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[personal profile] greensword
I've had a couple of really good discussions recently about what it means to be a Jew, and how as an American diaspora Jew one is supposed to relate to Israel.

Judaism is a quirky sort of religion, in that it doesn't really require belief, per se. Nor does it require a specific set of practices. I don't believe in God, or that any of the stories of the Torah really happened. I don't keep kosher or go to temple. I don't know Hebrew or Yiddish. And yet, I'm Jewish.

Even if I converted to another religion. I would still be Jewish. And even if I never told my children I was Jewish, they would still be Jewish.

It's such a tenuous connection in some ways. What does it mean to be Jewish, if it is such an unchangeable state of being? I didn't ask for it. I can't help it. Why should I feel any responsibility for or special compassion for my fellow Jews? But I do.

I don't think any one arbitrary group of people are better human beings than another. But the tenets that a group lives by, and their shared history, can shape their behavior. And that's why I've never really rebelled against this arbitrary thing I am, this random label that's applied to me. Because so far as I can see, being Jewish is a good thing.

Like I said, there's nothing you have to do to be a Jew. But there are things we have tended to do.

Jews don't proselytize. We don't try to convert you. I mean, not only do we not hang you upside down and slowly drown you in buckets of water until you believe what we believe - we don't even try to pressure you at cocktail parties.

Jews understand suffering. Of course we understand it - we have lived it. And I don't even mean the Holocaust. I mean 2,250 years of suffering. From that comes - at least, I hope - a natural sympathy for the discriminated against, the oppressed. On passover, we dip our fingers into our wine and take out ten drops, one for each of the ten plagues visited upon the Egyptians. We lessen our joy out of respect for those who have suffered - even when those who suffer are the very people who enslaved us. Because we understand that all suffering is wrong. Not just because it was done to us, to Jews. It is wrong, period.

I won't pretend to be an expert. Or to speak for other's conceptions of Judaism. But this is my understanding. These are the thoughts that have made me comfortable and happy in identifying as a Jew.

And so the actions of Israel recently have been... almost disconcerting. Because this is not what Jews do. We don't use our superior power to harm others at little risk to ourselves, because their lives are more expendable than ours.

Maybe this is because in two thousand years we have never had a land of our own to defend. Maybe this is because we have never had the power to harm others. Maybe all we were waiting for is the opportunity. But that's a depressing thought.

Date: 2009-01-02 02:45 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] aliterati.livejournal.com
This is not trying to be incendiary (which I hope it isn't, in any case), but as a logical reply to a thoughtful post:

Anyone's personal reply to an ethnic/national/family history is of course a subjective matter. You say that your Jewish heritage gives you a particular sympathy for other Jews, while mine doesn't in the slightest (any more than I'd have compassion for anyone, that is), but I certainly don't have any objections to--or anything less than respect for--your emotional reaction for increased sympathy for Jewish people.

I do, however, have a slight logical objection to (what seem me as) your attempts to objectively justify that purely subjective reaction through generalizations about positive Jewish traits. Simply because, while it goes without saying that we both have incredible Jewish family members and friends who are the best people in the world, my immediate reaction upon reading your two offered examples of positive traits was almost a sense of irony at how much they weren't positive characteristics in many communities I know.


Jews don't proselytize. That's very true. But I have also met family members and their friends who took this lack of willful inclusionism in Judaism as a sign of basic superiority to other religions or other communities: a "chosen people" argument where the lack of religious motivation to convert others translates into an impenetrable divide between themselves and others on a divine plane. I have--I swear to god--met an ordained rabbi who openly shared an anecdote about just not having the time to convert someone in a hospital, since the guy wasn't Jewish, so why should he really care? (I presumed the anecdote was meant to illustrate the desirability of Judaism?)

