Wednesday, January 07, 2009


It should go without saying that I'm horrified and disgusted by Israel's assault on the helpless civilians of Gaza. Unfortunately, it doesn't. So, in case it matters to someone, even one person, I'll say it here.

Unlike most of my extended family, I was not raised with any special feeling for Israel—partly a byproduct of my liberal parents' distance from Judaism as a religion (I grew up attending a Unitarian fellowship, making us "Jewnitarians"). My sense of Jewishness was firmly diasporic, and—for better or worse—largely informed by the experience of the Holocaust, which my maternal grandparents had both improbably survived (as had my mother, born in 1942 and hidden by relatives in the Budapest ghetto till war's end). The stories I absorbed from her, from my grandfather, and the gruesome books that my mother collected on the subject, formed the kernel of my notion of Jews as victims of power. Jews as wielders of power were difficult to envision, but if I did envision them, I imagined that they would be called to a higher standard of ethical conduct both by the Torah itself and by the historical experience of near-extinction at the hands of oppressors. It's stomach-wrenching to see that experience being used, instead, to justify the oppression of others through routinized racism, the creation of new ghettos, and plain old-fashioned banditry.

Again and again I hear the argument: you'd do the same if rockets were being fired at you. Obama, who like every other American politician panders to, if not Israel itself than to the debased American discourse about Israel, said it himself. It's profoundly disappointing to see the people I must claim as my own, whom if they are to mean anything as a Jewish people must hold themselves to the highest standards of justice and equality, justifying their actions with an argument that amounts to "anyone would do the same in our place." It's a meaningless argument that makes the special cultural heritage and historic burden of Jewishness just as meaningless.

My tribalism, such as it is, is primarily invested in communities of choice: poets, intellectuals, D&D fanatics. But I would make myself part of another tribe, however small and splintered: secular Jews with a nevertheless religious feeling for the meaning of a chosen people—chosen not to prevail over enemies, or to take land based on Biblical claims, but rather chosen to be choosers of the more difficult, less expedient, most just path, whatever the situation. I am therefore not a Zionist, though I'm not an anti-Zionist either—a Diasporist, who rather thinks that Philip Roth got it right in his amazing metafiction Operation Shylock: A Confession. That's the Jewishness I'm committed to: suffering questions, and not punishing those who question us. The Jewishness of Marx and Emma Goldman and Rosa Luxemburg; the Jewishness of Kafka and Benjamin; the Jewishness of Rosenzweig and Roth and Leonard Bernstein.

My identity aside, powerlessly, imperatively, I say simply: stop. Stop the war. Stop making widows. Stop making orphans. Stop making fresh hatred. Stop today. Stop now.


No comments:

Popular Posts