Judaism abhors indifference. Read the list of founders and donors of any organization that protects human, animal or ecological rights and the list has an overwhelming number of Jewish last names. Mr. Goldberg might not write a check to help Jewish children get an education, but he will bet the farm on a children’s museum or hospital. Organizations like the Peace Corps have an inordinate number of Jewish volunteers. Jews make up a high number of Nobel Prize recipients. That is because, as a stiff-necked people, we like to shake things up. We try to change things for the better.
When people convert to Judaism, they give a lot of reasons for doing so, but the love of justice and compassion, the aversion to indifference ranks right up there. No one says, “I converted because I want to give up 26 hours of my life a week to keep the Shabbat” or “I just hate shrimp.” Behind every Jew is the belief that, “I can make this world a better place.”
This has been an awful week for the Jewish people. As a nation, we plunged into the depths of mourning as parents buried Eyal, Naftali and Gilad. We were sickened as an Arab teen, Mohammad Khdeir, was kidnapped and killed in revenge. Our reactions are different, and that is what makes the Jewish people different. It took the discovery of the three bodies (one of the boys is an American) before president Obama made a weak statement. He called Mohammad’s death heinous, a strong word he refused to use when the victims were Jewish and American. All of their deaths were heinous. Our president is the spiritual and political descendent of Jimmy Carter. He believes that Jewish blood can be spilled like water, and cares nothing about the death of an American at the hands of terrorists. He is indifferent.
As a people and nation, the Jews of Israel were sickened by this act of vengeance. We are angry, and we are demanding the lawless individuals who took this boy from his family be found and punished. The words, “justice shall you pursue,” is seared into the Jewish psyche. We know we are better than that. As I write this, his murderers have been arrested. This is because, in the end, the uncle of Naftali Frenkel said it best. “Murder is murder. One should not differentiate between bloods, be it Arab or Jew.” His words echo our heartfelt beliefs. Of course, the murderers of the three boys remain at large, protected by their sick and twisted community and ideology. No one in Mohammad’s family condemned the murder of Jews, because by their very existence, Jews deserve to be murdered.
We are different. The value we place on life is different. Islam may be the religion of “peace,” but words and practice are two different things. Their leaders, at least at this point of time, elevate death and place no value on life. It is an affront to believe that Allah sanctions the murder of people based on their religion. People who really believe this are atheists. They believe they are G-d and can function in that role. We cannot be indifferent to suffering. It is not part of Jewish belief. It has no place in the Jewish mind. It cannot be part of the Jewish soul.
The final phone call from Naftali Frenkel has been released. I cannot bear to hear it, but I read the transcript in Hebrew. Each boy was told, “head down” and a muffled gunshot followed. After their murder, there was jubilation. It was the same reaction from the same community that danced and gave their children sweets upon hearing of the deaths of 3,000 people on September 11th. They are indifferent to the suffering of others, we are not; we refuse to be indifferent. No matter how estranged from Judaism we may be, that demanding little sliver of G-d in our soul does not allow us to be indifferent.
I am a teacher in an alternative school. Although I mostly teach math, I also teach U.S. history, including the civil rights movement. There are similarities between the deaths of the three boys, and a young teen named Emett Tillman.
Emmett Tillman was a black teen from Chicago who was visiting relatives in Mississippi. An outgoing young man, no one told him he was not allowed to talk to a white woman. Her husband and a relative kidnapped him, gouged out his eye, shot him, wrapped him with a weight around his body, and threw his body into a river. His body was found a few days later. Like the community in the West Bank, the people of Mississippi knew who killed this young man. Those who killed him were never properly brought to justice, because their leaders were indifferent. In their sick and twisted hearts and souls, they justified his death because of the colour of his skin. The followers of hamas (I don’t justify them with a capital “h”) justify the murders of Gilad, Eyal and Naftali, and thousands of others on the basis of religion, or on failing to adhere to the tenants they impose on religion. Their murderers think out of the same brain. America is not a perfect country, but Jews have worked hard to fight indifference and we have been successful. Jewish volunteers worked hard for change during the civil rights movement. They still work hard today. They were also murdered because they felt their brothers had the right to vote and participate in the American dream. American Jews worked hard to change indifference into compassion and action.