Date: 2009-01-02 02:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] aliterati.livejournal.com
Jews understand suffering... From that comes - at least, I hope - a natural sympathy for the discriminated against, the oppressed... Because we understand that all suffering is wrong. Not just because it was done to us, to Jews. It is wrong, period. This, I admit, almost struck me as ironic, considering that both I and most of my Jewish friends can list numerous examples from both their older relatives and those relatives' friends of incredible racism. If we're going to generalize, I would counter this point with as strong a stereotype of Jewish communities in the U.S. being highly conservative and xenophobic to new immigrants. (Russian Jews, I should confess, are chief among those who immigrate into the US, get help from the government or their inbuilt communities, and ten years later disdain new immigrants who haven't been as lucky or as accepted by elite white society for being inherently less competent, hard-working, and "different" from them.) Meanwhile, in Israel itself, the contemporary racism towards Arabs is rampant and virulent. While I think your second-to-last paragraph is an eloquent and moving sentiment, I must admit a slight surprise at your own surprise over Israel's recent actions, considering that a constant violence toward and exclusion of the Arabs in the West Bank has been one of the mainstays of Israeli political identity in the last century. The current situation in Gaza is by no means unprecedented, but is rather one in a long line of objectionable violent outbreaks in recent years (remember Lebanon?). ("Objectionable" here, by the way, refers to the outbreaks and their continuation, not to the particular roles or potential guilts borne by either parties in the conflict--not because I necessarily equate those levels of guilt in all cases, but because I'm not qualified to offer an opinion on that in this comment.)

As a rule, I think that a phrase like "Jews understand suffering" is a rhetoric with limited use. How in the world can I or any of my same-generation friends claim a better human understanding of suffering because of the terrible experiences undergone by Jews centuries ago? What can possibly make us presume that our understanding of that suffering exceeds the understanding of anyone who reads about it in a textbook or a retrospective narrative--exceeds the basic limitations on empathy that apply to all students of history? What does that claim do except devalue the actual suffering of past communities--which they actually went through, but I apparently better "understand" just by hearing about it--and give me an over-inflated opinion of my own moral or emotional authority?


In any case, while this disclaimer feels gratuitous, obviously none of this has been meant to imply that "Jewish people" in general are the opposite of what you say either--simply to protest the use of such generalizations period, just as I would protest them if applied to the French or the Germans or the Russians. Some Jewish people are respectful and compassionate; some are self-righteous and prejudiced. Some like math and some have a great sense of humor and some have a fear of heights. I just don't think it's possible to make any such broad personality generalizations based on a diffuse ethnic background--the precise reason that I can't "identify" with any community on that ground alone.

Date: 2009-01-02 04:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dubaleah.livejournal.com
Jews understand suffering... From that comes - at least, I hope - a natural sympathy for the discriminated against, the oppressed... Because we understand that all suffering is wrong...
I admit, almost struck me as ironic, considering that both I and most of my Jewish friends can list numerous examples from both their older relatives and those relatives' friends of incredible racism.


Again,individual actions versus communal generalizations/stereotypes/norms/what-have-you. Yes, there are far too many Jews (especially older Jews) who are tremendously racist. But look at the history of Jewish social action - just in America, let's say. At the turn of the century, Jewish immigrant newspapers published hundreds of editorials in support of ending segregation. In 1909, W.E.B. DuBois, 2 Rabbis, and a group of major Jewish leaders founded the NAACP. In 1910, a group of black and Jewish leaders founded the Urban League. Over 50 percent of civil rights lawyers in the South during the 1960's were Jews, as well as over 50 percent of white activists who went to Mississippi in 1964 to challenge the Jim Crow laws.

There is a long history of Jews standing up against injustice and oppression around the world - not always, of course, but often enough that perhaps such a large generalization is not invalid?


If we're going to generalize, I would counter this point with as strong a stereotype of Jewish communities in the U.S. being highly conservative and xenophobic to new immigrants.

