Friday, January 8, 2016

In our thirst for revenge, who have we become? A question for my people.

At the place I worship each Saturday, we have kiddush and lunch after the service, which, being Orthodox, is quite long. I enjoy it because it's a way to catch up with members of the community after we pray.

Last week, however, I was horrified by the conversation between the two people I sat next next to.

The man opposite me started the conversation, asking if we'd heard about the latest terrorist attack in Israel. Both the woman next to me and I had. Man starts saying approvingly that the shooter's family and residents of the Arab neighborhood in which he lived were urging him to turn himself in. Indeed, it was his father who recognized his son on the security footage and contacted the authorities.

I know the Man is a rabid hawk. I avoid political conversations with him, because I go to synagogue to get away from the hate and arguments of politics, not to engage in them.

Last Shabbat I listened, in growing disgust and horror, as he and the woman, who I consider a friend, started discussing how they should just arrest the entire family of anyone who conducts a terrorist attack. This despite the fact that the shooter's father in this instance was the one who alerted authorities to his identity, and the fact that his family was urging him to turn himself in.

If you know me in person, you know I'm not afraid of speaking my mind, but I was so upset I just got up and left. I could not believe that civilized educated Jews could think and speak this way. I've been brooding about this conversation all week as I've gone about my work, and decided to make a difficult decision that has been growing for a while.

I am not going back to that congregation for Shabbat services.

Before you go all Tommy Wallach on me and proclaim that this is why religion sucks and we should all be atheists, I look to faith for the guidance on how to become a more understanding and compassionate person, and to connect with the rituals that gave comfort to my forefathers. I view myself as a link in a long chain, one that I'm not willing to be the one to break. Between some of the sermons and now this, I'm heading to the Conservative synagogue that I joined after Mom died instead.

I feel particularly strongly about this because I feel that leadership on conduct at a synagogue has to come from the top, and when I have asked the rabbi to speak out against some horrific anti-Muslim emails that were being circulated in the community he didn't do so - in fact, to my deep horror and disappointment he made a really feeble excuse for them.

Some of his sermons have made me deeply uncomfortable in their characterization of "others" en masse.

I feel yet another bereavement about this decision, because I've worshipped at this congregation since I moved back from the UK in 1999, and I have a deep connection to it. But my view of faith is Franciscan: "Where there is hatred, let me sow love." I can't keep attending a congregation where there are constant messages about the evildoings of others from the pulpit, but no similar condemnation (or even mention) of this.

I'm not a terrorist lover. I'm not weak on National Security (heading off the inevitable comments, which I can predict after 13 years as a political columnist).

What I am is a lifelong student of history and geopolitics.

In 2000, my family spent the summer in France, and we visited the village of Oradour-sur-Glane. If you haven't heard about what happened at Oradour, click on the link above and read this brief history from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Once you've read it, try to imagine the cognitive dissonance and horror I felt as a Jewish woman listening to another Jewish man and woman (particularly a woman from the former Soviet Union) advocating the "retaliate against the entire family" approach.

As a young girl, I size up pretty much everyone I met to evaluate if they would hide me if another Holocaust happened - one of the reasons I particularly loved this Jill Sobule song.

So many Jews are alive today because someone had the courage to do hide their ancestors - knowing the risk that their own family might be murdered in retaliation if they were discovered for doing so.

 I am in no way comparing shooting people in an cafe to hiding a Jew in your attic, but trying to get to the deeper issue of revenge and retaliation for acts against the ruling authority. (And no, I'm not comparing the Israeli government to the Nazi's either, let's make that clear, just in case anyone tries to go there. My opinion is, however, that the actions of the Netanyahu government have done more to damage Israeli and Jewish safety and security worldwide than to protect it.)

 But think about it, fellow Jews, when you sit around blithely advocating for such an approach. How well did the "retaliate against the entire family" thing work for us?

Let one of the most brilliant opening scenes in the history of film refresh your memory:

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS.mp4 from Pierre Vella on Vimeo.

Thirst for revenge shouldn't make us engage - or even think about engaging - in the tactics of those who murdered our mishpoche.