I encountered two different books that have made an impression upon me. I say encountered because I haven’t read either of them in their entirety. The first was written by Charles Barkley and Michael Wilbon and is titled Who’s Afraid of a Large Black Man? It is a collection of stories of encounters Barkley had with various personalities regarding racism in America.
The second book is called I Am Jewish and was written by Judea and Ruth Pearl, the parents of Daniel Pearl, the journalist who was murdered by terrorists. This is a collection of short essays Jews have written about what being Jewish means to them.
Both of these books struck a chord with me because they address a common theme about humanity and our inhumanity towards others. By way of introduction I should add a couple of things about each book and why they are important to me.
Daniel Pearl and I went to the same high school. He was a few years older than I so I cannot say that I knew him, but many of my friends older brothers and sisters did or knew of him. We grew up in the same general area, likely did some of the same childhood stuff you do when you grow up.
I have a BA in Journalism and a strong interest in the Middle East but I never did become a practicing journalist. Nonetheless it is easy for me to relate to him because it is clear that we likely had many of the same interests. Interestingly enough Thomas Friedman said something similar, but that is neither here nor there because both Pearl and Friedman took the step into journalism that I never did.
Daniel Pearl sticks with me for another reason. When I heard that they had posted the video of him being murdered online I decided to watch it. In part I chose to do so because there was a piece of me that felt that at the very end someone should have been there to keep him company, to guard his soul as it left his body.
Now I am sure that sounds silly and ridiculous to some people, but it was how I felt. The rules of the blog also dictate that I mention that in addition I had a morbid curiosity to see this even though I felt like it might be a mistake.
It was horrific. I felt sick and revolted. Part of me wondered if I had lost my senses because I had watched a snuff film of someone’s child, someone’s husband, someone’s father. Someone who was loved by many and I watched him die.
And then I felt guilty because it didn’t meet the Hollywood standards I had grown accustomed to. It almost seemed fake or like a movie with horrible special effects. And for thinking that I could not help but feel guilty.
Amidst all of this I was angry. I was angry that one of my guys was slaughtered like an animal. Angry because I felt a connection beyond being Jewish, he was just another guy from the Valley who liked to write and from everything I had read had committed the crime of being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people.
Until today I hadn’t made any contributions to the foundation his family set up, but sometimes situations present themselves and it just made sense. More on this in a moment.
This past weekend I was presented with the very fine and exciting opportunity of dropping my car off at the shop for some unexpected repairs. While I was waiting for the car to be fixed I waltzed over to one of my favorite stores, Costco which is a nightmare on weekends, but a necessary evil.
I figured that if nothing else I could kill some time eating a few samples and maybe flip through a book or two which is where I encountered Barkley’s book. I grabbed a copy and made my way over to the furniture where I plopped down and began reading the book.
There were a number of different moments that caught my eye but for the purposes of this post it was the section with Rabbi Steven Leder that caught my eye. To paraphrase his comments he said that it is time that Jews in America stop thinking of ourselves as victims and appreciate that there has been no better time in the history of the country to be Jewish.
Barkley made the same comment about Black people and the conversation went from there. I found the dialogue very engaging and it really kept my attention in large part because this wasn’t a book that said that everything is horrible or that everything is fine.
It really came across as being real and honest and that was refreshing because it fits in with my own point of view. But at the same time it made me a little crazy because of what for lack of a better term I’ll call the contradiction.
In plain English that means that even though I feel comfortable and secure in America I am very aware that there are people who hate me for nothing other than being Jewish. I read reports and news stories of antisemitism around the world and I remember that Daniel Pearl’s last few words were about being Jewish.
The time will come when my children become aware of these feelings. I hope and pray that it is a long time before they realize that people can dislike others because they are different, not because they are bad people. And we are doing our best to raise them to be colorblind and to judge based upon character and nothing else.
But at the same time the reality is that this kind of racism and bigotry is not going to disappear. I believe that we can marginalize and minimalize it, but I don’t think that we can eradicate it.
So I want to raise my children to understand that we are not victims and that even though we may encounter idiocy we do not have to allow ourselves to be defined by it.
One of the things I appreciate about the Pearl book is that it offers the opportunity to meet all different kinds of people and learn what they love about being Jewish which I think has some merit to it.
In any case I think that it bears repeating that one of the most important messages of both of these books is that We are Not Victims. We all have choices in life in how we wish to approach it.