Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Teach Above


Tisha B'Av was just a few days ago. [Tisha B'Av is the saddest day on the Jewish calendar -- it is marked by fasting and it commemorates the destruction of both Jewish Temples in Jerusalem, one by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar in about 586 BCE and the second by the Romans circa 70 CE.] On  Tisha B'Av I was thinking about what is going on in the Jewish community and how it makes my heart ache.

I see many wonderful people who "do G-d proud", helping people and accepting others who are different from them. I see a positive framework for many within the Jewish world.

But I also see hatred and judgmentalism, I see people protesting to keep Sephardim out of their Ashkenazic school, I see people who want to turn away honest converts, people who chose to be Tora true Jews, simply because they don't follow the Tora the way THEY follow the Tora.

I see people who tell others how they should be keeping the Tora. Oftentimes, I see the same people who are being judgmental about others' observances calling for Moshiah (The Messiah). Don't they understand that not loving their fellow Jews is in a large part the reason the Moshiah hasn't come. This was the reason, the Rabbis say, for the destruction of the second Temple and this, say the Rabbis, is what we need to repent about, what we need to change, before the Moshiah will come.

A number of weeks ago, an issue came up related to a blog entry on one of the blogs I follow. The woman who writes this blog told a story about some issues she was having getting her son kosher food after he was detained in their local prison for several weeks -- Read the blog by clicking here.

So I put the link up on Facebook and expected to get support from my friends. I couldn't believe the reactions I got from some people.

Their attitude was that if someone did something so terrible as to land him/her in prison (something that could happen to a person for not giving a source if you're a reporter, get arrested at a protest demonstration or in some cases, just p***ing off a police officer or judge) that person loses the right to kosher food.

I couldn't believe that people would react that way. This goes along with the whole "it's my job to decided who is and who isn't Jewish or religious enough or the like". Once you get into the realm of deciding what G-d's decision would be, how G-d would be judging this or that person, you run the risk of ticking G-d off yourself.

I know that I am pretty good at putting myself in another person's shoes (granted, I'm not perfect, but I digress...) and I generally feel I should fight for people's right to keep their religion, particularly when it comes to food (for those of you who don't know, I'm a vegan and I'm also diabetic, which means I can't go for very long without food, but I won't eat animal products. So I'm very sensitive about telling people, "sorry, but you got into a bit of trouble [possibly of your own doing but possibly not] so you don't deserve to eat."

I think it's important for us to fight for our coreligionists when they have no power to fight for themselves. Even Bernie Madoff deserves kosher food in prison, in my humble opinion. For centuries, we Jews have ended up in prison for no reason other than being Jewish. When we're in a country that accords all prisoners rights we need to ensure that our rights are among those protected.

We also need to remember that WE'RE NOT G-D! -- we don't know what G-d thinks about our own level of observance. To tell others that what they're doing isn't good enough is a tad egocentric. You don't know how G-d will judge you or others. I wouldn't want G-d to judge me as one who doesn't care about my fellow Jews.

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Friday, July 9, 2010

Mouthy Mel Makes More Mortals Mad


Mel Gibson is at it again. He hasn't offended enough people by offending the Jews, he has to add African-Americans and women into the mix. By telling the mother of his child that "You're an embarrassment to me. You look like a f***ing pig in heat, and if you get raped by a pack of n***ers, it will be your fault."

For those of you living in a cave, that is offensive to African-Americans firstly because of the "n" word and secondly because it implies that they are more likely to gang-rape a woman than any other group. It is offensive to women because it implies that women bring rape (a crime of violence again ALL women and NOT a crime of sexual attraction) upon themselves.

So, thanks to Mouthy Mel's mouthing off, I decided to dig up an old article I wrote a number of years ago (6?) about "The Passion etc." produced by Mouthy Mel. Here, for your reading enjoyment, is my article entitled "What do Jews Want?":
The stage is totally dark. A small spot light pinpoints in on the haggard face of a man. He isn't moving. His head is hanging down, limp against his chest. The light stays there for a few moments. Gradually the man's eyes open. They are bloodshot and you can see tears forming in the corners. Suddenly, you hear a cracking sound, like a whip, then the sound of leather against flesh and the man's face contorts. Finally, the light opens to reveal a torture chamber, the man hanging from the ceiling by his arms from slightly rusted but strong iron shackles. The man wielding the whip is wearing Catholic cleric's clothing.

Is the scene being depicted some bizarre alternative universe? Is this Shakespeare gone mad? No. This is my vision for a movie that tells the truth, the truth about the Christian love that Mel Gibson is just perpetuating. This is my vision for a movie about medieval European history through the lens of Jewish suffering.