Xenophobic to new immigrants: yes, absolutely. Highly conservative: I would disagree, only in that the American Jewish community is far more diversified in its political/religious opinions than a) any other Jewish community in the world and b) many other religious communities. The early involvement of American Jews in the civil rights movement is one example; the success of progressive organizations like J-Street and Brit Tzedek v'shalom in the US is another. I would agree with you, though, that the American Jewish community is growing increasingly conservative - especially since the start of the 2nd intifada - and especially in relation to Israel.

Date: 2009-01-02 04:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] aliterati.livejournal.com
Again, your examples from the civil movement are very apt and well taken--though my personal opinion is that they still don't mean that "such a large generalization is not invalid," since my main belief is that all large generalizations (including the contrary stereotype of racist Jews) tend to be invalid/not very useful. Let me say: that broad generalization is certainly no more invalid than any broad generalization might be expected to be.

Your comment about the American Jewish community becoming more conservative is really interesting, though, because I actually wasn't making that strong a claim--I'm don't think I'm well enough informed to do so--but clearly you are if anyone is. :) I'm sorry to hear that. Do you think it's also true among our generation, or mainly in older communities?

Date: 2009-01-02 04:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dubaleah.livejournal.com
I think it's really a matter of demographics more than anything. Progressive Jews are increasingly 'dropping out' of the Jewish community - not interacting with the Jewish community in any sort of significant way, and thus having no say - while more conservative and religiously observant Jews are tending to remain more engaged with the organized Jewish community. This often makes sense on an individual level, but on a national level, it essentially means that Jewish organizations and institutions become more conservative in response to their most engaged constituents.

Birthrates are another issues. Progressive/liberal Jewish women have very low birthrates - far below the national average and well below the sustainability mark. At the same time, ultra Orthodox and Hasidic women, who tend to be very politically and socially conservative, are having 8-12 babies each. In fifty years or less, the majority of the Jewish community will be Hasidic.

Date: 2009-01-02 04:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dubaleah.livejournal.com
By the way, I highly recommend checking out my friend's organization Righteous Indignation, http://www.righteousindignation.info/, which seeks to bring progressive Jews together in order to make social justice issues more visible in the Jewish community - and in national politics as an issue that the Jewish community cares about.

Date: 2009-01-02 05:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] aliterati.livejournal.com
Thanks for the link. Your demographic analysis makes all too much unfortunate sense. Your friend's organization aside, do you see any other major organized communities emerging among the progressive Jews as a visible counter/alternate to the more conservative factions?

Date: 2009-01-02 05:16 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dubaleah.livejournal.com
There's a few, though most are somewhat small.

Reboot (http://www.rebooters.net/index.php?site=reboot&page=rbt_aboutus) is a new organization seeks to give Jews spaces and resources to define Jewish life for themselves. (By the way, they run a great magazine called Guilt and Pleasure (www.guiltandpleasure.com))

Jewish Funds for Justice (http://www.jewishjustice.org/) has been around for a while, and does some interesting work.

The Posen Foundation and the Center for Cultural Judaism (www.posenfoundation.com) sponsor a variety of programs that seek to promote secular Jewish culture and community.

The Workmen's Circle (www.circle.org) is an amazing organization that's been around for over 100 years. Check out the very active Boston branch at www.circleboston.org. Probably my favorite of all of them, for obvious reaons.

Date: 2009-01-02 05:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] greensword.livejournal.com
Debi's already addressed some of what I want to say, but I'll have a go too.

Obviously I was speaking in generalizations and I hope (and think) you knew that I wasn't trying to be precise or anything. And I believe I stated in my post that I don't think Jews have personalities or natures that are inherently any different than anyone else's. (As a psychologist, I'm a little miffed that you'd even think I thought that!)

A couple of things I want to address:

One is that my experience of Judaism is obviously very limited. The Jews I know, both family and friends, have been almost entirely reform or secular Jews with left-leaning, sometimes radical beliefs. Which is why I was trying to frame this as "what Judaism means to me", but throwing it out there in the hope that it was more universal.

