Monday, July 19, 2010

Jewish-er than you?

We’ve all heard the saying; “You get more bees with honey than with vinegar.” And the metaphor is clear enough. So how ironic that on the week of the 9th of Av when are thoughts are on the loss of the temple and our continuing disunity, we should have an event the likes of which I, unfortunately, HAVE seen before. A young man was having a caustic argument with a woman on line. Included in his diatribe were the ideas: she’s NOT A REAL Jew, and one of his regular supporters added that her children were NOT Jewish either. As far as I could see the argument started as a result of some differences in political opinion (She likes Obama; He does not.) and a comment she made about assimilation with which he did not agree. I saw the comment and it was my understanding that she was making a statement about being more observant not less. A fact that I explained to the young man but with limited results. Instead, I was attacked next as agreeing with assimilation. Okay, so besides being more interested in bullying, belittling, and purposeful misrepresentation…what’s the problem?

For one thing, it is not up to us individually to decide who is “cut off”. (After I tried to defend this poor convert I was also referred to, post-argument, as a “Low Jew”. (Maybe there’ll be an argument about that! Who knows, but if not me then someone else was referred to this way and how, really, is that any better?) If you want to play ‘Jew-er-than-you’ you do so at the expense of any hope of unity. When better than in the nine days to remember this?

Unfortunately, I can’t seem to get rid of this political style cartoon image in my head of Mashiach coming and the temple being rebuilt, and a fraction of people missing it because they are standing off to one side arguing amongst themselves!(G-d forbid.)

If someone has a problem and you want to help him or her, then be a mench and offer help, privately, kindly, and include the number of a good Rabbi. During the argument the question of whether she was Orthodox was brought up and, frankly, I don’t know. I figure that this is between her, her husband, her Rabbi, her conscience, and G-d. But my sense is maybe she is moving toward this, as some people do when they are not born to it. And since ‘return’ is on the agenda as what many people want then why expend so much energy chasing people off? What a lost opportunity!

I can’t help but wonder if the angry, self-proclaimed, baal chuva (sp?), who decided the convert was not Jewish at, was approached the way he approached this woman? Or did a Rabbi teach him with inspiration, wisdom and kindness? Was he allowed to grow into his newfound observances or was he criticized, loudly and publicly, regularly for what he hadn’t learned or under taken yet?

I was also appalled by the insistence that she “prove” she was Jewish by disclosing information about her conversion. Of course she wont, after her experience of people ranting at her, would you? It’s also important to remember what the Torah says about strangers in a strange land. “You were strangers once too in the land of Egypt.” We are well advised to not only welcome the convert but to not to even remind them of the time before they converted.

Last time I checked Judaism was not a contest. When people get competitive I can’t help but wonder about their motives. The ‘Look at me! Look at me!’ tactics make me think of someone who needs a little positive attention, but like so many children will settle for negative. (Yes, you can have ‘the award’; now stop yelling at people.) It is important to remember that when a person is looking to undertake more learning and mitzvots then what better time to offer help. If one is approached with animosity and scorned then they will have been effectively turned away. People respond positively to the beauty and joy of mitzvots, rituals, and community. And they come to them at their own pace. To approach someone otherwise risks crippling the person spiritually and that’s a shonder.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Re: “We Jews will Never convert”

I belong to a group on Facebook called “We Jews will Never convert”. I think the title is self explanatory. At some point I also became an administrator of this group, being fairly new to Facebook I am not really sure how this came about, but I didn’t decline; in fact I found myself flattered and proud. I have posted on the page a few times and think it is a good place for people to vent their frustration at the bombardment of opinions, unsolicited of course, about people who “offer” a new religion to Jewish people. And sometimes the sheer harassment of it all.

Generally speaking I am a live and let live kind of person. I try to act in a way that I think is an appropriate, though I am not perfect. And I try to act with patience and understanding, or so I think.

