Beliefs, Hard Questions, When To Take A Stand and Who Do You Represent

This post has been percolating in my head for a couple of days now. There is an awful lot of meat to chew on and I am not sure how detailed I am going to be. Sometimes the blog feels too serious to me.

The prompting for this entry comes from a couple of other posts that I have recently read. In no particular order they are this post from Psycho Toddler in which he writes:

Whether you like it or not the entire Jewish nation is being judged by YOUR behavior, so you have a responsibility to be a good ambassador!

And

This post from Go West, Young Jew in which she discusses how to deal with religious differences among friends, in particular the question of what to do when someone alleges that the Jews killed Jesus.

She writes:

“Which naturally leads to this question: How do you remain friends with people who have such vast differences of faith? My Jewish friend referenced in this post hasn’t had much experience with it, so I feel like I’m her guide.

The first and easiest thing to do is never discuss religion. It’s not really a necessary topic for me with everyone I meet. I know most of the other mommies I know are Christian. Most probably believe that I’m destined for Hell. Some probably believed that Jews killed Jesus. We never talk about it — most of the conversations we have about religion are them asking questions about Judaism. I answer honestly and (I hope!) tactfully, but I don’t ask them questions.

The second option is to limit yourself to Jewish friends — not easy around these parts.

The third option is to try and be the Ambassador for Judaism among your Christian friends. (Not in the way I listed above — answering questions — but actually trying to educate Christians about all the ways in which they are misinformed. In the end, you might feel better having done this, but you’ll lose a lot of friends. Frankly, this isn’t my job.”

Ok, there are several different directions that we can go in. As a starting point we can pick on the idea of being an ambassador. If you have been reading this blog for any length of time you know that I am Jewish.

The concept of serving as an ambassador is not a new one. PT and Go West are not the first people to mention it and there is some merit to what they are saying.

There are multiple organizations out there that say things like: Jews for Peace, Jews for Life, Jews for Justice. I find it a little aggravating and more than a little irritating to be collectively included in these groups without knowing if I support what they are doing and upset when I know that they are clearly on the other side of the fence from my position.

I also find it irritating to be in a position in which I even have to worry about such a thing. When people have told me that I am a credit to my race/faith I have taken it to be a bit of an insult. I am a person. Jews are people, just as are Christians, Buddhists, Blacks,Whites etc. We all breathe, we all bleed, we all require food and shelter.

That kind of commentary when applied to any group is suggestive that there is something different, but not in the novelty sense of the word. Call me hypersensitive, but that is how it comes across.

This brings up the question of whether there is merit to the idea of being an ambassador. Ultimately I have to say yes, even though it is somewhat distasteful it is a smart idea. We are a minority group and we have had our share of challenges to overcome. Part of advancing tolerance is being open and transparent to outsiders.

Here is an example of what I mean. For years I worked as a camp counselor at a Jewish overnight camp. When we took the children on overnights we expected them to continue to follow Jewish practices such as we davened (prayed) three times a day.

During the morning prayers (Shacharit) we would don our tefillin and tallisim no matter where we were. Sometimes that meant on a boat to Catalina, in Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, wherever. For people who had never been exposed to this before it made us stand out. Standing in the middle of the forest with leather straps around my arm/head and what looked like a big white blanket creates a little attention.

So when people asked what we were doing and why I made a point to explain it to them and always encouraged the campers to do the same. This wasn’t some arcane ritual, it was a moment of beauty and spirituality, communing with G-d in nature. People understand and relate to that.

The dialogue was a way to knock down walls and fences and build relations.

And sometimes people would ask questions that I thought were intentionally stupid designed to incite a fight. Sometimes they would say things that were just dumb.

I had a couple of responses to those. One is that I reminded them that we are people and that people are fallible. Jews can fall victim to the same acts of stupidity as anyone else. No one thinks that Charles Manson represents all White Christians and no one should think that if a Jewish person engaged in something terrible that they are representative of all Jews either.

But sometimes they would ask questions that in my opinion required a lengthier, more detailed response. Things like Go West referred to when we were accused of killing Jesus in my mind demanded my attention.

I responded for a couple of reasons.One is that much of the religious dogma that we are taught is fed to us at a very young age. As a result we often do not stop to consider the validity or veracity of such statements. So sometimes just posing a question made the person reconsider their position.

Sometimes they were far more open to engaging in a dialogue than we had initially thought and they might even change their mind.

And sometimes we ran into people who exuded blatant hostility and there was nothing to be done about it.

I think that much of this stemmed from and still comes from my desire not to let others define me. I define myself and if I let people run around promoting false propaganda about me and my beliefs it can create problems.

The hard part is trying to identify when you need to take a stand and then the best way to go about making your position known. Life is rarely black and white.

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