Author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch•Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi - Wisdom for Untethered Times." Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism and 2019 Religion News Association Award for Excellence in Commentary. Musings of a rabbi, journalist, father, husband, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and self-proclaimed mensch, taken from essays, columns, sermons and thin air. Writes regularly in the New York Jewish Week and Times of Israel.
Thursday, November 2, 2023
In This Moment: A Badass People; What Constitutes a Just War?
The quote below has great relevance to the current situation. it's taken from the series, Jewish Choices, Jewish Voices, by Dorff and Routtenberg. We'll be using it in our conversations, and I've copied a couple of key chapters and linked them for you below.
Save these links, as we will be discussing the matter of ethics and warfare in greater detail at future adult ed sessions and services. Now here's that quote:
Tweet du Jour
As for the current situation in Gaza, a key question is, with Israel attacking Hamas strongholds where the terrorist fighters are intentionally embedded among civilians, how can Israel act to remove a threat that has shown itself to have genocidal intent, while also respecting the sanctity of innocent life? This tweet thread illuminates the situation that has unfolded in the refugee camp and how Israel's actions are justified by the international laws of warfare. The tweeter here, Salo Aizenberg, is associated with Honest Reporting, a long-time media watchdog defending Israel. Find the tweet online here.
A Badass People
Is that why they hate us?
This article appeared on the front page of today's Jerusalem Post.
I don't know about you, but when it comes to the current state of antisemitism, the term "uptick" doesn't quite reflect the facts on the ground. Last I heard, a thousand percent increase is more than an "uptick." Looking at college campuses, TBE bookkeeper Linda Rezak's granddaughter Maya, a student at Emory, has become a mini-celeb for her leadership in the Atlanta area, appearing on the Today Show todayand on Atlanta TV, as well as CNN yesterday. And locally, we've got swastikas in schools and this story out of Westport, a video depicting a beheading that has been circulating over social media.
As we explore this age-old question of why Jews are always singled out, let's look at two quotes from famous 20th century thinkers, one Jewish and one not.
So, according to Baeck, we Jews are the measuring stick by which we gage the degree of morality on earth. If people are playing nicely with the Jews, the sandbox is officially safe for children and other living things. Or to use another metaphor, we are that proverbial canary in the coal mine. If it's safe for us, the world is safe for everyone. Thus sayeth Baeck, a Jew.
I think it's way too passive. We're sitting around, waiting for them to decide whether they hate us or not. I don't want to be the world's barometer. I want to be that low pressure system that ushers in the winds of change. The world isn't going to just decide to accept us unless we change the equation. A Jewish state was supposed to do just that. It still could.
For Kazantzakis, a gentile, the Jew is the world's nagging itch. We are their conscience, the official global, badass pain-in-the...neck. We're never satisfied, with ourselves or others. If we are somehow able to clear the bar, we are compelled to keep setting it higher. We never accept things as they are. We are never a "go" for the status quo. We are the ultimate marginal people because we can never accept that cushy place in the middle of the Oreo cookie, blending in among the "vanilla masses." We need to be outsiders. And all our nagging keeps everyone else on their toes
Until October 7, we had fooled ourselves into thinking that somehow we were outsiders no more, that we were at long last accepted. But now we find that we can't even be insiders amongthe other outsiders. We are so marginal that those who consider themselves marginal have kicked us over to their margins. We've just been kicked out of the club of those who have been kicked out of every other club. If Groucho Marx would never belong to a club that would let him in, he can be delighted now, because he no longer has to choose - that club has now rejected him. Forget the back of the bus, we've been kicked to the back of the protest line. They scream, "Freedom for Gaza!" and we say, "Yeah! We agree! Freedom for Gaza - from Hamas!" And they tear down our "kidnapped" posters because they can't stand to have people who are more victimized than them, but we don't want to be victims and we don't want to be accused of not belonging in our ancestral home, because we aren't frigging colonizers, just because some of us happen to be lucky enough to have been born Ashkenazi, from European stock where our grandparents were raped and pillaged by Cossacks rather than by Middle Easterners or American slaveowners. We just want our hostages back, some legitimate deterrence, and to live beneath our vine and fig tree in peace. Oh, and with a competent, honest Prime Minister, please.
So that's at least partly why they hate us. At least on the far left. The radical right neo-Nazis hate us because they are immoral, hateful nihilists and we refuse to bow down to any human god, and that means their leader, the one they've decided to cede their own judgment to. It's confusing and exhausting at times; but we Jews prefer to think for ourselves.
I've always been a Kazantzakis fan. I like it when non Jews tell us what's so great about us.
"If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one quarter of one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous puff of star dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly, the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine and abstruse learning are also very out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvelous fight in this world in all ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself and be excused for it. The Egyptians, the Babylonians and the Persians rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greeks and Romans followed and made a vast noise, and they were gone; other people have sprung up and held their torch high for a time but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, and have vanished. The Jew saw them all, survived them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities, of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert but aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jews; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?"
Ok, so if these brilliant dead people liked us so much, why are so many Jews running away from their shadows right now? Let's be proud (if occasionally discreet with our yarmulkes). I'm so proud of our college students who are standing up for their people and for what they feel is right - even those who take stands I don't agree with; they're just pulling a Kazantzakis on their own family. And i'm so grateful to those public figures, media people and clergy who are standing with us at this impossible time.
So they hate us, because, among other things, we're restless, relentless and right-thinking - because we answer to a Higher authority. Haman called us a "Certain People," Moses, a "Stiff Necked People," and God godself a "Treasured People." We're none of these.
We're just a badass people with a conscience. That's what we are.
If the current front pages aren't there yet, try again later.
If you've missed any of these "In This Moment" dispatches since October 7 - and that's totally understandable (I think even I've missed a couple of them), here are the links for the first 20 editions, through Oct. 31, beginning with the most recent.
I heard on the Promised Podcast today that a hacker literally tried to take Tel Aviv off the map. Hacking into Open Street Maps, the hacker embedded code to remove the Tel Aviv area. Fortunately, everything is backed up on the site and the city was restored in minutes.