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Posts from March 2024

On Being the Archetypal Other


When people forget our shared humanity—and Israel becomes a pariah state and Jews are pariahed; and blood libels are once again all the rage; and when binary thinking condemns conversations and peaceful conduct—to whom do we turn for strength?

To the wisdom of the wise.

The following is an excerpt from a lecture that Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, z”l, gave in 2011, titled, “A People that Dwells Alone.”

“In ancient times, Israel was a small nation surrounded by large empires. In the Middle Ages they were the most conspicuous minority in Christian Europe. Today in the Middle East, Israel is the most conspicuous country that is not Muslim. Jews are the archetypal other, we don’t fit into the dominant paradigm—the dominant faith, the prevailing culture—and that is what we’re there for. To remind ourselves [humanity] that there is such a thing as the dignity of dissent. That’s what we do in life. We challenge. We argue. We stand out against the crowd; we go against the trend. We are apart, but we are not destined to be alone.”

About the Tower of Babel, he noted that everyone was saying the same things. He quoted Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin who explained why the Tower of Babel needed to be destroyed: “If everyone thinks the same thing, there’s no dissent. That is not a free society.”

Rabbi Sacks continued, “We are there to be different, for the sake of everyone’s right to be different. We fight for the right to be, whether as a nation in its historic land or as a religious group in the diaspora, we fight for the right to be free to live as Jews, not just for our sake, but for the sake of every other minority in the world.… Everyone who seeks the right to challenge the prevailing culture or the dominant faith. That is why we are there.”

His words brought me the comfort of history. For a moment. It is discomforting to be in sync with history, and not beyond it—as we had hoped would one day happen. Why must we once again be a scapegoat for yet another angry group? Why must we be forced to stand, isolated to some extent, before the forces of evil that, unfathomably, seem so enticing? Why must our every action be scrutinized, manipulated, and twisted? Why must we always be seen as other, when our otherness is so very ordinary?

A few days later, I listened to the podcast Wondering Jews during their discussion of antisemitism. A key idea presented was that Jews represent whatever it is that the ruling or majority groups hate. So, “For today's anti-imperialists and anti-colonialists, Israel is the quintessence of imperialism, truth be damned.” Once again, Jews are being condemned by the antisemites for being what they don’t want to recognize in themselves.

Then, in an online lecture, the speaker said that the role of Jews is to crush evil.

And I thought to myself, that’s so much to put on one very small group of people. To be condemned for being different and to defend everyone’s right to be different. To be hated and to fight against hate for all. To be derided for something that they’re not, while the deriders feel stingily better about themselves as they try to oppress the other. To be accused of crimes that are done to us. To be the bulwark against the spread of evil that others think is still wise to appease.

Who are the Jews that so many other groups depend on them in such twisted ways?

It’s not as if we are born with super-human strength or intelligence or courage or wealth or any number of advantageous advantages.

We are a people held together by religion, faith, traditions, education, and values. We are also a people held together by our love, and their hateful actions.

Going back to what Rabbi Lord Sacks said about Jews being the archetypal other. It is ironic that in this era when we’re supposedly all about accepting everyone for who they are and what they believe, vile antisemitism is rampant.

While my voice is barely heard, it is still another voice calling out, standing up—dissenting. Proclaiming, too, that I am proud to be a Jew, as different and alone as we may be. I am also proud of those people (friends!) who are not blinded by the cacophony of twisted logic.

This battle is not new. It is as old as the Bible. A while ago, I told younger daughter that I didn’t want to study Torah, that I wanted to learn from new stories that I could relate to. Now, I see how wrong I was. Those stories, and the analyses of them that have been a part of our ongoing oral and written tradition, are the basis for understanding our world today. I see now that learning from history is understanding how a people reacted to unfolding events, over and over again, and what fortified them. This now gives me strength.

