Friday, August 9, 2019

‘Bienvenido al judaísmo’ to my Latino brethren

A mosaic from Templo Libertad in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  The hands in a gesture of priestly benediction. Their  resemblance to the "Live Long and Prosper" gesture is no accident; Leonard Nimoy used it as Spock in "Star Trek."

  ”Many clients tell me, ‘We’re the new Jews,  we’re just like the Jews.’” 
                                                 — Dario Aguirre, Mexican-American lawyer

    Well hell, counselor, there’s a statement I just never expected to read on the front page of the New York Times. But there it was, Wednesday morning, alongside my grapefruit and toasted English muffin.
     I’m honestly not sure what to say. A hearty “Shalom amigos!” comes to mind. But maybe that’s trivializing the real fear that Latino Americans feel as Donald Trump’s hateful words are turned into murderous actions by his dimwit supporters.
     I could take the opposite tack — a sneering “You wish.” What’s wrong with being Jewish? You make it sound like a bad thing. 
Of course it is possible to be both Latino AND Jewish, as this
 South American synagogue reminds us.  
 And I guess it is, in the crazy-people-always-wanting-to-kill-you sense. But hostility from murderous madmen is only part of Jewish identity, and I would argue a small part. When I was growing up in the 1970s, the Holocaust weighed on Jewish minds, and a certain Death Cult aspect settled upon the religion. I found that unappealing. 
And so did other Jews, who managed to pry their eyes away from the central horror of the 20th century long enough to find the joy in their religion. Reconstructionist Judaism can be a bit touchy-feely, with the guitars and life-affirming songs and more smiling than I'm comfortable with. But at least it suggests that life is a celebration, or should be.
      The task of all marginalized peoples is to not be defined by those who hate you, but maintain your own proud identity, a challenge which Jews — and, my impression is, Hispanics, too — are quite good at managing. Hounded and persecuted in every era and land, Jews have remained a cohesive people for 3,000 years while oppressors from the Babylonians to the Nazis have come and gone.
     Let’s be clear: I’m not speaking for all Jews. We don’t have a pope. We are not a fungible mass, which always comes as a shock to haters and, sometimes, to the hated too. Jews range from bearded, black-hatted Hassidim to that self-loathing Goebbels wanna-be Trump adviser Stephen Miller, who, to his regret and mine, is still Jewish.

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  1. Yes, I do have a Pope calling the shots, but I think that there's as much diversity of opinion among Catholics as among Jews. Each of us seems to diverge on some item or another of faith and morality promulgated by our infallible leader. Me, I disagree with almost all of them, but continue to go Sunday Mass "faithfully."


  2. Wen I read Max Weber on the subject and came to an understanding of predestination my Presbyterianism ceased to make much sense. But I like the hymns.


  3. I lost my faith when I became eleven, old enough to sit through Yom Kippur services and fasting, and my mother informed me that the storefront synagogue where I attended Hebrew school did not let families attend for had to PAY TO PRAY. I got royally pissed. Told my parents that the rabbi should replace the Star of David on the wall with a dollar sign. Got a major whupping for that one, but I also quit going to Hebrew school (after two years of it) and the Saturday services. Became...a DROP-OUT...

    An ancient Orthodox scholar (who resembled a wizard) tutored me. I learned enough to get Bar Mitzvahed, but after that, I pretty much left The Tribe. Oh, I still love the food and the klezmer music and hearing Yiddish spoken and sung. I can still read Hebrew. I've celebrated dozens of Hanukkahs (with two shiksa wives), and go out for deli meals...and Chinese, natch. Other than that, I'm done. And I have been since my teens (No fan of Israel for the last fifty years, either).

    But try explaining any of that to the majority of the "goyim" their narrowed eyes, it's like being in the Marine Corps. There's no such thing as an're a Marine for life. And once a Jew, always a Jew. When the round-ups begin, I'll still have to watch my back, and cover my tuchas. Assimilation ain't gonna cut it this time...same as all the other times.

    Tried the Reconstructionists in Evanston, thirty-some years ago, to appease the spiritual yearnings of the first wife, who was of Norwegian descent, and to make some new friends. Joined a "mixed couples" group, and quickly found out they had all signed up for one reason only: To expose their "half-breed" progeny to Judaism Lite. We were the only child-free couple in the whole mishpucha. Oy, gevalt! Was this boychik's face red? Damn betcha! We slunk out of the room, quite literally.


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