July 29, 2014

A month of religious fervor

Posted in Interfaith, Judaism at 11:07 pm by chavalah

Activists take to twitter to support coexistence and peace.

Activists take to twitter to support coexistence and peace.

It’s been an intense several weeks in the world. With somewhat guilty relief, I went to San Diego Comic-Con on Wednesday and largely ignored current events, except for a few snippets of news programs, with all their violent imagery. Ran into a few Christian protestors with signs about how we should repent and return to Jesus; they always make me miss the Jews, and wuddaya know, today I read an article in Tablet Magazine about a couple of chabadniks who came to set up Shabbat dinner and encourage Jewish attendees to lay teffilin. :p. I’m assuming that they didn’t bring women along, and didn’t reach out to female attendees, but it makes me wonder.

In the US, the month started with the aftermath to the largely controversial Hobby Lobby case in Supreme Court. I wouldn’t go so far to call this “a war on women,” which is too extreme and one-dimensional to be accurate, but it doesn’t sit well with me that my gender can be denied access to healthcare (and it is healthcare–whether an individual choice to avoid pregnancy, or, like me, one is on birth control out of absolute medical necessity,) based on someone else’s beliefs.

As a strong advocate of religion, I’m even more perturbed about what this ruling says about faith. “Religion” is too complex a concept to be defined by it’s dictionary entry, but as a deeply spiritual and cultural person, I reject that it has anything to do with owning a corporation. Religion is a lifelong conversation about the meaning of why we are, coming together with a community with whom you share ancestral and/or spiritual ties. It’s so much deeper, so much more meaningful and important, than to be delegated to topical, secular affairs like workplace protocol. Bestowing corporations, these soulless, industrial entities, with “religious rights” is, frankly, offensive to me.

But it’s sort of the month to be offended, given the horrible turmoil in Israel and Gaza, only to be broken up by the horrible turmoil in Russia and Ukraine. Sadly, it’s a relief to remember how universal violence is, that no one conflict has a patent on it.

Before Comic-Con my stomach was in knots for days, checking in on Facebook to make sure my Israeli friends under the constant rocket fire were holding up ok, and topically keeping up with the news reports, just for a factual account of what was happening. Going into it in depth is largely a futile, finger-pointing gesture. There’s no opinion piece that either my largely pro-Israel Jewish friends and not-so-fond-of-Israel non-Jewish friends have reblogged that I could fully agree with; they were always not holding one side or the other to the complete culpability that it deserved. The only thing I can pray for is a “long-standing” ceasefire similar to those from the past; that’s the only way humanity can possibly “win” this. That being said, maybe I’m too optimistic, but I feel that broader US news-watching audiences have a deeper understanding, this time, of the harrowing role Hamas plays in terrorizing both Israelis and Palestinians. But I can’t be absolutist on this; the world isn’t like that. Both sides, Hamas (and their allies) and the Israeli government play a role in the loss of innocent life; I hold both responsible.

As a Jew, I can never be fully divorced from this issue, not only because of my aspirations for a positively evolving Jewish state, but because antisemites use this conflict to become more violent themselves.. Even in the United States, rioters have beaten pro-Israel advocates and vandalized property, to say nothing of the more vitriolic atmosphere in Europe, particularly France, where Jews are repeatedly assaulted, and synagogues firebombed and barricaded with worshippers inside. I refuse to blame an entire religion or ethnic group for the fear and pain of my people worldwide, but I must stand as witness. I pray that our fear and pain won’t lead to xenophobic tribalism and hatred; that we will continue to strive for global peace.

This is why I believe that true religion is about communities of people. Institutions may gravitate towards blanket paranoia, dogma, damning actions against both others and their own. You look at the institutions in charge, and peace in Israel and Gaza, probably peace anywhere, is likely never possible. But you look at people reaching out to each other, despite any divides…that’s a different story. The picture above comes from the twitter hashtag #JewsAndArabsRefuseToBeEnemies.. Sure, some tweeters are still too one-sided and politically absolutist for my tastes, but peace has to start somewhere. Seeing other people as people might lead to understanding a broader worldview, too.

I draw the most inspiration from the families of Naftali Fraenkel and Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who consoled each other after the deaths of their sons. May their memories be a blessing.

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