Oh to be young enough to believe that utopia is just a few good conversations away, a matter of education and a simplistic power shift between good and evil.
Five or so years ago, there was a report in a local newspaper exposing a meeting of activists in the area concerned about Muslim immigration to the United States.
While I think most objective minds would understand fear more than hatred as the motivation behind those at the meeting, their rhetoric at times crossed into violent threats.
Mentioned specifically were both mosques nearby.
The community response was tremendous and without delay. The report came out over the weekend, and by Friday of the next week, an enormous interfaith crowd turned out at one of the mosques in a dramatic show of solidarity.
There were cars parked all the way down the long driveway leading up to the building. Christians of many denominations, Jews, Pagans, and many others came from around the area with a shared message: you are welcome here, we are your community, and we support you.
The service itself was overwhelming. Truly it was the first time in this lifetime that I realized I could slip into a transcendental dance with G-d listening to Arabic prayers I couldn’t even understand. Language didn’t matter — the Tower of Babel was built after all! The clarity of unified humility before G-d wove between us, regardless our religion or ancestry — and for a brief moment, there was nothing but chesed, lovingkindness.
(I would be remiss to not also at least mention tasting the most delicious Egyptian baklava afterwards — there is maybe no greater expression of G-d’s continued love for us than women who bake for total strangers).
At that time in my life I was heady with the kind of hard theory that I thought might ground the by-then predictable bickering of internet culture with real results. Showing up for other marginalized people felt like The Work. And I made it a regular part of my life whenever possible.
I showed up to the mosque infrequently, and especially whenever there were acts of violence around the world which targeted the Muslim community. I emailed with the imam. I got to know some of the other men who attended. I turned out to antiracist rallies, and signed up to speak in support of refugees at city council meetings. In many ways I built a bridge over and out of myself, disregarding behavior others would never tolerate for the sake of trying to stitch together communities that often can’t stand each other.
This is what The Work takes: deep persistence, egolessness, peace-making — the opposite of everything that happens on the internet.
Oh, how far I’d come from when I was even younger.
But oh, how much I still had to learn.
It might be useful to compare solidarity to something like a sefira. Although, that isn’t necessarily fair. I’ve just given an example of feeling chesed. Solidarity still eludes me. Some days I think it actually deceives me.
When the Tree of Life massacre in Pittsburgh occurred a mere year and a half later, I noted the absence of anyone I knew from the mosque at the synagogue service attended by hundreds in the community the following week. A few socialists attended (unlike at the mosque), but were cynical with quips about Zionism, how “white” the community was, and the like for weeks after.
On Facebook, a diehard communist acquaintance actually celebrated the massacre: “A dozen less Zionists!” he posted to a sea of laugh and heart reacts. I should have disconnected there (I hear self-hated runs in the tribe). It took until a long-winded screed comparing G-d to a vampire seeking blood sacrifices for me to do so.
An interfaith rally for refugees was hijacked by woke socialist rabble-rousers that same year. Against the express wishes of the organizers, they led the crowd in an emphatic rendition of numerous Palestinian nationalist chants calling for the complete destruction of Israel. Never more alone in my life and exposed in my kippah, the people around me noticed my hesitancy to join and the likely reason why within moments.
I haven’t marched again. I might never…? Thinking about that night, I can still feel the angry heat of their shouting touching me on all sides. I learned later that my fear of being assaulted by the mob was described by others as “racist.” I shutdown and guarded myself from sharing the story with anyone in person, keenly aware that in the woke world, I could be nothing but an oppressor, wrong, privileged, and whining. Staunchly anti-Zionist Jews assured the socialists that Zionism and Judaism cannot be conflated — true enough, yet only one ideology is accepted as the litmus test for whether Jews deserve solidarity or expulsion from progressive demonstrations unrelated to Palestinian nationalism.
Who am I kidding? Every woke American cause can be exported onto Palestinian nationalism. Every woke American cause is realized in an imaginary Palestine absent us pesky white Jews. What does Palestinian freedom look like to woke America? Their answers are as vague as their buzzword solutions to American problems. Actual statecraft would leave them as dumbfounded as the rioters who somehow stumbled into the U.S. Capitol building back in January.
“What if the Zionists wear something that identifies them so that other people know to avoid them?” This was the proposed compromise after days of back and forth on a messaging app to determine the best way to make sure only the good Jews attended future rallies.
Mere hours after marchers in Charlottesville terrorized shabbat attendees at the local synagogue and chanted “Jews will not replace us,” solidarity reared her capricious head in a city near me. Another rally was organized — of course with no Jewish speaker. No outreach to the local, abundant Jewish community was considered relevant at all.
“We aren’t going to replace any of our speakers with people who might be Zionists.”
My final straw. Solidarity, you are a cruel nightmare. I am flush with the terror that you might even be real. I have mistaken a heap for a pathway to the heavens. I have mistaken the promises of slogans for the silence of holiness. The world today makes sense when I recoil from you.
I read stories and see videos of Jewish men beaten in streets around the world. Synagogues bombed out, tagged with swastikas. Shouts let out condemning us all to death. Shouts to rape Jewish women — did you hear that? Did you hear the nuance? Did you hear the specific criticisms of Israeli military policies? Did you hear the way it was all about opposition to Zionism — not Judaism?
Walk across France in a kippah if you still can’t find evidence of antisemitism.
I miss the universal language of strangers laughing with a mouthful of baklava. That was the world I wanted to build.