Recently, I was in a room where I was asked if I could accept multiple truths. Knowing what I now know after more than half a century of living, I said yes, it’s not easy, but I could sit with it. On Columbus Day this year, a friend posted on Facebook that Christopher Columbus was a Portuguese Jew and I sort of laughed, amused, because that is the equivalent of saying Shakespeare was a Jew – who knows at this point really, since there are so many conjectures as to who these people were. And why would we claim him anyway?
However, it was on further interaction along these lines that I realized what would make an African American point out that Christopher Columbus was a Jew – the old conspiracy theory that Jews are responsible for everything wrong in the world – it is authenticated by Louis Farrakhan’s assertion that the Jews were indeed the real originators of the slave trade and that they were the ones who brought the millions of Africans on the Middle Passage? Here I find a convenient truth. For every white person who likes to say, well Africans sold their own people into slavery and slavery was there way before it was here, now we have an African American saying well really, all along, it’s the Jews who started the whole mess.
And so lately, with the escalation of Israel and Palestine over the brutal murder of four young boys, I’ve come to hit a wall on what other truth I can sit comfortably with in a room. After helping to organize a rally for the kidnapped Nigerian girls, I bristled when I saw a hashtag that said #bringbackourboys referring to the three Israeli youths who were kidnapped. It’s not easy to look inside your soul and see the contradictions, but I truly felt no innocence with these boys when a Jewish friend posted on Facebook about the horror of their killing. Why?
Because having been raised in the Zionist tradition, having watched my father, uncles and brothers all give generously to Israeli bonds and having been born a Jew and been sent to Israel to be re-Jewed due to my crush on a Catholic boy, I could not help but feel strongly for most of my life that Israel was the last frontier for Jews everywhere anywhere. And yet, my truth was shattered when sitting in Professor Stephen Ambrose’s world history class preparing for an exam, Dr. Ambrose said: “The Israelis have become like the Nazis.”
Okay, STOP, that wasn’t what I was expecting to hear from this great historian, who was actually married to a Jew.
And so I entered into a debate with him in his office the next day, where I came away with different truths, probably best expressed in Ari Shavit’s comprehensive story of Israel [My Promised Land] where he says:
On the one hand, Israel is the only nation in the West that is occupying another people. On the other hand, Israel is the only nation in the West that is existentially threatened. Both occupation and intimidation make the Israeli condition unique. Intimidation and occupation have become the two pillars of our condition.
Most observers and analysts deny this duality. The ones on the left address occupation and overlook intimidation, while the ones on the right address intimidation and overlook occupation. But the truth is that without incorporating both elements into one worldview, one cannot grasp Israel or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Any school of thought that does not relate seriously to those two fundamentals is bound to be flawed and futile. Only a third approach that internalizes both intimidation and occupation can be realistic and moral and get the Israel story right.
Israel and Palestine are at war – make no mistake, it has escalated. And this is not my first rodeo people, my lack of sympathy with the #bringbackourboys was a reaction to the senseless killing of all children in Israel no matter what their background and the lack of outcry for all of them, not just some of them. I stand with Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir’s father, the Palestinian boy who was killed as retribution for the three Jewish youths: “I am against kidnapping and killing,” his father said. “Whether Jew or Arab, who can accept the kidnapping and killing of his son or daughter? I call on both sides to stop the bloodshed.”
It’s funny, I was just going to submit an article to Kveller about enrolling me and my son in a conservative synagogue here in New Orleans, where I went to speak to the rabbi about membership and our conversation unfolded into one on Israel, Judaism, racism, the high U.S. incarceration rate, diversity, pedagogy vs. culture, and next thing I know I’m looking at Facebook post that sort of exploded with anti-Israel sentiment and accusations of racism on the part of Jews against the Palestinians – as if there is one story in Israel and it’s that Jews are evil. And by Jews, I mean white Jews because God knows everyone else is flawless over there in the Middle East.
