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On fear of Islam, and being Jewish.

January 1, 2009

I read an article about (secular Muslim) bloggers in Iran. And it was amazing to me, for more than one reason, to read that not everyone in Iran wants me dead for being a. Jewish, and b. a resident of the Western world. Quite the contrary, in fact.Which is funny considering that I always try to be so open-minded…

Being Jewish in the modern world is a scary thing: Everybody wants us dead; our numbers are dwindling; soon we will be a dead religion unless every single one of us follows in our parents’ tradition. And don’t even think of marrying out. Us Jews are raised to believe that our lives are constantly in danger, and that the only place we are safe is in Israel, or under the protective guard of the United States. So I find myself, as a Jew, hating the old fashioned traditions that I was raised with, but feeling obligated to carry them on because we are a dying breed. I am guilted for being madly in love with a man who is not Jewish. Regardless of the fact that he is highly intelligent, sensitive, generous, kind, that he loves me even though I am completely crazy, that he is one of the most talented people I have ever met, that his Christian upbringing taught him things about forgiveness that I can only marvel at (and try every day to learn from), and that he puts up with the inverse-racism from my parents because he “isn’t one of us”. Nobody will pay for my wedding. My kids will turn out to be heathens. He will, one day after years of marriage turn around and call me a “fucking Jew” (like after years of knowing me he would pick something that means nothing to insult me with). And once again, the irony is lost, that excluding somebody based on their religion will somehow make me want to become more Jewish, more faithful, and more like the bigoted racists that I am trying to break away from.

This isn’t the Judaism that I want to know.
But it makes me wonder what Judaism truly is. When I was growing up, going to Cheder (Sunday school), we learned about the rituals and traditions of Judaism, of the stories about these traditions, why they arose, and why we must carry them on. And I have heard of a Jewish tradition where people are encouraged to question, where men studying Talmud shoot questions back and forth across a table, discussing and arguing for hours and hours. I was always told that ours is a religion of questioning, of expansion and adaptation. But this isn’t what I have learned, or what I see. What I see is an outdated religion, with outdated practices and outdated beliefs, with people clinging to rules that were created thousands of years ago in a very different society, and using these rules to instill a fear of the wrath of G-d in our hearts.

There are those who cling to their ancient tradition so strongly that they sequester themselves completely from the rest of society, and don’t even see other Jews as their own. There are those who are so embarrased of their Jewishness that they do everything they can to hide it, but still call themselves Jewish.
And I call myself Jewish, and I don’t know why.

Because the more I think about it, the more I think that Jewishness didn’t exist before the torah, and I don’t know where the torah came from. I don’t know who wrote it. I don’t want to believe some of the things that the torah says are true because these things are outdated and old and do not allow a comfortable existence in a modern world, and I cannot think for one minute that a benificent G-d would allow us to life in discomfort and isolation in a world that has so much to teach us (and has cheeseburgers too).

But there is one aspect of Judaism that I do understand (in a relative way). What I have read of Kabbalah, (while I run the risk of sounding like somebody who reads way too much PEOPLE magazine (or one of these things that tells us what celebrities get up to– as Kabbalah has been one of these thing), let me assure you, dear reader, that I do not read PEOPLE magazine at all) does not tell me that a man in the sky is going to be angry at me for eating a cheeseburger or marrying a Christian. What I have learned from Kabbalah has much more in common with Buddhist thought, with mystic Christianity, and with yogic tradition than with the Judaism that I see today. I think it is this tiny shred of Judaism that I cling onto dearly, for fear of being cut off from my lineage completely– not by me, of course, but by them. I do not want to be the deserter who causes my mother grief. I do not want to be the deserter who cuts the lineage after all this time. And so I mold my Judaism to fit me, I practice yoga, I study with shamans, I read the Gospels and often wonder what Jesus would do (although more often than not I wonder what Don Juan Matus (another disputed fictional character) would do), but I have Kabbalah. And thank G-d that somebody claimed it as a Jewish thing or I would be clinging onto lox and bagels instead, and I’m trying to watch my carb count.

But back to the Muslim thing.

I don’t think I had ever thought about it before. Muslim, to me, has always been something that I steer clear of, because they want me dead. And I don’t think I ever thought for long enough to question such a belief that was drummed into me from such a young age. And I didn’t hate back, although I am surrounded by people who do: people who never spot the irony in their absolute desire to have Islam wiped off the face of the earth– a Jew, who belongs to a religion of people who have, likeĀ  a willow in the wind, bent, and broken, and adapted to try and stay alive through onslaught after onslaught of people trying to wipe us out, saying that a whole religion of people should be erased..

And I realised tonight that in cutting off a whole people, I am also cutting off a part of myself. I know nothing about Islam. I know nothing about the Koran, and what it says. Even more so (as I am a prime example of a Jew who does not identify with current Jewish authoritarian thought), I have allowed myself to be dictated to by the media because it’s easy to point fingers at somebody else. And I bet that’s what happens to us too– I think the number is something like 70% of Jews who are non-practicing, non-synagogue attending, democratic, charity-giving, everyone-loving (as opposed to just-Jew-loving) people, and yet what is portrayed in the media for the most part (everywhere outside of Southern California anyway) is a strange religion of people who stick to themselves and don’t like outsiders. They do exist, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not all of us.

I don’t want to be dictated to anymore. I want to find out for myself, individual by individual. Because in the world there are people with hearts, and people without hearts, and I do not think that this distinction is or can be dictated by religion.

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