In my previous location, I used to belong to an all woman’s gym. The owner, a talkative and charming woman asked me what I was doing for Easter. “Nothing,” I told her, “I’m Jewish.” She was Greek Orthodox and seemed not only respectful but genuinely interested. I told her a little bit about Passover. She asked the obvious, “So Passover is like your Easter?” Nope. We talked about varying things as the other women talked about different traditions. She asked me again the next week. “Still Jewish,” I answered from the stationary bike. “Sorry, I forgot.” she answered, and then asked me some more questions. One of the women who hadn’t been in our last few conversations identified herself a x-tian and exclaimed, “Oh you haven’t heard of our lord” you know who. Yes, thought, of course being Jewish is just a case of being horribly misinformed, you ignorant jerk. I didn’t have to answer because the owner reprimanded her for me.

Since I have moved here I have had more door to door salesman than I ever remember. It is a small town with an even smaller Jewish population and lots and lot of evangelicals. The Rabbi no longer participates in the ministry meetings because his suggestion to pray exclusively to G-d so that he could participate in good conscience was answered with a resounding, “no”.

One of our door to door salesmen was guy that came to the door dressed like a character on TV playing a southern preacher. He had a white shirt and kept adjusting the top of his pants and running his hands around the inside of his belt. He came, he said, to give us ‘some inspiration’ in a world that was lacking it and kept lifting the ‘bible’ in his right hand as though it was a weight or maybe to remind us it was there. At first I used my stand by opening for such occasions. (The fact that I have developed a standby opening should have been sounding an alarm in my head.) “This is the Rabbi’s house,” I told him and gestured toward the synagogue. He hesitated but only for a moment. Then he told me he wanted to read something to me from the book of Daniel. As he opened his mouth I interrupted, “We read the bible. The Torah, a different portion every week,” I told him. He looked a little confused and opened the book again. The a piece of glass fell from the storm door and hit him in the foot. You can think of this a coincidence if you want to…

I had a girl of about thirteen with an even smaller girl in tow come to the door to offer an invitation to a local churches picnic-a drive for new membership. When I told the little girl at the door that we were Jewish she said, “That’s alright, we’re inviting anyone.” Thanks. I showed her the door frame and told her she should skip the homes with a mezuzah, indicating that the Jewish people considered it a grave sin to try to convert them. Did it work? I can’t know. But at least she learned that this is the Rabbi’s house and she should be sure to tell the church not to leave those incessant bible study fliers.

And as if those fliers aren’t enough. We have started to receive mail. One letter was addressed to temple, synagogues, churches and so on, so it is clear that it wasn’t a mistake that we received it. It was a long rant in newsletter form about anti-gentilism, which it alleged was rampant in our country. I gave it to the Rabbi.

This morning I opened a letter intended for my husband. (He told me to as he didn’t recognize the name in the return address.) Inside was a series of letters from a man (though he is not a congregant, we know is father) to his ill aunt with a handwritten note atop stating just that, no other explanation. For some reason this man felt the need to send copies of this six page diatribe to the RABBI’S HOUSE. Before I set out to explain the letters, I have to tell you that parts of them were unintelligible, however one theme seemed to be that the aunt, while not x-tain, could still possibly go to heaven. There were also a lot of “scripture” quotes and references to lakes of fire, Buddha, Karma, the church and so on. But significant mentions of the Jewish people were also made: Such as if someone could come into to heaven without becoming a x-tain then everyone would worship like the Jews do (?) Also, that while Sodom and Gomorra were destroyed for their sins, their sins were not as bad as the Jews (?). And so on.

Are these the only instances? Of course not, just recent ones. A woman whose husband knows my husband suggested over dinner that they are just doing what they think is right, and that I should try to be more understanding of that. Okay, maybe the first time. Though I don’t understand why someone would think one religion’s doctrines and traditions trump the rights of another. Oh wait, yes I do. And that’s the point.