Yes, folks now is the time to declare white Jews evil, because as soon as Israel does something – in defense or offense – the world takes to its anti-semitic bullhorn to decry how Jews are and have always been haters. Except of course, Black Jews who are more real than European Jews – I wonder how a European Jew who was relocated to Israel during or after the Holocaust, who had her entire family perish in a concentration camp would feel about this truth? At some point does that truth matter to her? After years of growing up and wondering if I would confess to my Judaism if a plane was hijacked and I was asked by the terrorists the question, I can now say that my answer would be – well, I thought I was, but honestly now I don’t know, it depends on whose truth you want, mine or other people’s.
My mother converted to Judaism, and in Israel, the ultra Orthodox’s would tell me I’m not Jewish. As a matter of fact, on my 40th birthday which I celebrated at the home of a Jewish friend, he greeted my birthday celebration with a statement: “Well, in fact you are not <em>really</em> Jewish, you are only <em>really</em> half Jewish.” Again, multiple truths.
I reached out to a friend in Jerusalem who is part Ashkenazic and part Sephardic – we met on Facebook over the subject of kosher soul food. We shared our Judaism and being Sephardic in common. I told her that a conversation on FB had occurred where several African American friends were touting Israel as the evil empire and that I had concerns because I felt it was similar to when George Bush was our president and everyone hated Americans because they thought we all wanted to kill Muslims, conquer the world, and starve our own children (read: not true). Similarly, all Jews want to rid Israel of Palestinians and believe that apartheid measures are the best way to handle the problem (read: not true).
Her response was:
Hi there beloved Rachel!
I’ll cut straight to the chase:
1. People have this annoying need to simplify everything in to binary dichotomies like good/ evil, war/ peace, hate and love, etc. – when in fact reality is way more complicated than that.
2. There’s a difference between radical people who’re looking for action and use heated moments to act without control. There’s a very wide range of thoughts on the political matter here, but I think that to sum it up, everybody on both sides wants peace, but then complicity becomes when you ask: what kind of peace and what are they willing to let go of, in order to gain that so called peace.
3. If you ask me, and you did, we are in a catch 22 – if Israel becomes a dual-nation state, then we lost the only Jewish state we had… and I have no doubt in my mind Jews should have a state, even if I don’t define myself as a Jew, they were ‘a people’ way before they were a religion… now if we stay a one-nation state then these kinds of wars will keep going, there’s no ending to that.
4. Now talking about racism – not every hate has to be linked to race, not only that this term has a different use and meaning in the US, because here Jews and Muslims are from the same ‘race’, we share the same dad, remember? Which is kind of weird in itself because how can two religions be based on a biological father, but let’s leave that alone — this is a national conflict on land between two groups of people with a shared history and the hatred that comes from it is not racist, it’s a national conflict. The war in Sarajevo wasn’t about race because they were Eastern Europeans and here it’s race because it’s Palestinians and Israelis? Because we are from the Middle East and not Europe? I’ve never heard of that race…
Sadly, like all attempts to identify race, even races have sub races – take our own “race” – the Sephardim, for everything that my African American friends say here about how Ethiopian Jews have been treated once the Israeli Air Force airlifted them out of their country into the welcoming arms of Israel (I say this sarcastically), this is the truth of the Sephardim, my people, in Israel as told again by Ari Shavit:
The Zionist story is also simple and cruel, I think. Israel was to have been home to the Jewish people of Eastern Europe__that is what the state was designed to be. But between 1939 and 1945, the Jewish people of Eastern Europe almost ceased to be. Having no other choice, Zionism turned eastward. The result was ironic. In 1897, when Zionism was gaining momentum, only 7 percent of the world’s Jews were Oriental. In 1945, after the Holocaust, only 10% of the world’s Jews were Oriental. But in Israel, by 1990, over 50 percent of Jewish Israelis were Oriental.
