Jewish is About Bringing Light, Not Fearing Darkness
by Rabbi Julie Schonfeld
Shortly after making havdalah, the ceremony separating Shabbat from the work week, I went online to reconnect with the rest of the world and, to my horror, saw the images of last night. From Israel, the image of a Haredi boy, styled to look like the iconic Nazi era photo of a Jewish child wearing a yellow star, his hands raised in surrender. This is his parent’s protest against the Jewish state and the Jewish people. Is there no decency?
This is one of the iconic images of the 21st century, the terrifying grip of the original photo is that it captures the horror of the Holocaust on a city street. The original photo is from a particularly powerful sub-genre of Holocaust imagery whose salutory value is to undermine our complacency and destabilize our false confidence that any society can remain safe and just without constant self-evaluation and self-refinement. Images of the horrors of the concentration camps capture an other-worldly hell from which we can distance ourselves. Terror on a city street in the Warsaw ghetto, cautions us to constantly examine ourselves.
It is a norm of the Jewish people to honor the memory of the victims of the Shoah by seeing that Holocaust images are not misappropriated. By engaging in this Hillul Hashem (the descration of God and holiness), Saturday night’s protestors have exposed themselves to a rigorous evaluation before all of society. To do so, however, always demands that we evaluate not only this group whose actions, taken in the name of Judaism, define debauchery, but also the rest of world Jewish community that has been too slow to name and limit their excesses.
I know I am not the only one whose dreams were invaded by this image while sleeping last night. That any Jew would undertake to dress their children in this way, in a protest convened against the Israeli government and the Jewish people, under these circumstances, falls outside my imagination. The certainty that it is not a dream, haunts me this morning in wakefulness.
Where do we go from here?
This extreme interpretation of Judaism, by which we are all harmed, finds as its foundation the experience of galut – exile and alienation. The protestors in Saturday night’s images are not defined as they suppose, by practice of Jewish religion, but by a fetishized expression of themselves – an obsession with alienation and victimization, bordering on mania.
Judaism, from its founding narrative, is about the very opposite of what these protestors espouse – engagement with community, confrontation with self, the ongoing human struggle for self-limitation, and an acceptance of the need to live in the physical world and participate responsibly in its pleasures.
Our Israeli brothers and sisters, as in so many arenas these days, are faced with a dangerous and difficult task in which all of the world’s Jews must support them. Rule of law must be reestablished. Lawlessness cannot “costume” itself, not as the Holocaust, not as Judaism, not as modesty, not as Torah. While protestors in a free society should not be arrested for expressing themselves, even in this vile way, those who spit, throw rocks, harass and intimidate need to be arrested, prosecuted and jailed. Such behavior is the very definition of debauchery and it has been left unchecked too long. Facing this reality is frightening, because we know that the reassertion of justice and order, which will be in keeping with both the principles of Torah and Israel’s democratic society, will possibly put the peacekeepers and the larger population, in harm’s way. History has shown, however, that left unchecked, the situation will only worsen.
Let us all, as Jews around the world, do something today to bring tikkun or repair to this horrible desecration that occurred in our names last night. Sunday is Yom Rishon in Jewish time, the day of the week that recalls the very creation of the universe. Brothers and sisters, from wherever you are, make this a Jewish day. 3000 years of Jewish wisdom and tradition call out to you in your beautiful, imperfect, aspirational striving to live a life more in keeping with the lofty values of our Tradition.
We must share with each other the images of Judaism as we embrace life today – we are not victims, we are people of light, joy and justice. Post a photo of you living your Jewish life and values. Share a picture of your joyous, celebratory Judaism: addyourlight.tumblr.com.
Rabbi Julie Schonfeld is Executive Vice President of the Rabbinical Assembly (RA), the international association of Conservative/Masorti rabbis.