I must admit a slight surprise at your own surprise over Israel's recent actions, considering that a constant violence toward and exclusion of the Arabs in the West Bank has been one of the mainstays of Israeli political identity in the last century.

I didn't mean to imply that what's going on now is something entirely new, although I do think that obviously what's happening right now is definitely a bad departure from an already bad status quo. Obviously these issues stretch back half a century. What I meant was more that this particular action seems especially wrong.

All right, now this is the paragraph I really want to address:

How in the world can I or any of my same-generation friends claim a better human understanding of suffering because of the terrible experiences undergone by Jews centuries ago?

I would give two reasons. First, there is cultural history passed down to each generation that a non-Jew may not get. Everyone learns about the holocaust in school but how many non-jews learn about pogroms, the expulsions from many places in Europe, etc. I'm not saying that gives us a better understanding of "suffering" in general but it makes us more mindful of our own history of suffering. I think it is safe to say that Jews tend to know more about their own past than non-Jews do. Clearly there are plenty of non-Jews that seek out this knowledge and I'm not making any negative judgments about them.

What can possibly make us presume that our understanding of that suffering exceeds the understanding of anyone who reads about it in a textbook or a retrospective narrative--exceeds the basic limitations on empathy that apply to all students of history?

Secondly, families pass down trauma over generations. This is not something I have much experience with, as I am fourth/fifth generation Russian so these things have become diluted. But parents and grandparents who have been through experiences like the holocaust can and do pass down that suffering... I can only imagine how it would make me feel to know that my dearest loved ones had been through that. I do thank that is a different sort of understanding than one can get from a textbook, although I don't want to devalue the very real empathy that non-Jews can feel.

Date: 2009-01-02 05:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] greensword.livejournal.com
What does that claim do except devalue the actual suffering of past communities--which they actually went through, but I apparently better "understand" just by hearing about it--and give me an over-inflated opinion of my own moral or emotional authority?

You're making a lot of assumptions about my statements here, and I'm not sure where you're getting them from. I never meant to equate understanding with experience - quite obviously the cultural legacy of traumatic experience is not the same as the experience itself. I'm not trying to say "Jews have been victimized, I am a Jew, therefore I have been victimized". Judaism I think encourages this identification - I'm thinking again of the passover seder, where one says that "we were enslaved in egypt", not "my ancestors were enslaved in egypt".

What I was trying to say is that Jews, as a community, carry with us personal and cultural stories of suffering and oppression. I don't think that gives us moral or emotional authority or exemption. I'm not sure what that even means. What I'm trying to say is that our history has been one of being oppressed, and of suffering. The memory of that history is a strong and conscious part of the Jewish community. What I wish is that the community could call on that history not to try and justify oppression but to relate to the palestinians. And I am sad to see that not happening.

Date: 2009-01-02 05:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] aliterati.livejournal.com
(As a psychologist, I'm a little miffed that you'd even think I thought that!)

Very fair--I did mean to imply that at all! Due apologies. :)

Regarding the paragraph that caught your interest most: I should say that I added that at the very end, and that if, as you point out, it seems to be putting some words in your mouth, that's because it was really meant to be more of a broad tangent and less a direct answer to your comments. (Versus my other points, which I think I did aim directly at your comments and I hope weren't putting words in your mouth?) What I meant to target in that paragraph wasn't your own sense of identity or sympathy, but a much larger and, in my opinion, problematic trend of endowing certain "people" with a mental capacity that they apparently inherited from the experiences of ancestors. I find that type of inheritance problematic, simply because I don't think that an ancestral history necessarily has any practical affect on people's mental or psychological development.

You logically point out that Jewish people probably know more about Jewish oppression since their families are more invested in making sure they are well-informed. Personally, I consider myself quite well informed on pogroms, etc, but I didn't get any of that information through family heritage--I got it through general historical education, from public school history classes and textbooks, etc: that is, from entirely non-personal, non-"Jewish" sources. Not to say that I'm as well informed as someone who's specifically studied Jewish history, but simply to point out that family lore is just one and by no means universal mode of teaching history.