A New Life Balance: Being Jewish after October 7th


Since October 7th, my heart and mind changed. Technically, my life hasn’t changed, but that just goes to show that life is not determined only by the actions one takes in a day. How can it not have changed when the mental and emotional landscapes that enable me to thrive have been altered, and when the world around which my thoughts often revolve has been so dramatically devastated. This is the reality of a Jew in the diaspora.

I speak often with a friend who has lived in Israel for a long time. She gives me her perspective on how life has changed there and I give her mine about how the relative ease of being a Jew in the US has changed. Even if I haven’t been directly impacted—what does “directly” even mean when you see people screaming for the killing of you, your relatives, and your people?—reading about and watching what is happening in far too many places, and realizing what is happening—and could happen—has a cumulative effect.

When I go to Israel in April, I will get a better understanding of how reality has changed for Israelis, and, I expect, I will be changed even more.

But this is not to say that this has weakened me, this hate from those murderers, rapists, kidnappers, and incinerators of lives, and their vile supporters who, unfathomably, support them and their acts by their actions and inactions, their spoken and unspoken words. No. As Israelis have come together to fight the genocidal intentions of its enemies, we, no, I am reordering my be-ing with anger, fear, and disgust, but more significantly with pride and determination, re-establishing my mindset. Who are they to, once again, determine the future for me and my people. Not only is Never Again a rallying cry, so is Enough Already!

The other day I heard a psychologist say that there is no basis to the idea of generational trauma. I don’t know, to me it seems that this is another layer being added to our stack of Jewish experiences that joins us—forging generational strength, resilience, and determination—and through the trauma that is passed down in stories, creating the ways we participate in the world.

Ahad Ha’am (a Hebrew essayist and thinker, 1856–1927) said: “More than Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.” Another part of that keeping seems to be antisemitism, since it keeps pushing us together, forcing us to focus on the Jewish part of our identity foremost, since that is all we are to others. But not as self-hating Jews who may refute their identity, but as proud matzoh-holders who refuse to see themselves through their haters’ eyes.

We had – thought / hoped / prayed / worked toward / educated about / committed to / built toward – a world in which there would be no more violence against us because we are Jews.

But we were wrong.

Once again there are actions against us and the world looks away, or, worse, stands by, tacitly supporting: not having the compassion to care and the clarity to condemn. It has been a harsh awakening.

Now I understand my ex-father-in-law, a Holocaust survivor who moved to Israel right after the war, who didn’t trust anyone outside of the family and especially not outside of the Jewish Israeli family. I get it. I wish I didn’t.

Living here in the States, the shock of seeing the physical attacks on October 7th, their vileness and then the depravity of how the hostages have been treated and ignored, downplayed and blamed, has been tough. 

Add to that the trauma of seeing how we are not seen and that our pain is minimized at the very same moment that we are held accountable for anything bad that happens, seemingly anywhere.

Clearly, antisemitism is evidence of the world’s insanity. It should be their problem, this irrational, evil nonsense, and theirs to deal with. It is their addiction. Their warped way of making them feel, somehow, that they are better than they are, more than they are, and that we are less than we are.

While we would like to not have to deal with their problems, we must. What addictive need do we answer? The need to hate, the need to be better than, the need to not look inside, the need to not deal with their own lives, the need to ignore the consequences of what has come before and what they have or have not done?

This latest attack in the stack has forced us to recognize that this generation is not, alas, different from previous ones: we have not escaped unscathed the deadly impact of antisemitism. Terrorists, we see you. Another selfish, rampaging horde that shows its dark side more than it says anything about Jews.

And we (even if forced to cower in fear) are standing within our identity. We will not succumb to the perversity of the situation or of grotesque accusations. We will continue to be who we are destined to be. Light and love and compassion will not be defeated. As so many of us are finding ways to be strengthened within our Jewish identity, so are we hoping, still!, that we are not alone. Not just because it’s hard to be abandoned, but because we know that we shouldn’t be—that the world can’t be that dark and bitter and hypocritical. And if it is, it bodes ill for all of us—and we must push against that, together.