Posts Tagged ‘Walt Kelly’

DIRTY LAUNDRY

Jerusalem and the Second Temple fell to Rome in 70 CE. The Sages saw in this event dirty laundry—what Jews didn’t want to talk about. The tragedy occurred because of sinat chinam—baseless hatred. Not of Rome for Judea but of Jews towards each other. Jews around the globe need to take notice. So do non-Jewish Americans.

Today, discrete groups of haredim—ultra-orthodox Jews—maintain great antipathy towards each other. They unite in their distaste—often hatred—for Modern Orthodox, Reform, Conservative and secular Jews—the majority of Jews in Israel and the U.S.

The haredim deny Israelis in the Progressive (Reform) and Masorti (Conservative) movements religious equality. In 1948, David Ben Gurion gave this then tiny group full charge of all religious lifecycle events to bring them into his governing coalition. With their high birthrate, the haredim grew far faster than other Israeli Jewish groups. In Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu’s multi-party coalition, they wield considerable political power. This includes preventing Progressive women from praying at the Kotel (Western Wall) by themselves or with men, wearing tallitot (prayer shawls) and reading from the Torah.

The Jerusalem Post (9-6) reported statements by Shlomo Amar, Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, that Reform Jews “… don’t have Yom Kippur or Shabbat, but they want to pray [at the Western Wall]. But no one should think that they want to pray. They want to desecrate the holy.”

Sinat chinam! Jews seeking religious equality very much observe Shabbat (Friday night and Saturday) and Yom Kippur (beginning this year on September 29 and coincident with Shabbat). Their interpretation and observance of the Law is not that of Rabbi Amar and others in the ultra-Orthodox community—who often contend among themselves regarding minutiae. But it is serious, studious and heartfelt, reflecting a love of Torah along with an embrace of the twenty-first century.

Divisiveness also impacts Israel’s political realm. The left has faded. The far-right now abhors centrists, who prefer a two-state solution given sound security guarantees to a greater Israel disenfranchising Arab citizens—or denying citizenship. Despite statements to the contrary, Netanyahu continues to appease the far-right. This while facing allegations of corruption and his wife Sara’s imminent indictment on corruption charges.

The hatred keeps on coming. Bibi and Sara’s son Yair recently posted on Facebook a cartoon using classic anti-Semitic images of his father’s political foes, including billionaire George Soros and former prime minister Ehud Barak. Yair withdrew the meme but not before it elicited praise from American neo-Nazis.

Israel and world Jewry see Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas—among others—as security or existential threats. The challenges they present must be faced with resolve. But Israel confronts an even greater challenge—disunity.

The U.S. exhibits the same dirty laundry. Liberals and conservatives raise fists and shout each other down. Varying groups claim sole knowledge of civic and religious truth. Each seeks to impose its views on the others.

This week’s Torah portion, Nitzavim, offers my favorite biblical verse: “Choose life” (30:19). We possess free will. Using it, we can air our dirty laundry and rid ourselves of its stench. Otherwise, we open ourselves to grave risks as reflected in the words of the cartoonist Walt Kelly’s beloved character Pogo: “We have met the enemy and they are us.”

To all Jews everywhere: L’Shana Tovah—Happy New Year. To everyone else: shalom—peace.

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MUSLIM IN AMERICA: PART TWO

Nine-Eleven shocked America. I remember my own disbelief and anger viewing images of smoke bellowing from the Twin Towers then the Towers collapsing, the damaged Pentagon and United Flight 93, headed for the White House, having crashed in Western Pennsylvania. The disaster proved equally eventful for Ameena Jandali.

A Colorado native and resident of the East Bay, Ameena, is an American-born Muslim. She recently co-led a course on Islam and Judaism: One God, Two Paths at San Francisco’s Congregation Sherith Israel. “Nine-Eleven was a shock,” she says. For the first few days she was afraid to leave her house. “I thought our life was over. Then I got tired of that. I went out. The East Bay is pretty tolerant. Nothing really bad happened to me although I heard of discrimination and hate across the country.”

The Muslim community rose to address Islamophobia. Americans knew Muslims as overseas terrorists, not next-door neighbors. Islamic Networks Group in San Jose, for whom Ameena directs content development, got busy. Still, the situation remained dicey.

In some ways, things are worse now,” Ameena says. “There have been more terror attacks. Hate has ratcheted up. People demonize Muslims.” Still many people now know more about Islam and can distinguish between terrorists and regular Muslims. Interfaith activities have helped.

Bright spots exist. Keith Ellison a Democrat from Minnesota, serves in the U.S. House of Representatives. So does André Carson, (Dem.-Indiana). M. Saud Anwar, a Yale-educated physician, is mayor of South Windsor, Connecticut.

Ameena’s children experienced some discrimination at school. Her oldest daughter, now an adult, wore a headscarf in middle school and was often subjected to negative comments and teasing. Her middle son is blond and not generally noticed as a Muslim. But in high school, Ameena found a piece of paper his friends had written—the timeline of a suicide bomber. Her youngest daughter did not have the same negative experiences that her sister had. In fact, she was often told how beautiful her scarves were. Her youngest son was recently called a terrorist in middle school. He was upset but said the kids were joking. Ameena asked if she should speak to the principal. Her son told her, “Everyone jokes about everyone else.” Ameena wasn’t amused but didn’t pursue it.

As to the future, Ameena notes that people are getting used to others who are different. But, she, notes there’s a fine line to be walked. As minorities grow, they often transform from colorful to threatening. She believes that things are looking up barring another major incident. “More American Muslims are being born. There’s an authentic American-Muslim identity being created.” This presents the same challenges all ethnic Americans face—distractions like the Internet and video games taking young people away from their parents’ ways. Still, Ameena believes, “The new generation can combine the best of both worlds—traditional values and American know-how and efficiency.”

Ameena’s challenges are those of all Americans. If our core values really mean anything, we will embrace all our citizens whatever their faith beliefs—or lack of them. Turning the words of the fabled cartoonist Walt Kelly’s Pogo around a bit, we have met our friends, and they are us.

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Read my short-short story “White on White” in the Winter 2014 online edition of Summerset Review. Look for my new novel, The Boy Walker, in January—available at Amazo.com, Barnesandnoble.com and iUniverse.com.