About your point about families passing down traumas: that is entirely subjective and personal, and I don't think that's a statement that can be casually universalized at all. My grandparents fought in WWII, my grandmother experienced extreme food deprivation during the sieges. That "personal" connection does nothing to make me feel closer or more particular about the ordeal of the war. If my parents or grandparents--i.e. people I actually know and interact with--suffered something terrible, of course I would feel some sympathetic. But I can honestly say that if you told me by great-great-great-grandmother went through an Inquisition, or that a great-aunt thrice removed went through the Holocaust, that would do nothing to change my understanding of the Inquisition or the Holocaust (i.e. monstrous and terrible). I just don't think that we can unproblematically give older history such a strong claim to influencing people who live far beyond it.

Family and "identification" is very subjective in general. For example, in your recent post about family history, you wrote how identifying your relatives from generations back gives you a fuller sense of your own family and place in history. Personally, I don't know any of my non-immediate family, and I couldn't care less about creating a family tree--I don't see my extended relatives in Russia (whom I met once when I was two and don't remember in the slightest) as practically having to do with how I see the world and how I have grown up within it. Nor would my understanding of myself be enriched by learning the biography of my great-great-great-great father (unless there were an incredibly direct anecdote that overtly and indisputably explained a habit my parents inherited--and then it would just be trivia).

This is not to say that I have no sense of compassion or sympathy of affection for the past or for past peoples. It's simply to say that not everyone feels as much of an emotional prejudice to people who are somehow biologically, through however long a chain, "identified" with them. And, consequently, to say that a history of experience undergone by a certain "associated" community doesn't necessarily give a person living today a more visceral, profound, or nuanced appreciation of that history than anyone else.

Date: 2009-01-02 06:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] greensword.livejournal.com
Family and "identification" is very subjective in general. For example, in your recent post about family history, you wrote how identifying your relatives from generations back gives you a fuller sense of your own family and place in history. Personally, I don't know any of my non-immediate family, and I couldn't care less about creating a family tree

My argument about family was about immediate family and immediate history, not stories past down over hundreds of years. I'm talking about the impact of your mother having survived the holocaust, or your grandparents having emigrated when their house was burned and their family killed in a pogrom. If you have a close and loving relationship with a survivor of these things I do think it would impact you in a way reading it in a book would not - although I can't say that with my own family having not experienced it. It's just what I think would happen.

And if it does happen, then it becomes a very real part of the modern day Jewish community, especially in a place like Israel (less so in the U.S.). As Debi said, a quarter to a third of all Israelis are the children and grandchildren of holocaust survivors.

You're taking an oddly scientific view of my claim here, introducing words like personality, inheritance, mental capacity, psychological development. That's not what I'm trying to get at. What I'm trying to say is that the experiences of growing up Jewish - especially the personal legacy of trauma from one's parents and grandparents, but also the group history of oppression and suffering - may influence how Jews tend to respond to suffering. Not because they are inherently more empathetic or because they have been raised to be more empathetic, but because they have that cultural knowledge base and, sometimes, vicarious but personal experience of suffering that would, ideally, help them to understand and sympathize with those are experiencing oppression and suffering.

Obviously neither of us were raised in a manner typical of the average Jew. I'd be wary of either of us trying to extrapolate out from our own childhoods.

Date: 2009-01-02 07:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] aliterati.livejournal.com
Of course. And I agree that a mother or grandmother whom you know undergoing an experience will undoubtedly influence you more strongly than pure history--I was trying to make that caveat, but it got a bit garbled. My point is simply that I think more extended history (whether through time or space or familial removes) drastically dilute the effect.

Essentially, I agree with everything you write here, except there's one logical connection that keeps throwing me off (which I think is what began this thread in the first place).

Not because they are inherently more empathetic or because they have been raised to be more empathetic, but because they have that cultural knowledge base and, sometimes, vicarious but personal experience of suffering that would, ideally, help them to understand and sympathize with those are experiencing oppression and suffering.

