April 22, 2013

Community and Identity Amidst Tragedy and Isolation

Posted in Interfaith, Judaism at 4:13 am by chavalah

Show of solidarity

Show of solidarity

Several weeks back, I watched a mini-movie on Shalom TV that I haven’t found the time to re-watch for review (probably off On Demand by this point anyway.) Really rubbed me the wrong way; was basically an infomercial for how to “sell” Judaism to your interfaith, assimilated family during Passover. The concept didn’t bug me, but the execution was ridiculous and didn’t sell me on anything except for the fact that this situation had no real basis in reality.

I’ll even overlook the stereotypical, blundering “goysche” boyfriend, always the comedic relief with his awkward mistakes like trying to raise a toast with the first glass of wine before the bracha has been spoken. (My non-Jewish brother-in-law actually kept my family’s sorta-seder lively and amusing.) The daughter’s surprising engagement to this man triggered the “why be Jewish?” conflict of the story, but the resolution was far less than inspiring. First we have her stereotypically assimilated parents, who whine and moan when their ba’al teshuva son comes home and wants to foist all this ritual on them, but heaven forbid their daughter want to marry a gentile! How will her children learn of their traditions of awkward, Thanksgiving-esque Passover seders?

Obviously the writers realized this was flimsy hypocrisy as well, so then they carted out the Holocaust survivor grandfather. And he told his tale about how he was dragged out of his Passover seder by the Nazis (this actually constituted the movie’s prologue,) and how he never saw his father again, and that the reason to remain Jewish is to live in memory for all those who died, Baruch Hashem. If there’s any other moral to the story than that, I don’t know what it is because that’s when the credits rolled.

Since that time, I’ve been wrestling with my thoughts. Not only as an interfaith Jew but as a person searching for optimism, I reject the notion that the most important reason to be Jewish is to stand either in defiance or in memory against genocide and antisemitism. But then the Boston Marathon bombings happened. And like most Americans, I stood transfixed and horrified, trying to make sense of everything. At the end of that first day, like so many others, I posted to my social media outlets that it’s good to stand together against hatred. Obviously the Holocaust “excuse” from the movie had more potency than for which I gave it credit.

What makes us all stand together as Americans? Many of our paths to this place were different. My paternal grandparents were immigrants who got off the boat from Italy in the early 20th century, making their “American experience” different than that of their peers descended from Mayflower passengers, slaves, Native Americans or modern-day immigrants like the Tsarnaev brothers. We’re divided on our wars, economy and politics; we’re even divided, to an extent, on our national holidays. But in a world with no middle ground of solidarity, I don’t think any of us didn’t feel sympathy towards the victims of a terror attack on our own soil.

We start to divide again when it comes to the perpetrators. This is the time to invoke an “interfaith” outlook, and not judge all Muslims, immigrants or Chechens by the actions of a couple, though sadly not everyone feels this way. Some use hatred to separate what we fear from our daily lives. I won’t deny that these young men provide us with a great setback. Who can we trust, if not legal residents and citizens of our own country?

I’ve admitted this year that Passover has become my most difficult holiday. Moses leading the Israelite slaves out of Egypt and towards Gd is meant to bind us together as a people. But among my family, my “people,” I am the most religiously inclined, and to steal a line from the musical Evita, *dodges rotten fruit* “Sometimes it’s difficult to keep momentum when it’s you that you are following.” And while I feel a connection to the Jewish people due to the Holocaust, just as I feel a connection to the American people due to these recent acts of violence, I know there has to be something more out there, Baruch Hashem. Something more uplifting, to give us more purpose than just enduring hardship. But everything is a journey, even for in-married Jews with more communal connections to our heritage. We must all go into the desert.

I know these two events are only connected nominally, but they are both on my mind. My heart is with the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing and the tragedies of this week worldwide. May we all find peace.


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