Friday, September 28, 2007

A New Jew

I met a young woman the other day who had only that afternoon found out she was Jewish. Adopted at birth, she had recently discovered her birth mother was Jewish. Knowing nothing about Judaism or Jewishness, she was startled to learn that having a Jewish mother makes one a Jew as well. Her shock was only compounded when she mentioned this to a friend and was accosted by an eavesdropper who said, “Oh, you don’t want to be a Jew, they’re going to hell!”

Imagine discovering you are a Jew one moment and that you are going to hell because of it the next moment. Many Jews experience Jew-hatred, and many more encounter popular ignorance about what it is to be a Jew, but most Jews have a few years of positive Jewish experience before the downside of being Jewish is dropped on them. This woman had none of that:

“Hey, guess what? I’m Jewish!”

“Yeah? Well, guess what? You’re going to hell!”

I asked her what she thought of all of this, and she really didn’t know what to make of it. Her adapted mother was an atheist and raised her without religion. She didn’t know what it means to be a Jew, and couldn’t fathom someone going to hell at all. Being chosen by God and damned by the God-fearing all in the same breath was just beyond her grasp.

I offered to be a resource if she wished to explore her newly discovered heritage, and then we parted company. I don’t know if I will ever see her again, but I am certain her story will stick with me.

Given where I live, prejudice against Blacks, Jews, Hispanics, and Catholics (unless they are pro-life and sitting on the US Supreme Court) is as indigenous as love of June and Johnny, Dolly, and Elvis. What bothers me is not that some stranger believes Jews are going to hell, but that he jumped on this young woman without giving her a moment to get to know her birth culture.

So please, all you Jew haters out there, if you have to scare Jews with hell at least wait until they know a little bit about Judaism first. Print up cards with your name and phone number on them and hand them out to Jews saying, “When you are ready to escape from the fires of eternal damnation for being a Jew, call me.” Or wear a button that says: “Ask me about Jews and Damnation” or design one with a picture of the Devil in the Uncle Sam pose saying, “Jew! I want you!” I promise when we need you we will find you.

3 comments:

Immanuel said...

Dear Rabbi Rami

Hineini shuv! Re your post I like the following quotation from Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Pre-State Israel.

"If we were to be utterly destroyed and if the world were to be destroyed with us by the hatred that is without reason, we would return to be built up again, and the world would be built up again with us, by the undiscrening love that has no cause."

Better by far to err by the love that cannot see, than the hatred tha is blind."

Pn another note I had previously written to you with a queery:

I am a writer who, after a sustained mid-life crisis has become a Jewish studies teacher. I have been a devotee of non-dualism ever since the age of 18 when, while studying in an ultra-orthodox yeshiva in Jerusalem, a newly chozeyr bitshuva couple gave me a copy of Nisarghadattha Maharaj's "I Am That" (I'm now 43)

I will soon be taking up a post as head of Jewish studies at a liberal pluralist Jewish school and am concerned that when teaching concepts like "tikun haolam" and "tikun hanefesh" I am teaching limited and perhaps slightly misleading concepts, for what we are not cannot be fixed and what we are needs no fixing.

Can you help with this?

shana tova umevurechet vechag sukkot sameach

Immanuel said...

Dear RavRam

Allright then. Don't reply to my emails - which are really your emails - or my comments. Remain shtum if you like. As a reward for your silence - lecha dumiya tehila - here is a poem of mine:

The shul of my heart
has no pews or prayer books
The shul of my heart
has no past and no future

my shul is hopeless
my shul is warm
in the heart of my shul
there is no decorum

my shul is peaceful
my shul is raucous
and in this shul
we all talk nonsense
because we know
how well words hide

in the shul of my heart

we see each other
because it is written
veyirah et haam
we hear each other
because it is written
Shema Yisraeyl

and in this shul
is an empty space
we call haMakom
and above is written
da mi ata

and let us say
amein

Rabbi Rami Shapiro said...

Immanuel,

I tried to email you directly, but it isn't working. As for nonduality and tikkun, I would teach both the traditional ideas and then your perspective. People need to hear a nondual Judaism. I believe this type of Judaism is the future of Judaism.