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.