I recognize that you write "ideally," so you're clearly writing this as a somewhat hypothetical and normative, rather than descriptive, statement. And maybe I'm just less optimistic. But I don't see why have a family history of personal suffering--even taking the assumption that it does give a person a more personal and deeper understanding of that particular experience of suffering--should give them increased sympathy to others who are undergoing a totally disparate experience of suffering.

I.e. If that initial great sensitivity to suffering is largely predicated on the theory that stories passed on in one's own dear family, involving one's own loved ones, have a greater emotional impact--presumably because of the preemptive emotional attachment and increased sensitivity for your own loved ones--how can we presume that this sensitivity will necessarily or even probably translate to unrelated strangers who have no deeper emotional attachment to this same person?

That strikes me as the dilemma here. Is compassion: a) based on personal identification and preemptive emotional attachment? Or can it: b) come through a just and even-minded appreciation of the horrors of suffering even when undergone by someone having nothing to do with you? Your comment seems to say: first a, then b. And I'm not saying that a wouldn't give someone a good preparation for b. But if b is possible at all, then it must be possible even without a, and there's no evidence to suppose that b will necessarily be stronger if preceded by a than not. (I.e. if it's possible to understand and sympathize those experiencing oppression who have no particular connection to you, then it must be possible for someone who has learned about past human atrocities through general history to have acute an understanding and sympathy for strangers undergoing oppression, just like for someone who has learned about past human atrocities through more emotionally direct knowledge of human atrocities experienced by their own families.)

Date: 2009-01-02 07:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] greensword.livejournal.com
I believe that compassion - I'd call it empathy - is strongest when it involves personal identification and preemptive emotional attachment. I don't want to go all evo psych on you, but I think there's a strong argument for the idea that empathy evolved as a social mechanism to help us bond with and compel us to defend our close relatives and clan. Social psych studies have shown that empathy is stronger towards loved ones than acquaintances, stronger towards acquaintances than strangers, and stronger towards strangers that are "like me" (my race, my religion, they like the same t.v. shows as me) than those that are not.

I think that inasmuch as we're capable of "a just and even-minded appreciation of the horrors of suffering even when undergone by someone having nothing to do with you" it's because we're taking that skill that we have, that empathy for our children, and broadening its reach.

The other day I was reading a book that described a massacre of some tens of thousands of Jews in Poland. One description really got to me - a soldier reported telling a girl that if she gave him 5000 zloti (or whatever the currency was) he would spare her father's life. The soldier described how she ran around trying to gather up the money but could not. This particular story got to me because it was so easy to identify with the girl and imagine myself in her position. Personalizing the story, identifying with the girl, increased my understanding of her suffering.

Now, most people are capable of this, regardless of who they're feeling empathy towards. When I read about suffering that happened to people I don't identify with as closely, I still feel compassion towards them. I absolutely and inequivocably agree that it is possible for someone who has learned about suffering through books to feel just as strongly about strangers undergoing oppression than someone who has experienced oppression themselves.

What I'm saying is that Jews get a lot of practice at empathy. We are culturally trained to look back at history and see people being oppressed and feel identification and compassion towards them. My hope was - and remains - that this practice would help us to recognize the suffering of others and alleviate them.

Date: 2009-01-02 04:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dubaleah.livejournal.com
I see your point, and I think you are right to point out the dangers of over-generalization. But generalizations are, by their very nature, not going to apply to everybody. There will always be individuals who do not follow the norms of a group. That doesn't, however, mean that those norms do not exist.

Regarding proselytizing:

There are 'good' and 'bad' people in every group, and Jews are certainly no exception. There are certainly Jews, many Jews, who have a holier-than-thou attitude about their religious practice; there are certainly Jews who openly exclude non-Jews.

