I had planned to write about the High Holy Days. That was the plan- a straightforward, and hopefully humorous, account of my second Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur as an Israeli. But honestly, Rosh Hashana was lovely and uneventful and Yom Kippur I was battling what can only be described as the plague, so I don’t have that much to report. Then, two things happened that gave me the urge, the need, the desire- to blog. And I live for that.
The first was a life- changing book I just finished and the second was an unpleasant Facebook exchange (although these days, aren’t most of them unpleasant?) The book I read was called “Catch the Jew” by Tuvia Tenenbom and it is his account of trying to get the gist of this whole “Israeli- Palestinian” issue by speaking to a representative of basically every faction in Israel. He talks to Arabs and Jews, Europeans and Africans. He talks to the Right and the Left, Hareidim and “settlers”, Bedouins and MKs- he really gets around. It’s fascinating, but what stuck out to me is his accounts of discussing the divides specifically within the Jewish community. He pokes fun at everyone, basically, but reserves most of his wonder (and, honestly, ire) for Israeli Jews who hate their fellow Jew. Some of it is really hard to read, and even harder to digest. Here he is, in the one Jewish country in the world, meeting Jew after Jew who hates Jews, hates Israel, and dedicates their lives to destroying both from the inside.
Act Two. In a Facebook group this evening (mostly dedicated to promoting democracy in the Middle East), someone posted (and to be more accurate, posted during Shabbat) “How much of a internal threat are Orthodox jews (sic) to the state of Israel? In what ways and why? I’m guessing not all orthodox jews (sic) fit in this description but the ones that do.” And then in the comments, people were discussing it.
Now, after scraping my jaw off the floor, I responded to the nature of “Sorry this Orthodox Jew couldn’t respond, as it was Shabbat, but this post is rude, divisive and unnecessary.” But I was still stewing. I will say this; I think the guy who wrote this meant Hareidi/Ultra- Orthodox Jews. And I will further say this- I don’t care. Because for whatever problems I may personally have with specific political issues, I love Jews and will always try to defend them. And it makes me nuts that I live in a religion where I have to spend so much time defending and rationalizing and debating and arguing with and disagreeing with and analyzing my fellow Jews. It got me wondering how much time a devout Christian or Muslim or Buddhist spends defending his fellow coreligionists.
It says in the Torah “Love your neighbor as yourself” and yet we Jews have built within our tiny community even tinier factions still. And it has become all the more apparent now that I’m Israeli. Sure, in the States we had different groups, but we were all still American Jews, bound together by the fact that we were the “other”, this tiny (but well-known) minority within a huge American population. Here in Israel, the Jewish state, we are blessedly not the “other.” And this is great, and this is bad. Here, being around other Jews is no great shakes. And because they’re everywhere, factions form quickly, so people know where in this sea of Jews they belong. Sure there are times when we can all come together, like when we’re huddled in bomb shelters or competing at the Olympics, but generally- there are schisms. Left vs. Right. Secular vs. religious. Vs. Hareidi vs. Hasidic vs. “settlers” vs. Ashkenazim vs. Sephardim vs. Ethiopians vs. Russians vs. Bibi vs Buji vs. Sabras vs. Olim vs. me vs. you and so it goes.
And dear reader, I am ashamed to admit, of course I engage in it too. Of course I classify myself and people I meet. Sometimes I wrinkle my nose, sometimes I like someone instantaneously, knowing nothing much about them. Sometimes I clap for statements I agree with and sometimes I “boo” politicians with whom I disagree. Sometimes I judge and sometimes I’m harsh. I forget that they’re also Jewish, but that they grew up differently than me, with a different family and different life experiences. There’s a guy who tells everyone he dislikes me and the only reason I can think of is because we disagree politically. I’ve always been nice to him, we have similar social circles and we’re both Anglo olim. But politically, we diverge and so he dislikes me, and I in turn him. But I get to thinking about this and become uneasy. I say that I “love Jews,” but isn’t he Jewish? Aren’t Jews who live outside my box Jewish? Aren’t they also my family? Shouldn’t I defend them the way I did “the Orthodox” in that guy’s Facebook post, or in any instance of anti-Semitism where I would go to bat for any of my Jewish brothers and sisters, regardless of the “box” in which they live?
I was hanging out with my friend Eli, talking about this dilemma, and it struck me that Eli is a guy who cares nothing about boxes. I asked him how he is the way he is and he said “I just hate everyone regardless.” He is an extremely friendly guy and he was joking. The subtext was that he just loves everyone regardless. He basically just sees humans as humans and it got me thinking. I need to start seeing Jews as Jews, now living in Israel more than ever. In America, it was easier- it was our little subculture in a vast non-Jewish country, but here I need to be careful. I need to mean what I say and say what I mean. I don’t have to agree with the people who think differently than me, but I have to hear them. I don’t have to join people who live differently than me, but I have to defend them when I can. And I don’t have to give up my ideals, but I have to understand that they may not be everyone’s ideals (although they should be- they’re really good ideals. Kidding!) And this year, in Israel in 5776, when I say that I love all Jews and I want to actually LOVE ALL JEWS. I think I can do it- wish me luck!