Acceptable Racism – Outrageous Conversation with Religious Extremists in Tzfat

Simchas Torah in Tzfat. Gorgeous city.
So much to say. This is gonna be one long train of thought. Hop on.
We woke up at 7:30 am and took a few buses to Tzfat. We arrived at our hotel and collapsed onto the beds. What came next began exactly as we expected. Lots of shots followed by joyous dancing while we loudly chanted Jewish prayers and hymns. It was beautiful. Watching the looks on the faces of the orthodox men as their entire being was filled with spiritual joy was an incredible sight. These people live a life dedicated to religious observance. It just seemed like their joy was more genuine than ours. We danced for the sake of it, they danced as a form of religious expression. The only thing that annoyed me was the machitzah (wall between the men and the women). The women weren’t drinking, dancing or celebrating. That’s a whole ‘nother conversation.
My friends and I had a conversation with a couple that night. In order to respect their privacy I will not use their real names.
Let’s call the man “Big Shmuel.”  He had a kind, warm personality and a welcoming aura about him. He was well liked in his community. A proud New Yorker (big fan of the Giants) and he made aliyah to Israel decades ago.
He told my friends and I a story.
Big Shmuel told us that his friends and him lived near a Neo-Nazi bookstore. One day at 3:00 am they soaked the place in gasoline and danced around the flames. Woah. Pretty intense. So far this guy sounded like 95% badass and only 5% crazy. Obviously Neo-Nazi bookstores deserve to be destroyed, but burning them is incredibly dangerous because someone could have been inside. They’re still people even if they’re bigoted.
Well that was only the beginning. Big Shmuel attended university in Buffalo, NY and told us that one night he was walking through the city with his rabbi when a bunch of guys in a car drove by and yelled, “Heil Hitler!” out of their car. His rabbi looked at him and chastised him saying that he should have done something. Big Shmuel told the rabbi he couldn’t have done anything because they drove off. Then he saw that they stopped their car at the street light. Big Shmuel ran over and tore off the antennae from the car. He then used the antennae to draw a giant Magen David on the roof of the car. The men inside the car stepped out and headed towards him. He punched the first guy in the face and knocked him out cold. Big Shmuel was exchanging blows with the second guy in the middle of the highway. It halted traffic for 20 minutes. The police came and broke up the fight. When they asked him for a statement. The rabbi told the cops that they couldn’t give a statement because he can’t write on Shabbat and that he can’t go down to the police station because it’s Shabbat. The police let them settle it themselves. He told the men that if they had any guts they would him at a specific alley the next day at 5:00 pm, and if they didn’t show up that the next time they saw them they would kill them.
Next Big Shmuel told us that there were missionaries showing a video on Christianity nearby. He asked his rabbi what he should do and was ordered to break up the viewing.
At this point in the story, I asked him what occurred in a missionary viewing beyond allowing Christians and future converts to hear about Christianity…aka what’s so bad about what they were doing? I know they are trying to convert people to Christianity, but that doesn’t give us the right to infringe on their quest for religion. Yeah, it’s Christian propaganda. So?
Back to the story.
Big Shmuel was able to get his hands on 8 massive lab rats and released them on the missionary viewing crowd. Following their release there was mass chaos. People screaming and running for cover from the rats. The viewing was not able to continue.
Big Shmuel told us that when he was younger there were kids who would throw rocks at the religious Jews in the Chabad house. One day the Jewish kids decided to take a long piece of metal wire and tie it between two trees at knee level. Big Shmuel and his friends ran out of the Chabad and were chased till they reached the trees. The bigoted children ran into the wire and got severely injured. When the parents of the kids tried to pin the responsibility on Big Shmuel and his friends, they told them that they didn’t tell them to chase after them. Those kids never threw rocks at the Chabad house again.
Finally, he told us that he used spray paint to paint over Christian billboards from the Campus Crusade for Christ that used the slogan, “I Found It” to “I Found Sh*t.”
Alright, that last one was hilarious.
But still, are these actions immoral? I don’t think it’s black and white.
The Christian stuff I find inappropriate because I don’t believe Jews are the chosen people meant to give judaism to the rest of the world. We are just some people. Our religion isn’t the “correct” religion, nullifying all other theistic beliefs. We should be able to live harmoniously.
What about anti-semites?
Both instances (Chabad and Car fight) the bigots backed off. Who’s to say that the didn’t learn their lesson. Is that bad to say? I don’t know.
I think that Jews and Israel have always been held to a higher standard. A white person wouldn’t use the “N” word in front of a large group of African Americans (unless they wanted to get beat up), but using an anti-Semitic slur in front of Jews is rarely seen as a dangerous move.
Part of me hears about Big Shmuel’s actions and is frightened that I’m dealing with an extremist. Someone who seems to not have ethical boundaries when it comes to “Jewish retribution.” That night we were all shocked by these stories…and a little scared.