However, there *is* still something pretty awesome about the fact that Jews, as a GROUP, do not believe in forcing their religion on other people. Considering the bloody history of proselytizing religions throughout history, it is rather (though, of course, not entirely) uncommon that a cohesive religious group would not try to force its religious practice and "beliefs" (more on this later) on others. It's an admirable trait of Jews as a group. Individuals who violate that code are violating centuries of Jewish law.

One more thing, re: the anecdote. It sounds like this Rabbi may have been not such a nice guy, but at the same time, he may have been referring to the fact that conversion to Judaism is a lengthy process (requiring at least a year of working one-on-one with a Rabbi), and that the Talmud tells Rabbi to turn down potential converts 3 times to make sure that they really, really want to convert and aren't just doing it for some other (the implication is practical, though for most of history that hasn't really applied) reason. A Rabbi can't necessarily convert someone who is very sick - there isn't enough time - and Rabbis are required to turn somebody down three times. Not having been there, this may have had nothing to do with what this particular Rabbi said - but I do think that Jewish conversion law demonstrates a deep communal desire to not allow anyone to be forced to convert (by laws or in-laws, as it were), and to ensure that converts are deeply interested and passionate about Judaism.

By the way, Jewish law does not permit Jews to refer to those who have converted as "converts" after they have converted. One must refer to them simply as "Jews".

Date: 2009-01-02 04:16 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] aliterati.livejournal.com
Totally agree with all points, especially the uniqueness of a cohesive religious that doesn't try to force beliefs/practices in others.

For a later conversation, it might be interesting to debate what zealous religious conversion has signified through various times, religions, and contexts. While I definitely see the positive angle of respectful non-proselytizing, non-proselytizing isn't always respectful. And a lot of Christian groups would argue that their evangelical goals, which we might dismiss are self-righteous and domineering, are actually based in a compassion, love, and concern for all other communities and peoples are their own brethren, etc. It just seems like there are a lot of ways of potentially reading (and experiencing) the practice of "forcing" or "preaching" one's religion to others.

Date: 2009-01-02 04:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dubaleah.livejournal.com
Agreed! Quick anecdote: I once had a boyfriend in high school who was a very devout Christian, and we (quite literally!) broke up after he told me, quite sorrowfully, that he was worried about me because I was going to hell and couldn't I maybe do something so that I wouldn't have to? The conversation went something like this:

Him: But I want to save you from all of that suffering. You shouldn't have to suffer like that...
Me: This is so offensive! I can't believe you're saying this to me...
Him: Offensive? But I just want to help you...I care about you.
Me: If you really cared about me, you would let me be who I am
Him: But then you'll burn in hell!

And so on.

Point being: you can be (and most people are) a well-meaning proselytizer.

Date: 2009-01-02 04:36 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] karendy.livejournal.com
I have a very similar view of my Jewishness. When I got married, I kept my last name because I didn't want to lose the public part of my Jewish identity (even as ethereal as that identity is).

Having said that, to me, I think that the Jews' history of suffering can have two opposite, and equally logical, effects. One, is that effect that you talked about (the positive one). But I also think that Jews as a group are also very similar to children who have been physically abused while growing up. In some cases, abused children grow up to be as rigid, intolerant, and abusive as their parents. I think that what is a basic psychological reaction at the individual level has manifested at the group level as a particular intolerance to certain groups. This doesn't make me more sympathetic to the Israeli government, but I think that we need to recognize that Israel's foreign policy is a direct psychological reaction and treat it like that. We need to find some way of breaking this cycle of abuse and suffering.

Date: 2009-01-02 04:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dubaleah.livejournal.com
I agree absolutely. I can't profess to understand the psychology of Holocaust survivors, but I do know that it leaves major scars. In 1948, 20% of the Israeli population were Holocaust survivors. Today, 20-30% of the soldiers serving in the army and politicians leading the country are the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. There's certainly a major psychological impact from it that can become quickly irrational.