I know all of the perpetrators will face justice. Mohammad’s will face it first because we do not tolerate this kind of behavior from our own people. We are not indifferent. We will not and do not stand idly by as the blood of our brother, no matter what his religion, colour and background is shed. The “pintele yid,” that little sliver of G-d that presents itself to us makes us care. It makes us act. It appears to us no matter how far we stray. It is a pain in the ass. It also prevents us from being indifferent, and when properly nurtured, can help us change a world.
The past couple of weeks have been amazing. I had no idea my blog would have the impact it did. The phone calls, texts, emails and visits I have received in the past few days have left me a very humble person. I was emailed or called by people from Europe, Israel, Mexico and the U.S. I was also asked to be a speaker for a women’s event. I was contacted by two Jewish newspapers and asked to give interviews about the “Conversion Crisis.” I declined to do this because there is no crisis. The personal prejudice of individuals does not equal crisis. A conversion is either valid or it is not. I knew the real goal of the interview was to get me to trash traditional Judaism. I also received an apology and was told that they never intended to question my conversion.
When I went to shul on Shabbos, I received hugs and was told how nice it was to see me. Nothing says, “I care about you” like a hug. My little Kiddush partner told me she missed me. Another young man asked my son if I could make challah for Shalosh Seuda (the third meal, often eaten in shul, on Shabbos afternoon) as I have done in the past (when I make challah, I think of Sarah; it is more than flour, water and yeast). Several people came up to me and told me they had no idea I was a convert.
On the other hand, I was completely ignored by one person who is normally very friendly to me. I learned she had left a very nasty comment on the page of another convert (making the individual cry). The comment was something to the effect of “you don’t agree with me, therefore I deem you not to be Jewish.” Sometimes people have problems that are theirs and theirs alone, and you can’t fix stupid.
It is this attitude that one can independently determine who is and who not a Jew that was the subject of a phone call I had with my Rav. He told me that people who are born into the Jewish religion have to rely on their mother’s word that they are Jews. I on the other hand, he said, am without a doubt a Jew. I have the Rav, witnesses and schtar (document) that prove it. He also told me that prejudice and stupidity are independent of religion. He is spot on there. We talked about our personal struggles as Jews that exist no matter how you come into the religion. He also told me that I am a leader, not just a participant.
The comments I received fell into two distinct camps. Some people felt that I had been treated badly because I am a strong woman and had nothing to do with my status as a Jew. I do not consider myself a particularly strong woman. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who (to my complete embarrassment) was recently denied an honorary degree from Brandeis University, is a strong woman. I am a shrinking violet.
The other comments were from people who were either converts or married to converts. They confided to me what they or their loved ones have been through. I can understand.
I received pleas from several people encouraging me to make Aliyah. They felt things are different if Israel. I doubt this. Israeli’s are like the French. They do not hide their opinions, and if you get two of them together, you get at least three opinions and when the third person shows up, you need an intervention.
I remember being told that, “there are only three things I require from a convert: they must keep Shabbat, keep kosher and provide their children with a Jewish education.” These are the cornerstones of Judaism. In other words, with these three requirements, everything falls into place. They are magnets for Jewish existence. I get really hot under the collar when a person, who has properly converted, through a proper Beit Din, under the supervision of a competent rabbi should continue to be questioned. Several people who contacted me told me they had been asked to undergo subsequent visits to the mikvah, because Rabbi Ploni2 didn’t trust Rabbi Ploni1. A rabbi who felt that I made rabbis into “the enemy” contacted me. He told me he requires a three-year commitment as part of the conversion process. He had been burned. I can understand that. Several people told me their own conversions had taken several years to complete. We should not be performing drive-through conversions. G-d placed many tests on those who became the first Jews. He made the Hebrews wander for 40 years before they could immerse and accept the Torah at Mt. Sinai (please, do not make the process take 40 years!) My first conversion through the RCA took over a year, and my second took two additional years. This included weekly meetings in which I had to learn Shulchan Aruch, and be able to field whatever questions I was asked.
