Condemnation: A Lament 

Photo by Jr Korpa on Unsplash

They demand that we condemn
And if we do not, they may say we are complicit
They demand that we condemn
And if we do not, they may call us traitors
They demand that we condemn
And if we do not, they may judge
that we condone murder

They demand that we condemn
And when I do not, my heart breaks
for all of the dead and the soon to die
Those who have lost and those
who will soon be bereft
Those whose lives are in danger
and those who have been harnessed
to put life in danger.

They demand that we condemn
And without a breath in between,
they speak of vengeance
and retribution and destruction
Listen to what they say
You will hear plainly that condemnation
is not a testament of humanity
but an alibi for inhumanity
Not evidence of moral grounding
but of moral emptiness
Not an expression of standing with
but always an expression of standing against
Always a call to arms.

Are you asking if I hold life dear?
        Do you need to hear me say I do?
Are you asking if we are responsible for each other?
        Do you not know me by my actions?
Are you asking if we are to be held accountable?
        I tremble with the angels
        before the still, small voice.
        I too am among the souls of the living
        whose deeds are counted and recorded.
Are you asking if condemnation is first and necessary?
        I ask what comes next and last.

I want no part of your condemnation
But if you make me, I must start at the beginning:
        I condemn Cain’s murder of Abel.
Do you need more?
        I condemn the enslavement
        of the Israelites under Pharaoh.
Is this enough?
        I condemn the slaughter of innocent
        Egyptian children, victims of the tenth plague.
Should I continue?
        I condemn those who martyred
        our Rabbinic forefathers
        and I condemn our Biblical ancestors
        who massacred the Midianites.
Are you convinced?
        I condemn the Spanish Inquisition
        and the Shoah.
        I condemn the genocide of Native Americans
        and the enslavement of Africans.
Shall we move closer?
        I condemn the taking of hostages in Munich and Entebee.
        I condemn the killing of innocents in Sabra and Shatila.
Does it hurt yet?
        I condemn the pogroms and I condemn the Nakba.

Is this the condemnation Adonai desires?
Is this the sackcloth you ask me to wear?
Are these the ashes
whose stirring will be favorable?
Are these the words that will draw us
to our kin and shelter the helpless?

I forgive you for asking me to condemn
when this is a time to heal; I know you are in pain
I will weep and mourn
I will be with those who are weeping and mourning
I will not turn a blind eye to those who suffer innocently
From the grim platitudes of condemnation
I stand broken and alone
In condemnation’s shadow

They demand that we condemn
and can I forgive?

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Oren Kosansky is a cultural anthropologist who lives in Portland, Oregon.

Photo credit: Julie Hastings


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