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A Reflection for the Jewish New Year: The Chaos We All Share

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I considered the title, "Can a Jew Become a Nazi," for about half a minute, but I rejected it as getting boring already, although, perhaps, not for most Jews who would see the question as a violation of the right we have to revile others without question. For me, long a secular Jew, the seasons of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur bring back pieces of their meaning with the sweetness of the honey cake, the dressing up for synagogue, and later on a time for reflection, almost perfectly in sync with the beginning of autumn and, of course, school.

The subject of Jewish hatred for Obama is not a new one. I had already written about being horrified by so many in my pool class who are of the Persian Jewish population who expressed without doubt or care during the 2008 campaign, "Of course he's a terrorist, of course he's a Muslim, would you want a Hussein in the White House?" And, just days ago I heard from the tutor of a child I had treated who moved to another city that the same boy I knew at age five, was now at six saying regularly within his mother's earshot that he hated Obama.

I'm not against hate per se as I feel it's part of the human repertoire that needs to be admitted so it can be tempered. But as with those Jews who frighteningly seem to have no compunction about rampant generalities, I am also concerned that hatred for whomever we declare as the "other" in our personal, religious or political lives, has become a staple of everyday ritual.

I must confess, I always thought that having suffered through the Holocaust made Jews more tolerant, not less. That is, sadly, a naive assumption, although for some it is true and many survivors have gone on to serve the causes of tolerance for all humans. Yet, for those who refuse to learn from history (as too many of us do), we never get to learn that having been victims is not a ticket to righteousness.

Those who are abused often abuse, and those hated so mercilessly and sadistically often feel they have earned the right to hate and do damage and destroy without doubt.

My fellow Huffington Post writer Bradley Burston, no doubt dismissed by many Jews as worthy of hatred in his own right, wrote a piece on April 26, 2010 titled: "Ritual Terrorism: Hating Obama as a New Form of Religion." Like Mr. Burston, I had thought of religion as something loving, never quite realizing how determined many Jews are to disassociate with non-Jews and keep their isolation entrenched, (read "Born to Kvetch" by Michael Wex).

Without digesting history we perpetuate it: in fear of anything new to us we create categories of strangers, never bothering to understand not only differences but similarities. And we fight chaos which was part of the human condition from the beginning of time, not with the certainty of trust in collaboration and cooperation but with false rules that make us feel better than and sure of anything we need at a given time. It turns out that one does not have to be a Nazi to be a nazi, since one astute definition by Merriam Webster reads, "One who is likened to a German Nazi : a harshly domineering, dictatorial or intolerant person."

In one of my very favorite novels, the gorgeous and haunting "Stones from the River" by Ursula Hegi, the rise and events of the Holocaust in Germany are seen through the eyes of a dwarf named Trudy. The story line might already seem freakish and less than tempting aside from the difficult subject, but Hegi artfully brings us into Trudy's experience in a totally humanizing way, to the point that we can feel what it might be like for a permanently little person to stretch and stretch in secret hopes of changing her physical destiny. Trudy loved her fairy tales as small children do because through fighting the obstacles of growing up, there comes some sense of resolution and exodus from the bonds of permanent dependency.

In the early part of the book Trudy starts to notice how much history was unlike those fairy tales, since so often the bullies won over and again. And, it seemed to her that politics, though linked to history, was happening ominously around her. Her wise and simple father tells her: "We Germans have a history of sacrificing everything for one strong leader ... It's our fear of chaos." (p. 112) And all the while Trudy still yearned for the company of another like her, "Someone who would look at her with recognition, not with curiosity and contempt." (p.126)

Many have considered The Holocaust the single most horrific happening in history because of that modern construct of intellect and technology to define being "civilized." In truth, intellect and technology have nothing to do with it. The only people who can begin to approach being civilized are those who live in peace with respect for others with whom they share common compassion for themselves with the absence of fear of being wrong.

As Trudy's father says in the novel, fear of chaos can motivate people to kill, to sacrifice, to do anything in order to stop that chaos; but it is that chaos that, with creative supports, can in fact transform into inventive structures that are sensitive to human needs.

I can understand Trudy, wanting to be recognized for herself. And I understand the force of adrenalin that has taken over so many of our minds. We need the chaos because we aren't human without it, but we are the only ones to create structure and order to add a safety that does not demonize by necessity.

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