I do not wish to blog a book here, but an individual from Belgium contacted me. A few weeks ago, four innocent people were gunned down at the Jewish Museum in Brussels. This event has left the Jewish community reeling and he asked me is being Jewish was “worth” all of this. It is, but I will write about this in the future.
Jews are facing several crises, but conversion isn’t one of them. The constant threat of annihilation from those who wish to physically destroy us remains. The destruction from within through intermarriage has destroyed more Jews than Hitler and his minions ever imagined. We are being loved to death by those who have traditional sought to destroy us. “Messianic Judaism” is seeking to become the fifth movement of the Jewish community. They are watching us, studying us and they are coming into our shuls and schools. They are incredibly well funded. They are taught to lie and “fit in.” They want to convert us, not through the sword, but through “love,” (when that doesn’t work, they will return to the sword), because they believe that the Jewish remnant must exist to welcome their “messiah.” I was walking down a street in old town Alexandria, when a young chap who was wearing a kippa and tizizit handed me a flyer. I looked at it and immediately confronted him. The flyer was all about how the Jewish messiah had already come, and was waiting for us. I flayed every “proof” he gave me. He in the end, he admitted he was not Jewish (despite the kippa and tzizit), but he was attending a local shul, and was appalled that I didn’t embrace him, because he “loves” us and had been welcomed by the community. I was stunned. He admitted he didn’t tell anyone his motives, because “Jews are still looking for the messiah.” He looked “right,” he was a nice guy, but no one in the shul had ever really talked or questioned him. He learned to “fit in.” Unlike a convert who wishes to become a part of the Jewish people, and is willing to go to unbelievable means to accomplish this, he just slid under the wire. This is a crisis we cannot ignore. We continually question the motives of people who properly convert, but we say nothing to a boy whose church has sent him to become a part of our community? We are ignoring a crisis that is not at our doorstep; it is sitting next to us.
Please daven for the safe return of:
Yaakov Naftali ben Rachel Devorah
Gilad Michael ben Bat Galim
Eyal ben Iris Teshura
Please recite Tehillim 120 and 130.
The Jewish world is a buzz with the recently released Pew research study on American Jews. Pulpits are on fire and “Jewish leaders are worried.” The study is being quoted far and wide in our community. It breaks down like this: 71% of American Jews are intermarrying and 1/3 of American Jews below the age of 30 have no Jewish identity at all. No doubt these numbers are tragic, but the response is worse.
In the mid 1980’s, a study announced that 50% of American Jews were choosing to intermarry. Several researchers also reported that the best way to stem this tide was to provide children with a Jewish education (no Virginia, afternoon Hebrew school does not qualify as Jewish education). That makes sense. Young Jews learn about their unique religion, heritage, language and culture, and they grow up with and socialize with other Jews. The more they learn, the more likely they are to remain with and want to marry people of their own background. Wow! what a revelation!
Federations across the country announced they were going to do everything possible to stem the tide of intermarriage. They held panels, discussion groups and stood by as their own children made the same choice. The Federation of New York (and its sister Federations across the country) continued to give most of the billion dollars raised to “Jewish” hospitals that served mostly non-Jews. The mighty minds who were so upset by the data, refused to acknowledge the companion data that Jewish education is the most important response our community can offer. Jewish education costs money. I watched an interaction (late 1980’s) between the Lubavitcher Rebbe and a high ranking official of the NY Federation. He proudly told the Rebbe that the Federation had given “a quarter of a million dollars” to Lubavitch educational institutions (mind you, the Federation gave hundreds of millions of dollars to institutions that did not serve the Jewish community). With his cutting wit, the Rebbe replied, “Why should I be satisfied with just a quarter of a million?”
Now comes the Pew study. Once again, Federations across the country have sprung into action announcing their panels and projects. They are going to tackle the intermarriage and assimilation problem. The reality is they will do what they do best, wring their hands, hold another junket in a nice resort and do absolutely nothing.