I was born into an America of segregation and skewed horizons, of ingrained prejudice of word, of heart, of workplace, of residence. Yet it was not until I came to live in Israel that I began to understand racism.
- Rabbi David Hartman, the passionate leader of Orthodox renewal
- Rabbi David Hartman's Torah of pluralism
I was born into an America where the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party taught people to hate people like me. But I was taught to be a minority secreted inside a majority, and it was only when I came to live in the Middle East that I began to understand extremism.
It was only in Israel, in this place where people are much less circumspect about putting the bonfires of their gut into actual conversation, that I came to see the depth and the colors of the racism in me, the hatreds, the extremism, the crucible of intolerance and anger directed against groups of people I do not know.
It was only in Israel that I began to understand the hidden core strength of racism – that it makes people feel good.
All kinds of people. No one is immune. For some, the high may come from adrenaline, for others testosterone, or something less chemical but no less compelling, the giddiness and warmth of belonging, maybe, or the catharsis that salves us in apportioning blame.
All kinds of people. The leftists who, in battling all forms of racism, decry entire groups of people – Israelis, say - as racists. The rightists who, in the name of defending against anti-Semitism, treat Islam as a disease, and all Muslims as carriers.
I've managed to duck and bury this discussion in my own head and heart for a good many years. But there was something about these days that dredged it all up.
Maybe it was the racism in the elections and their aftermath, the campaigns based on little more than Jews hating Jews, Jews hating Arabs, Arabs returning fire. All of it fouling and confounding the making of what promises to be one exceptionally crappy government. Maybe it was the racism in the Beitar Jerusalem soccer stands, or my own unfair, intolerant rants about settlers as a whole, or Beitar fans, or people named Netanyahu.
Oddly, though, along with the ugliness, this week dredged up something else as well. The last thing you might expect. Hope.
Maybe it was the record turnout in support of the Women of the Wall, asserting their rights as Jews at the Western Wall, and supported on the men's side of the prayer barrier by a group of former IDF paratroopers who had taken part in the capture of the Wall in 1967.
They risked arrest to do so. The law at the Wall, the law that prohibits women from wearing prayer shawls and praying aloud, is intolerant, sexist, insulting, arbitrary, and divisive.
But one day, thanks to these women, it's going to change.
Maybe it was the idea that we are finally beginning to talk about intolerance and prejudice in this country, instead of, in the model of Mr. Israel Yair Lapid and his "Zuabis" crack, blindly practicing it.
Or the sight of Beitar fans rejecting and silencing the racists in their midst.
Or maybe it was the passing of perhaps the most radical rabbi of his generation, David Hartman, z''l, railing against peers, an Orthodox philosopher mad as hell, with a message boiling up through the anger: Put people first. All people. Not only Jews. Before land. Before stones.
A man who, as an American-born Orthodox Israeli who bucked categorization, was relatively little known and little listened to in his adopted, beloved, cold-to-Arabs, cold-to-Jews, cold-to-whoever-you-are Israel.
Maybe, more than anything, it was one fleeting message of David Hartman's, that made all the difference.
Someday, years and years too late, David Hartman's stunning wisdom may take root in this place. When it does, we'll know what he was trying to tell us all along.
Yes, hatred begins at home. But so does hope. Every home. My home. Even at the Beitar stadium, where Avigdor Lieberman, of all people, went to talk publicly to Muslim players whom extreme Beitar fans have sworn to oust, or worse. Hope, even, for the Home that is another name the Jews have, for that place bordered by the Wall.