As a student of Sephardic history, I have read many books, fiction and non-fiction, about the atrocities of the Spanish (and Portuguese) Inquisition. As a "yeshiva girl" through the end of high-school, I learned a version of world history I would never have learned in the New Jersey or even the New York public school system. I learned that the Crusades, far from being a "noble" war for G-d, were a slaughterfest. Jewish men were murdered and Jewish women were raped in the name of the Christian god.

I am the student who gave my college art history professor a different perspective on the scene from the Arch of Titus that depicts the Romans removing and defiling the Temple Menorah and other vessels after their "glorious victory" over the Jews of Jerusalem (which we commemorate in the saddest day of the Jewish calendar, Tisha B'Av). To her credit, she gave my version of the story full credit on the final.

So I am quite nicely aware of how historic perspective can come into play. And, though I haven't seen Mel Gibson's Passion, I can tell you right now, the issue, from my perspective, isn't whether or not the movie itself or even Mr. Gibson is anti-Semitic. The issue to me is the effect the movie will have on the average person.

This movie is simply a modernized retooling of the medieval passion plays. These plays were popular around Easter time throughout Europe. And these plays inculcated generations of Christians with a hatred for their local Jewish population that often led to pogroms and led to the biggest and most organized pogrom of the 20th Century ? the Holocaust. Christians, im"passion"ed by these plays, saw Jews as disciples of the devil, the incarnate of evil. We all know that G-d has given us the job of destroying evil in this world. But, in order to destroy evil, we must know what evil is.

Right now, evil is the lie of hatred. Evil is the lie that all evil stems from Jews. Evil is deception. Pope John XXIII, a very brave and loving man, told the Christian world through Vatican II, that Jews were not responsible for the death of Jesus. Mel Gibson sees this change in policy as inconsistent. I don't. I see it as the Vatican finally acknowledging publicly something it had known for centuries, but found easier to bury because of their anti-Jewish agenda. It was a lot easier for Christian clerics to keep their congregants from exploring Judaism by telling them that Jews were evil incarnate than to justify their own theological positions. Pope John Paul II recently apologized to Jews for centuries of persecution. Pope John XXIII, for his vision and courage, realized that a lot of that persecution can be traced directly to the belief that Jews killed Jesus.

Mr. Gibson's movie, in its haste to blame the Jews and exonerate the Romans, ignores simple historical evidence. The Jews never used crucifixion as a form of execution. The Jews were not in political control of the area at the time. And the Romans had a history of brutality. And they did use crucifixion as a means of execution.

Oh, and by the way, the Gospels were written as missionary tracts. They weren't too terribly concerned with truth, justice or the American way, so to speak. They needed to tell a story and they did. And they needed to make us the "bad guys". The book of Matthew was written specifically to convert Jews. It takes verses from the Tanakh out of context, mistranslates others, and creates others out of "whole cloth". It is designed to convince Jews that the prophets predicted Jesus' life and death.

So that brings us back to my vision. My vision awaits a producer, one who is acquainted with the real truth or is willing to learn it, one who is bold enough to depict it. Do people want to see the truth? I'm not quite sure. But we'll never know until it's out there for them.

* The title of this article is a take off on the only Mel Gibson movie I ever saw, "What Do Women Want?
Adar 16, 5764 / 09 March 04

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Potential Energy


I was reading an article called Secrets of a Disappointed Life by David Harris. I mostly talks about how he learned from things about his father; how his father was a teen intellectual wunderkind scientist in Austria before he had to flee the Nazis.

Mr. Harris thought about his father's lost life, the loss of his potential as a great chemist or physicist. And, reading this, I thought about the macrocosm; I thought about how much potential the world has lost, not just because of the Holocaust, but because of all the potential lost when, throughout the centuries Jews were limited in what fields they could go into (for example, Benjamin Disraeli had to convert to Christianity to get into Parliament), Jews were kept from educational institutions, Jews were killed just for being Jews.

I wonder why people are so worried about us that they feel the need to keep us down. I wonder why they don't want to benefit from Jewish brains. I wonder how many Freuds, Einsteins and Salks never had the opportunity to rise to their highest potential because they were born in Syria or they had to flee from the Nazis or they were silenced by the Inquisition. I wonder how much the world has lost in brainpower by dismissing our contributions, by suppressing our creativity, by limiting us. I wonder if the world will ever learn, if they will ever understand what they are giving up by hating Jews and not accepting us for what we are.

And when I do, I wonder where this world would be if prejudice in general didn't exist and no boundaries were put on people and their potential.