When I was a child, Oriental Jews were not recognized as such. Although they already constituted almost half of Israel’s population, they were oppressed and ignored. In an odd sort of way they were present and not present, belonging and not belonging. They were followed by a constant cloud of doubt and suspicion. They were not our lot, not really us.
If you look at Dr. Seuss’ The Sneetches you will see that this is not even just a human trait, it is also belongs to Sneetches because some of them put stars on their bellies to distinguish themselves as better than the ones “with no stars thar.” I digress because in all honesty in contemplating all of these multiple truths that I am being forced to sit with in a the same room, I can’t help but think of the absurdity and irony of the Sneetches almost as if Dr. Seuss were the real history scholar here.
I’m going to write that article for Kveller about why I chose to join Shir Chadash with my son and how I feel about that from a transracial family/parent perspective someday but not today. Today, I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that four young boys were killed in Israel and it has sparked a civil war, meanwhile more than two hundred girls were kidnapped in Nigeria and the government’s incompetence in finding those girls is mind numbing.
I responded to my friend in Israel that there are always haters, but I am looking for the healers, where are they right now in Israel?
Hi Rachel, sorry for the late response… Ii was sitting to write you last night and then the alarm went on and i needed to run to the safe room, then again, and again, so after 5 times of 3 floors up’s and down’s – i decided to respond today (while i’m at work… shhh…)
well about what the rabbi said, Israel is the only country who’ll accept any Jews…. Yemenites, Ethiopian, Latin, whatever… that’s the thing, it sounds like a broken record sometimes, but history has shown time and time again that Jews are hunted, and i don’t want to check and see what will happen again if they/ we won’t have our own place anymore. We’re trying to be better about how we treat ‘the other’ and we’ve got a long way to go, but overall, we’re okay. better than other states, less okay than others.
about the healers- i don’t really know, i mean, it’s amazing to experience these wars and situation via facebook, i’m not really out in the streets seeing what happens and i try to minimize the time i spend in front of the idiot box, they never really say anything, so i don’t know… but what i do know, is that the national conflict is bigger, or at least to most people, feels out of their hands, on both sides. womyn in the Palestinian territories (not even to mention Gaza strip) have no voice, there were a few attempts to gather womyn on both sides to speak in the same voice, but then you put the Palestinian womyn at risk (for a womyn to speak her mind? for real? this is the middle east….) and also, in many ways, less violent but still, Israeli womyn. the youth in Israel aren’t that active, they’re numb, sadly. it’s a bad combination of numbness, distrust in the system, confusion and kinda ‘getting used to it’.
i’ll say it like this, I’m 30 years old, i’ve been through 10-15 wars (depends how you count them), i have friends from down south who spent, in their whole life time more time in the ‘safe room’ than out of it… not to blame any side…. but think about the reality created for people who lives their life like that… in NOLA terms, think about it like mother nature and the hurricanes were another nation… you know what i mean? people sadly don’t look for healers, they’re looking for someone to blame and to take they’re rage out on.
this morning before i even got to work, a missile exploded in my hometown, and i try to be as rational as i can (you know me already…) but i can understand how emotional it is for people who go through shit like this EVERY DAY. It truly can and will, drive a person insane.
and about racism… i hear you sister… i got the title ‘Shvartzeh’ which means darkie… but unlike you, i’m actually dark. In Israel people are always so surprised that my mom is half Syrian half Turkish ’cause she’s as white as you are, seriously, ”scary white” as you said. Have you had any issues with Ashkenazi Jews with Tin being accepted out there in NOLA, the south, the US?
there were some African American Jewish people i’ve interviewed during my research and they all came up with harsh stories about not being accepted, by ‘white’ Jews….
As I write an ageless battle is being waged:
1) To what people does Israel belong?
2) Do Jews need a Jewish state?
3) What ethnic background was Christopher Columbus?
4) Who are the real Jews?
5) What is the easy solution to the Israel/Palestinian conflict?
6) Can you accept multiple truths?
and last, but not least, in the golden words of Rodney King:
7) Can we all just [ever] get along?