I know that not every potential reader of this Blog is Jewish. More, I believe I want to reach people who are not, in particular other Americans, Christians or otherwise. This Blog is not just about Judaism, it is about COVID-19, and it is about the family that is America. Yet I have noticed that many people react strongly against the secular tenor of how government is structured in America, and for all that I do not always appreciate their views, I wish to speak to them. And since I can only speak based on a religion that is honestly mine, I speak on behalf of the Jewish faith, though this may be a tad egotistical, since I am not a rabbi or a Jew with any particular authority. I invoke my religion to say, however, that like the Jewish people, America is a great family, and whoever relinquishes their part in the American family loses something great.
Now I know that there are other nations just as great. My Grandma had Swedish ancestry, and she always indicated that she loved Sweden still, because of her ancestry. And that is fine. It was a part of her and even a part of me. Part of me, though I have never been to Sweden itself, still loves Lindsborg (a Swedish American tourist trap) and Scandia (a little Sweden whose symmetry includes several of my ancestors). Though a Swede in a small way, I remain a Swede, even if America and Judaism make up larger parts of my personal identity. The point is I get my religious bearings as a Jew now, and so–again–as a Jew I speak, if self-consciously.
I read a quote, though I believe it was misused, online, “What is the Torah? It is the Interpretation of the Torah.” It is amplified by another part of the Talmud,
What is the meaning of the verse, ‘This is the book of the generations of Adam’? Did Adam have a book? Rather, it teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, showed Adam (in advance), each generation and its interpreters, each generation and its sages, each generation and its leaders.
Every generation of Jews, at least for a very long time, has been part of a chain. Now there are a lot of young Jews today that are abandoning Judaism because they say it no longer speaks to them. I find this very sad, and I point it out lovingly, but with the point that for a religion or people to live, it cannot simply rot in the coffins of those who are dying off. I think that for a religion to live, it must be understood that old teachings matter, but they need to be expressed in new ways. If a Reconstructionist synagogue can keep the flame alive, so be it. If a Chabad can keep the flame alive, so be it. It is important to find the flame within and to join with others who share it.
Now I myself made a mistake and was not accepting. I ran into a online Jewish group, FORWARD. I didn’t know anything about it, and I ordered its magazine. Lo and behold, I got a magazine and it said that Judaism to exist needed to give up its belief in God, and that even then it probably wouldn’t exist much longer. Now, this upset me because I believe very strongly in God, and in fact would never have converted to Judaism had it not been a monotheist faith. So I wrote an article–and it was probably a little cruel–asking why if a Jew was literally eating pork rinds, dating Catholics, and didn’t support Israel, why call them a Jew at all? Why not simply accept their apostacy and move on? Anyway, I have had time to think about it, and I realize these were foolish words, because no Jew should be booted out of Judaism who bears the name Jew by birth or conversion unless she herself wants to leave.
Now, what I think I should have said is that I am a Jew, and I love you, but I still believe in God. I know you have doubts about God and Israel, and I can accept that, but you do not get to say I am not a Jew who believe in God and love Israel. I also think I needed to look at their chief concern as Jews which they said was driving them from the faith. It was the issue of the Palestinians, I believe. Now, I sent a second foolish email to them, but I do not want to relive that one, because although not as angry it made even less sense than the first. So we ask. Why should we believe Israel and Palestine can coexist if during the present time there is nothing but war? I don’t really believe that this group was arguing so much about “right” as exhaustion. They are exhausted with our fight with the Palestinian as much as they worry about the Palestinian people’s rights.
Now, instead of focusing on the negative fact that they have criticisms of Israel, perhaps we can focus on the positive ways in which the future Israel could affect Palestinians that involve doing something now. Ironically, there is an issue that binds Israel to Palestine that so few people consider: COVID-19. I cannot help but believe that although Israel is ahead of the game in dispensing medicine, that the West Bank and Gaza are not so fortunate. Now to many Israelites it seems as though Israel has offered the olive branch too often and been rejected. I don’t always follow the rights or wrongs of both sides in terms of who did what to whom first. Yet I think it. What more beautiful gesture could Israel make to the future state of Palestine than offer free immunization to Palestinians?
Perhaps if Israel grants Palestinians this first “gift” then they would see that Israel need not be “the bad guy.” Perhaps more would be necessary: I have heard (and do not know) that if Palestinians were allowed to work in Israel it would be good for both sides. Palestinians are poor; Israel needs help with employment. In a sense we need each other. We need to see that we are brothers and sisters. I even believe this is religious, because Abraham was the father both Jews and Muslims claim. It is true that the scriptures of both faiths have bad as well as good things to say about the other. This should not be made to be the barrier some people make it: religions take old scriptures and reinterpret them all the time. We should remember the Jewish prayer to beat swords into ploughshares, and that both Muslims and Jews greet each other with one word in their respective languages, “Peace.”
Now I want to pick up with the theme I hope will interest American readers. Among our family we have a feud. We are willing our own destruction due to polarization. Perhaps, as with the Jews and Palestinians, figuring out who did what to whom first is not the point. I always find myself torn because I dislike President Trump, but am culturally conservative on some issues. However, on one issue, I believe every American ought to be passionately liberal on the left: COVID-19. Yet I do not believe shaming people works. More, I do not believe that for a brother who chooses to get his shot, it really does any good to cut off his brother who is not listening to him. I honestly think that the words the left needs to say to the right–in individuals–first, are “I love you. I do not want you to die. Please take your shot to live. It is not about being right but being alive.”
I believe very passionately in my country’s goodness. I sometimes wish–selfishly, I am sure–that though I am absolutely fine with Martin Luther King Day, we had separate days for George Washington and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays, and then added another day on the calendar to make up for it at the end of school. I will not go into why I believe in George Washington so much, except that I admire his courage and self-sacrifice for his country. True, that America was imperfect. Yet, if we are honest, Modern America is imperfect. The point, though, is that today’s America needs to mold traditional American values into modern forms. I think it is right that we take down the Confederate Statues in Southern States because they hurt black people. Yet a statue is only a symbol. The statue going away does not mean the wound will heal. It is only a part. Americans need to learn to love each other again.
With that in mind, I think religion is important because it teaches human beings what it is to really love each other. It is true that religion can be perverted by hate or human selfishness. Yet I believe that secular alternatives to faith rarely sustain the individual who believes in them as well. I know I cannot “prove” the goodness of my faith. I think I simply have to believe in it, and to “love mercy, act justly, and walk humbly with my God.” I believe that is all God asks of any of us.