Friday, November 1, 2013

Seeing Others


Parshat Toldot
28 Heshvan, 5774
November 1, 2013

Of the Jews who left Germany to find a safe haven in Israel, a noticeable minority never really transitioned from one culture to the other. As much as they had made aliyah to Israel, they were still, it seemed, in exile from Germany. The German Jews, nicknamed “yekkes,” (Yiddish for “jackets”) would sit in the cafes of Sderot Rotschild in Tel Aviv, sweltering under the Mediterranean sun in their formal European dress, refusing to relinquish their hold on what was, to them, the height of sophistication. And finally, having visited Berlin for the first time last week, I can understand why they were so reluctant to leave it behind.

Berlin is a shining city. It is effortlessly cultured, and in the same breadth countercultural. It lives both visibly conscious of its history and in embrace of the contemporary edge. It is wonderful. I would move there in a heartbeat.


Except that the governmental and NGO representatives were quite frank with us. About 1 in 5 Germans hold negative attitudes about Jews. One report put about 30% of Germans agreeing that Jews exploit the memory of the Holocaust.*

It is different being a Jew in Europe. The untrammeled sense of permission, of inhabiting one’s Jewish identity without the expectation that one will be discriminated against, that is a particular gift of North American life, especially big city life. Not all of our brothers and sisters, scattered around the globe, are quite so blessed.

Here’s what it comes down to: growing up, I understood that I was first seen as a person, an individual, and only after was I seen for my differences. It is much less comfortable to first be perceived as the Other, and only after to be known as a human being.

The American story has blessed Jews. Life has worked out quite to our benefit here. But not all Americans share that same story, and as I reflected on the difficulties of being Jewish in parts of Europe, I remembered that there are plenty of people right next to me who are known, mostly by dint of the color of their skin, first for their Otherness and only after for their character.

Hillel once wrote, “In a place where there are no human beings, strive to be a human being.” (Pirkei Avot 2:6). To which I would add, strive to see the human in others, before you see them as Other.

* I very much apologize for not being able to present citations for these statistics. They were presented verbally (and in German, through a translator).

By comparison, in the United States, in 2009, the ADL (takkeh) found that 12% of Americans hold anti-Semitic views. According to the 2007 American Grace survey, Americans reported having warmer feelings towards Jews than any other religious group.

No comments:

Post a Comment