I’ve been trying to figure it out for far too long now. I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the things that seem to be driving me crazy. How can some people think that what they’re doing is ok, and how can we all feel that way about each other. Is this the human condition? We just all get it wrong?
This year was absolute and utter madness. And grief. And despair. And fear, and rage and disappointment. This year was confusing and divisive and astonishing. It brought out the worst in all of us I’m afraid. I’m usually the person who finds some kind of redeeming factor in the conclusion so I’m just hoping that if I put these words down on this virtual paper I will find the redemption in this story because I need to find it.
This year I have been so mad. And I hate being mad. Sure, I get passionate, and dramatic and sometimes a little worked up, but I rarely get mad. And being a clinically trained psychotherapist, I know that anger is a secondary emotion. It often appears when the true emotion we are feeling is too strong or too scary to fully surface. So we hide behind anger, because it gives us something else to focus on, another place to put our emotions. So I’m trying to look beneath the anger and figure it out.
I have always been proud to be a Jew. This is a heritage I was born into and also accepted as a personal choice. My religious observance is a commitment I make over and over again, every single day. I do not make it out of fear of Gd or retribution, I make it out of love and respect and honor to a relationship with the higher being I choose to serve. I choose to manifest my commitment to that relationship through the traditions and rituals of Judaism. I do not impress this choice on anyone else. And I only ask that others respect that it is my choice. I also believe in science, and medicine and compassion. I believe that the Torah, whose laws I follow, are rooted in the same compassion. For those who choose to follow it, the command to preserve and protect life — our own, and the lives of others is paramount.
So this year I found myself struggling. Because the people who call themselves the same as me, were not upholding their part of the deal. For some, the flagrant disregard for rules regarding health and safety. For others, the support for political leaders who openly incite violence and promote the erasure of our people. The internalized hatred for other Jews who practice differently than ourselves. Who have we become? Where is our compassion? Where is our Torah?
This year, in an interview, I was asked a question. What did I think would be the next “big thing” in unifying Judaism? The interviewer used the establishment of the state of Israel as the example of the most recent unifier of our people. So what did I think would be next? The question baffled me. Next? New? “Big Thing”? I took a moment to reflect before responding. I didn’t think there was a next big thing. I don’t think the establishment of the state of Israel has done much to unify us, as the state has seen three elections in a year without being able to secure a new government. So no, I don’t agree that it was ever a unifier. Instead, I said, what I think will be the next big thing in Judaism is Judaism. It always has been. And when did we get hung up on everyone getting behind the same thing? That’s never been what it’s about. Judaism has never asked us to be the same. In fact, it requires us to delve deep into the details of each specific situation, knowing how different we are from one another.
The Talmud, the foundational text of our inherited tradition, is literally a compilation of arguments made by incredible Torah scholars who disagreed with each other, sometimes so vehemently that they excommunicated each other, and yet continued to show up for the discourse, continued to meet each other in the dialogue because of how deeply they cared about their commitment to their faith. The point was never that they agree. The point was that they should care enough to show up for what they believed in. Their arguments brought them together more than it tore them apart. The Talmud has many volumes, thousands of these arguments related for generations to come, some not even bearing the names of those arguing. And if we are to learn only one thing from them, it is that we are not meant to agree. We are not meant to be the same. We are meant to show up because we care. We are meant to rally around a Torah that inspires us to be the very best version of humanity and always striving to be better. For ourselves and for others.
So I’ve reached the end, and I don’t know if what I have found is redemption. I think I understand a bit more about my frustration. About my disappointment. And about the deep hurt that lies beneath the anger. The wanting that I have for my people to do better. To show up with a true commitment. Not to agree, but to know what they believe in enough to want to fight for it. Not because it is comfortable or what other people have told them, but because it is a truth they hold so deeply within them that they must uphold the justice it deserves. I do not have redemption, but I do have a question.
Are your differences bringing you closer to your fellow Jew?