Date: 2009-01-02 04:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] greensword.livejournal.com
That's an interesting way of viewing it, although I would tend to say that's more useful as a metaphor - as a psychologist I'm not sure I believe that groups can manifest individual disorders.

I think most groups of people show a certain amount of defensive fearfulness that the group will be oppressed or "out-bred". Think about Americans who worry that immigrants will take over the country. I'm not sure what history of abuse those Americans would be reacting to.

That said, there is a certain amount of logic behind Israel's fear of the palestinians. If you have a one state solution or a two state solution with a right of return, then Jews are no longer the majority, and ceding power to a group of people with a history of hating them just doesn't make sense. The fear seem real, whereas the bigoted American's fears seem laughable.

Date: 2009-01-02 04:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dubaleah.livejournal.com
Maybe this is because in two thousand years we have never had a land of our own to defend. Maybe this is because we have never had the power to harm others. Maybe all we were waiting for is the opportunity. But that's a depressing thought.

Or, in other words, does (absolute) power corrupt absolutely?

Part of the reason, I think, why Israeli actions attract so much attention on both sides of the political divide is precisely that many people have certain expectations of Israel that they don't have of other countries. News about Israel is disproportionately represented in the media - for example: the Gaza attacks made (as they should) front page news for 7 days running, but when was the last time we saw news about Darfur on the front page of a major newspaper? Or even in those newspapers at all? And, as bad as things are in Gaza, they're worse in Darfur - yet Israel is written and talked about much more. There are over 100 UN resolutions condemning Israeli actions, while there have been only 22 relating to Iran and 11 dealing with Darfur.

I think - and I'm not at all sure about this - that perhaps one of the reasons that Israel has been in the news and on the UN agenda for so long is that people expect (expected?) something different from the People of the Book, the people that gave the world the 10 commandments (Thou Shalt Not Kill), the people that suffered tremendous oppression for 2,000 years.

Thoughts?

Date: 2009-01-02 05:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] aliterati.livejournal.com
Interesting. Two other possibilities for why the west is so much more interested in the Israeli conflict than so much African genocide:

Most basically, the west has more interaction and economic dependency on the middle east than Africa, so the greater sensitivity to developments in the region in understandable.

Much more interestingly: I think that many countries in the west feel--as they should, frankly--a certain responsibility or historical implicitness in what's going on in Israel. The state of Israel was established by the UN, largely led by western (i.e. European/American) actors, after a brutal World War largely played out among western actors during which the Jewish population was brutalized and decimated by western actors. There is a sense in which Europe and American contributed integrally to creating the problem in the West Bank right now, while they can fairly say they had nothing to do with conflicts between, say, Hutus and Tutsis.

Date: 2009-01-02 05:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] greensword.livejournal.com
Agreed.

I also wouldn't overlook the possibility of racism - Israelis often look and talk like Americans, so what happens to them may be more salient than what happens to people who don't look like us and/or speak English.

Date: 2009-01-02 05:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dubaleah.livejournal.com
I think you're absolutely right - Israelis are "white" (though Jews were not considered to be white by most Americans until after WWII, but that's besides the point), and Africans are not. Sadly, I think we do tend to consider people who look/act like us more than those who don't.

But we're overlooking the role that fundamentalist Christianity plays in all of this. Israel is also important to a lot of people because of the Second Coming...

Date: 2009-01-02 05:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] greensword.livejournal.com
I am always torn between laughing and crying when someone brings up the End Times...

Date: 2009-01-02 05:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] greensword.livejournal.com
Although I would also point out that we did have something to do with the conflicts between Hutus and Tutsis. Like most of Africa, Rwanda was colonized and although the ethnic and class-based differences were pre-existing the German and then Belgian authorities greatly exacerbated the conflict.

Date: 2009-01-02 05:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dubaleah.livejournal.com
Most basically, the west has more interaction and economic dependency on the middle east than Africa, so the greater sensitivity to developments in the region in understandable.

Yes, very much agreed. Gotta love that oil dependency...

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