Art Green’s newest theological vision.
Art Green’s newest theological vision.
WHERE DO WE STAND? by Rabbi Arthur Green
American Jews looked on with horror at the events unfolding in Charlottesville – and elsewhere – over this past weekend. Indeed, we have felt a shudder ever since the awful campaign of 2016 and much that has followed it, while our communal leadership has remained mostly silent. There were, after all, some Jewish voices in the White House, and it was best not to alienate the Republicans. “And who knows?” it was whispered, “maybe this crazy guy could do something for Israeli-Palestinian peace.”
But in Charlottesville the masks were off. Neo-Nazis with their swatstika flags were a welcome part of the celebration. You heard the k-word along with the n-word quite frequently, we are told. There was no longer any hasty “Judeo” hyphened on to the calls for a Christian America. Not among these folks.
“Blood and Soil!” they were calling out in repeated marching chant. Hitler’s Blut und Boden, which meant, of course, that only “Aryan” blood truly belonged to the sacred German soil. Can you imagine the nerve of these people, saying that the beautiful God-given landscape of America belongs to white Anglo-Saxons, not to the native peoples whose blood indeed soaked the land as they were displaced and slaughtered by European invaders? Can they really claim that this soil belongs to the slaveowners whom Robert E. Lee was defending (his statue was the center of these events) and not to their victims, the poor slaves who died anonymously, so many of beating and lynching, pouring their own blood into the American earth? How dare they!
I was proud that there were rabbis and rabbinical students (including some of my own) present in the line of clergy who stood as the voice for human decency and sanity on that terrible morning. Yes, even though it was Shabbat, I am glad that some made that decision, one I would not permit myself to do. Shabbat was given us, we are told in the second version of the ten commandments, to help us recall that we were slaves in Egypt. That is a message too often forgotten by many achievement-driven (and often success-drunk) American Jews.
Charlottesville forces us to take a stand. It reminds us that we are a minority in American society, a religious and ethnic community that chooses to maintain a distinct identity. There is a price to be paid for that, one forgotten amid the great wave of acceptance into “whitehood” that has engulfed us in most American circles since the 1960’s. We need to remember how recent that acceptance was, and how it took the horrors of the Holocaust and the battle against Hitler to push most American Christians across the finish line of opposing anti-Semitism. Moments like Charlottesville remind us that we are a minority among minorities, and that a threat or an insult to any minority – African-American, Muslim, Latino, LGBT, or any other – is a threat to us all. To be a proud American Jew is to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those who defend diversity and equality in our country.
I HAVE TO BEGIN with a confession. Theologizing about the environment in 2016 does feel more than a bit like the proverbial rearranging of deck chairs on the Titanic. It is but small comfort to me that I am not a novice at this effort, suddenly discovering that we religious folk had better have something to say about the most urgent global issue of our times. I have been thinking and writing about these issues over three or four decades, and pride myself to think that I might have had a milligram or two’s weight of influence on the level of concern about them in our Jewish community. But we, like the rest of humanity, have been preoccupied with issues that seemed more pressing or immediate, allowing awareness of the impending environmental disaster to be pushed to the outer edges of our consciousness.
A longing for Kabbalah is abroad in the land. Even people with little connection to Judaism, no knowledge of Hebrew, many of them in fact non-Jews, are seeking initiation into the secret chambers of Jewish esoteric knowledge. Differing from the interest in Hasidism that centered mostly around Chabad in the preceding decades, this turn to Kabbalah has rather little to do with Jewish observance or with nostalgia for a romanticized shtetl past (a past that many denizens of “Kabbalah centers” in fact do not share). The Kabbalah seekers are after the Truth, with a capital T.