I don’t write about Jewishness much. For most Jews, I’m Jewish enough. But not for all, and I see their point. My adult atheism makes it easier for me to pass, or even just deny any Jewishness if I were the type of person to want to do so. My childhood distance from Judaism means that I don’t feel the pain of anti-semitic insults as acutely as many. I have no Holocaust stories in my family to feed the watchful eye that notices anti-semitism at all.
I am, in short, a Jew hardly harmed by anti-semitism.
It is largely for this reason that I struggle with taking positions on Israel. I don’t have to have Holocaust stories in my own family to remember the stories told to me by congregant’s parents. My time writing newsletter articles for my shul had me taking down the words of people whose parents had survived the concentration camps. I know the effect is real, and lasting. I’ve seen it impact friends and co-congregants. When they tell me how desperate they feel when it seems Israel is under attack, i hear the shift in timbre. I feel the anxious air between us.
None of this means that I accept Israeli militarism any more than I accept US militarism, but it does mean that there is an important issue of justice on which I feel ill prepared to speak. And it is necessary to speak about these issues, not merely because my cause, our collective cause at FtB is a world of just and supportive governments and communities for literally everyone, but also because even were I not someone who perceived the need for an international movement for peace and justice, issues related to Israel affect other conversations. These issues can never be fully isolated just as peoples can never be fully isolated.
So I was happy to come upon a thoughtful piece published a couple weeks ago at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency website JTA.org. It was written by Maayan Belding-Zidon, someone with much more informed and confident opinions than any I could express, and you should read her entire piece, but here’s a good bit to pique your interest should you be thinking about skipping it:
If we expect people to show up for our pain, we have to show up for theirs. And for Black people in America, the pain of police brutality is not only counted in the death toll: Its shadow hangs heavy over all people of color in every interaction with the police, in every city and town across America, every day.
בך יחסו עניי עמי
bakh yeḥesu ʿaniye ʿami
Act up! Act up!
Let all the desperate find comfort in you.