However a piece of me, the Inglorious Basterds/Hebrew Hammer in me, sides with his Jewish badassery against the anti-Semites of the world. How could I feel this way?
Because I believe that American Jews on the most part are weak. We are afraid of being Jews in public. Afraid of the anti-semitism and the stereotypes being thrown upon us. We pretend that we don’t live in a culture rampant with anti-Semitism. Few people in this country realize it.
If Anne Frank had not died in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945, Justin Bieber hopes that she would have been his devoted fan.
Juliane Assange accused a group of journalists of a ‘Jewish conspiracy’ against his website WikiLeaks.
Jay-Z uses Jewish to mean good or conservative with money (“What More Can I Say” and “New Day”) and Rick Ross has a new mix tape called “The Black Mitzvah” intended to equate Judaism with monetary success. Whereas iconic conscious rappers Lupe Fiasco, Immortal Technique, Talib Kweli, Mos Def and the Twin Cities very own Brother Ali (“Philistine David”) have lyrics in songs that describe Israel as a violent, dominant aggressor in the conflict against the subjugated, weak palestinians.
Think that’s it?
What about your kid who says he’s been watching Family Guy?
or South Park?
The Peabody winning animated TV show South Park, Comedy Central’s most successful show ever, is a perfect example. Matt Stone (co-creator of South Park and “Book of Mormon”) is a Jew. He created the Mel Gibson loving, slur hurling, Jew hating character Eric Cartman because Matt Stone had been bullied for being a Jew when he was a child and wanted to depict said anti-Semitism on the character modeled after himself (Kyle). It backfired. Everyone in American embraced Eric Cartman and he’s now one of the most beloved television characters of all time. We’ve become a country surrounded by “acceptable racism.”
What I found interesting is that in America the acceptable racism is towards Jews (among others), whereas in Israel it’s towards the arabs/palestinians.
We can’t live in denial or blissful ignorance of the anti-Semitism in America. I can’t support what Big Shmuel did, but I can try and understand it.
Obviously he went way overboard, but what would you have done if someone threw rocks at you every day for being Jewish? There’s no right answer.
But it’s not over. The night got even more interesting.
Next, I got into a heated discussion with Big Shmuel’s wife.
I’m not exactly sure how it started, but she began to defend the accusation that Zionism and Judaism isn’t racism. She stated that the Jews are the chosen people and that Israel is our chosen land. She said that arabs don’t want peace, they want us dead.
She then said that arabs haven’t changed.
I told her I disagreed.
All of a sudden the air changed. Every other person in the room stayed silent for the next hour as I argued with her.
I told her that you could say that the goal of islamic extremism hasn’t changed (besides the forms of violence/terrorism), but arabs as a whole have changed and developed just like the rest of us. The government of Arab countries have changed from the Arab Spring. Their economies have benefited from production of oil. If you’re arguing that arabs lived under a semi-theocracy that hasn’t changed, someone could make the same argument about Israel.
She told me that the only sophistication that they have is due to Israel and us.
She made her true point clear by telling me that arabs will always be the same by retaining a desire to kill us because they are different by blood.
Woah. I didn’t really want to believe what she just told me so I asked her, “when you say in their blood, do you mean figuratively or literally?” One of the boys listening in next to me jumps in and says, “obviously she means figuratively.” She didn’t take the hint and responds, “no, I mean literally.”
In an attempt to preserve her humanity I told her a story.
I tell her that when I volunteered in the Golan at a lodge over the summer, everyday I would hear artillery explosions and occasionally see things launched into the air. I told her that it scared me and that when I walked into town to buy groceries I feared the people and felt ashamed of what I assume was bigotry on my part. When I brought up my worries to the hosts of the lodge they told me that what I was feeling was not racism because I didn’t believe they were genetically inferior.
She told me, “but you don’t live here. The threat isn’t real for you.”
Finally, in order to clarify the hypocrisy of her previous statement that Zionism wasn’t racism I asked her if she truly thought that arabs were genetically inferior. She said yes.
I responded loud enough so that everyone could hear, “That’s the definition of racism. And I’m not gonna say anything else.”
No group of people is one way eternally. Period.
There is very little that I find as disconcerting as racist Jews. It’s worse than being ungrateful for being Jewish, because it’s as if they’ve forgotten about the racism fueled hatred of the Nazi era and how damaging that can be. Extremism on both sides is dangerous.
In conclusion, I think this family missed a vital moral in Judaism.
The Talmud tells a story of Rabbi Hillel, who lived around the time of Jesus.  A pagan came to him saying that he would convert to Judaism if Hillel could teach him the whole of the Torah in the time he could stand on one foot.  Hillel replied, “What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your fellow man.  That is the whole Torah; the rest is just commentary. Go and study it”.