of a dead baby, a devastated family, and indications of a gloating attacker.

“The fear of being exposed publicly is the only thing that will stop people,” observed Seewald.

“Yesha” and Binyamin Regional Council leaders said the attack “is not the path of Jews in Judea and Samaria.”

The occasion? The rarely performed mitzvah of pidyon peter chamor: Redemption of a firstborn donkey.

American leftists have a pathological self-inflicted blindness to the dangers of political Islam

Hillary should THANK Trump; By dominating the news he’s overshadowed the implosion of her campaign

Hard to remember when Jewish youth were so hostile to their heritage as they are on campuses today.

More Articles from Joshua Safran
fresh eyes

By the time I was 10, my mother and I had hitchhiked for thousands of miles and befriended hundreds of exceptionally strange people.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/looking-at-the-world-with-new-eyes/2013/09/18/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: