Jewish Cognitive Dissonance

By Cheryl Moore

A few months ago, walking by the police station in Squirrel Hill, I noticed that on the side of a cruiser, there was a decal with a Jewish star superimposed on the Steeler logo. The last part of that sentence is odd enough, but because I don’t associate the police with anything Jewish, the first part also feels strange, though perhaps not quite as strange as the Ravens and the Patriots sporting the Steeler logo with the Jewish star! Since October 27, that symbol is everywhere in Pittsburgh and, of course, is the post-Tree of Life massacre declaration that “Pittsburgh is stronger than hate.”

At this moment though, across the United States, there really is so much cognitive dissonance for Jews. In 1936, F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in the mind at the same time…” We Jews value intelligence, but we are struggling with the many conflicting ideas confronting anyone paying attention, and with how to relate to those who prioritize their values differently than we do. Below is a very limited list of opposing ideas and realities currently confronting the Jewish community.

1. We, in the diaspora, call on the Jewish State to abide by the highest possible ethical standards. We are deeply concerned about sexism and racism in Israel, and worry about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. These concerns impact our outlook on and hopes for Israeli elections and the leaders whom they produce. When going to the polls, Israelis, the people who will actually vote, however, prioritize security and economic/standard of living issues. Some Israelis wonder why we seem not to understand their concerns about the safety and quality of life of their children and grandchildren, and some of us wonder why Israelis don’t understand our concerns about issue like equal access to pray at holy sites.

2. There are Jewish thinkers, artists, leaders and philanthropists who have made massive contributions to our community’s well-being and advancement. We can never know what is in someone else’s heart, but we do know that some of those people have treated others, primarily but not only vulnerable women, in ways that have frightened, demeaned, and seriously injured them. We also know that in most instances there were many witnesses who allowed this abuse of power to continue. While acknowledging that this is uncomfortable and deeply anxiety-producing, some members of the community feel that it helps no one to pretend that the harassment and abuse has not happened or to victim-blame. There are also members of the community, however, who believe that the damage done by shining a light on this far outweighs what they believe to be the minor damage caused.

3. A person can be both an object of the hatred of Islamophobia and someone who expresses the hatred of antisemitism. The inverse is also true.

4. A person who is not antisemitic may criticize Israeli policies. Sometimes criticism of Israel is rooted in antisemitism. By dismissing every conversation about antisemitism with an accusation that Jews try to limit freedom of speech or label anyone who criticizes Israeli policy as antisemitic, people, sometimes unwittingly, feed into the antisemitic trope that Jews attempt to control information (through their control of the media, Hollywood and Washington).

5. A Jew can be a patriotic American and a passionate Zionist and supporter of Israel.

Israel is very strong, but small and surrounded by hostile neighbors, so it needs the support of American Jews. One can criticize Israeli policies and still be a passionate Zionist and supporter of Israel.

6. After the massacre at Tree of Life, the national debate about guns became much more personal. On both sides of this debate, there are good people who genuinely believe that their position is the most loving, moral one, that would keep us safest. When their position is driven by hatred or fear, or when they distort the truth, or use words which demean or create unsafe situations, we should defend against and even dismiss their arguments, but generally, in most of the arguments on both sides, there are elements of validity.

7. Generally, there are widely divergent views on which politicians, political parties, political philosophies and political strategies are best for the Jewish community and for Israel. Sometimes, those widely divergent views are held by a single person. At their core, the people on all sides of this debate have Jewish safety and continuity as their goal.

Let us try to be disciplined and courageous enough to allow ourselves to consider that good people can hold very different views from one another. Let’s acknowledge that sometimes an accusation or a defense is about only what it superficially appears to be about. We should always consider the outcome for which we are striving because though it may just feel good to virtue-signal by insulting and attempting to intimidate those holding opinions that we find abhorrent, no one has ever been insulted into changing their position. We should recognize the difference between someone’s opinions and their behavior, for what matters most is how people treat one another. Perhaps we can resist the urge to troll and to insult the intellect of and impugn the character of those with whom we disagree. Perhaps we can consciously focus on treating each other with respect and realize that it takes nothing from us to allow another their dignity. After all, the Talmud teaches us that the highest form of wisdom is kindness.

Cheryl Moore, BA, MBA, BSN, RN, lives in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh. She is the Clinic Manager at the University of Pittsburgh Student Health Service. Cheryl is a regular contributor to eJewishPhilanthropy.