Recently after the world learned of three Israeli (including one American) teenagers were killed in occupied territories, a Facebook friend of mine, someone with whom I grew up but have had no personal contact for close to 50 years, posted a plead with all to just stop the hatred. I'll call him Hal for the sake of this article. I do not mean to disparage Hal's motives, for his heart is in a place of yearning for peace, but I did wonder where was he for these past 60+ years when innocent Palestinian children were being slaughtered by the IDF as collateral damage or innocent Palestinians were being harassed, killed and basically dehumanized by not so innocent Israelis. And yes, where was Hal when the same thing happened previously to innocent Israelis? I can't read into his brain, but I don't think he has found it necessary to publicly decry a cauldron of hatred all of these years. Now, don't get me wrong. Hal is a decent guy. A wonderful father, grandfather and I knew him to be an outstanding son when we were growing up. He is an exceptional person. So, for all of the Hal's of the world who share the same tribal birth as I, I offer this slice of our collective life.
I grew up being sent to Hebrew school as well as public school. Hebrew school, as you might guess, is religious school whose mission is to prepare the Jewish child to take his or her place in the world of Judaism. I was one of those true believers. Much more so than Hal. I know this, because we went to Hebrew school together. At first, I was sent to an orthodox temple, but when I drove my parents crazy with my ongoing religious fervor, they switched me to a conservative temple. My fervor died down a bit, but remained intense. Indeed, I thought I would become a rabbi. I walked away from my temple and all religion at the age of 14 when I realized that every adult around me was somewhat of a hypocrite. Spouting the grand lessons of the great biblical teachers while carrying on a life of prejudice and hatred. My new religion became the civil rights movement, where I found less hypocrisy. But even I so sensitive to these currents of scorn missed the obvious.
That realization didn't come until I was in college and I was asked by a friend of mine to take over his sister's Hebrew school class as a teacher while she was out on maternity leave. She fully intended to come back to class. Well, by that time I had no feeling about any religion, not to mention Judaism, but still identified culturally as a Jew. As I do today. And the temple was "reform" which meant it was as far away from Jewish tradition as you could be and still collect money under a not-for-profit umbrella that exempts religious organizations. So, I figured, what would be the harm? My first day, I taught three different classes. At some point during each class, the kids initiated a conversation about those "dirty" Arabs. This was 1969. These kids didn't distinguish between all of the different cultures in the Arab world, including the Palestinians whose land had been stolen. They were all just "filthy Arabs." I heard the most vicious words come out of these otherwise nice young middle, upper-middle class mouths. The Arabs didn't deserve their land, because they were ignorant and lazy and didn't know how to develop it. And it went on from there, getting worse and worse. After the last class I walked into the office to hand in my materials and asked if as part of their curriculum, these children were being taught tenets of hate. The principal and other teachers looked at me as if I came from Mars. Or further. Then I remembered that I was taught the same thing when I was a kid and that the only teacher who tried to tell us the truth was the sole Sabra on the staff. Sabra is a native-born Israeli. She told us that everything we were being taught about Palestinians was a bunch of lies and sinful. When I told the principal I would not teach that part of their curriculum because I thought it contributed to the world's misery, I was fired on the spot. I was a college student sometimes working 3 jobs in order to get myself through school. So, walking away from a job was not easy.
Later on, I would learn that this hatred was taught in Muslim schools as well. And it still is and I'm going to bet that here in the glorious USA that current of thought hasn't lost much currency in Hebrew schools.
So, whenever I hear an American Jew like myself lament the killings of innocent Israelis, especially in occupied territories, I want to tell them this story. I want to say to Hal and all of my other "cousins," you want to stop the hatred? Well, start with yourself. Start at home. Start when you send your kid to a religious school and if you learn that racial hatred is part of the syllabus, withhold your money, your support of such a school. This ethnic depravity is a perversion of religion, no matter where it originates. It is a perversion of being Human.
I do not claim to have any solution for the Middle East. I may be a fool, but I have my limits. However, I do know that each of us is responsible for what we put out into the world. If we can just expose the darkness, we may suffer slings and arrows from neighbors who are comfortable with their loathing, but I believe that each person's job is to turn that righteous ease of bigotry into the squirming of someone whose ground has suddenly turned to quicksand.
So, Hal, why not go to your local Hebrew school and audit a class or two to see if the tradition of racial revulsion is being upheld? And if so, forget about Facebook. Voice your concern in real time, in the big 3D. You may not remain the most popular guy at the Bar Mitzvah, but I guarantee you that your words will affect at least one person who may question a nasty tradition they've been taught all their lives. As I write this, thousands of Palestinians are being bombed and burned. Revenge killings have commenced. Did they ever stop? Here in the United States, we stand by wondering how people can be so cruel and crude. All in the name of religion. Not just Jews against Muslims, but Muslims against Muslims, Christians against Christians, Jews against Jews, everyone killing everyone else. It's all happening in our country as we contentedly chew our cud clucking our tongues at other societies, thinking we are immune. Wake up. Immunity has evaporated into the fires of despair.