DeTox Day 17 – Thoughts on Being Jewish

On the recent trip to the Mediterranean, there were many reminders of Jewish Ghettos and pogroms.  The tour guides spoke of them.  The history was in the places and buildings, some torn down and some still present.

I pointed this out to my son.

I forgot that at age 17, he knows everything.  So he told me that he doesn’t like religion, and religion is stupid and irrelevant.

I told him that what was being pointed out was not about religion or Gd, but about the history of a people.  The Jewish people were driven out of Israel by the Romans, by the Muslims, and settled in eastern Europe and in Spain and Italy and France.

The ghettos were built as protection for them, but later served as a convenient way to round Jews up for whatever violence or terror was the fashion of the times.

But that’s not what I want to write about.

What I want to write about is that every time I point out something to do with Jewish history, is is received as if I am proselytizing.  Jews don’t proselytize.  Jews don’t seek out converts or go door to door to spread the “word” of .. Moses or something.  

When I am noting these historical truths, that’s all I am doing.  “This happened.  And this happened.”  And it just seems that these atrocities are always committed by others against the Jews.

In Syria, there are devastating violations of human rights happening against the Muslim people.  Those violations are being committed by other Muslim people.

In Gaza, Hamas is holding Palestinian citizens, their own people, up as human shiels as they hurl rockets at Israel.  These are atrocities of Muslims against Muslims.

My Irish grandmother used to joke that “No one will ever start a war with Ireland.  The Irish are always too busy fighting each other.”

The Chinese have notoriously committed heinous crimes against their own people.

The USA is now embroiled in what amounts to militarized police action against her own citizens outside of St. Louis.  

What’s different about Jews is that they have been vilified throughout history, for simply wanting to survive as a free people.  This is as much about history as it is about religion.  It’s so extreme that the notion of genocide against the Jews is seen as an acceptable position in other cultures.  In this recent conflict, we’ve seen it this notion rear it’s ugly head from Hamas to Paris, Australia to Los Angeles.  Somehow “Death to Jews” is not such a distasteful idea that it can’t be stated out loud, and chanted in the streets, and graffiti’d on walls. 

How can we, as an allegedly evolved species, not see the inherent flaw in this?

How is it that so many are so willing to place the problems of the world on the scapegoat of Zion even in 2014 when we have the benefit of millennia of historical events to tell us this is not the solution?  Why in the entire history of civilization can we not learn that scapegoating on any level never solves, well, anything?

And why does this have to be about religion?

Why do we need to anthropomorphize a deity to suit our own needs to dominate and destroy others?

It’s no mistake that the culture/religion that is Judaism does not do this.  It’s simply against our code of ethics.  Even though the Torah (Old Testament) has stories of Gd telling the Jews to destroy other cultures to gain land, the Rabbis tell us this is not the way to live, and point out that Jews disobeyed Gd and did not destroy other cultures.

The English have destroyed cultures for centuries.  There are a dozen tribes that succumbed to genocide in the northeastern region of the United States.  We know little or nothing about who they were or how they lived.  The Romans attempted to destroy and rebuild cultures in their own image, and their enduring influence around the world proves they had some success in doing this.  

In fact, the Romans who destroyed the Temple and drove the Jews away even had a lasting affect on Judaism.  We see their influence every year at Passover, when we “recline”.  When I was in Pompeii, this connection was made more clear than ever before.  The Romans in that city ate on beds, lying down as they faced their manicured gardens and enjoyed their meals.  The stories of midrash are filled with reclining Rabbis discussing ethics.

Jewish history is human history.  It’s the history of conflict, faith, renewal, learning, and most of all surviving.  It’s the history of sharing core beliefs, not all of which are religious.  Many Jews are atheists, but they are still Jews.

Many humans are atheists, but they are still humans.

The question is (okay – so there are multiple questions);

At what point can we make our collective history a binding experience that brings us together as one humanity, regardless of the paths we walk as humans?  When will understanding overcome the need for scapegoating?  When will we come together as a community to agree that people are more important than ideologies?


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