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No Immunity

by Jack Schimmelman
Recently after the world learned of 3 Israeli (including one American
citizen) teenagers were killed in occupied territories, a FB friend of mine,
someone with whom I grew up but have had no personal contact for close
to 50 years, posted a plead with all to just stop the hatred. Ill call him
Hal for the sake of this article. I do not mean to disparage Hals motives,
for his heart is in a place of yearning for peace, but I did wonder where
was he for these past 60+ years when innocent Palestinian children were
being slaughtered by the IDF as collateral damage or innocent
Palestinians were being harassed, killed and basically dehumanized by
not so innocent Israelis. And yes, where was Hal when the same thing
happened previously to innocent Israelis. I cant read into his brain, but
I dont think he has found it necessary to publicly decry a cauldron of
hatred all of these years. Now, dont get me wrong. Hal is a decent guy.
A wonderful father, grandfather and I knew him to be an outstanding son
when we were growing up. He is an exceptional person. So, for all of the
Hals of the world who share the same tribal birth as I, I offer this slice of
our collective life.
I grew up being sent to Hebrew school as well as public school. Hebrew
school, as you might guess, is religious school whose mission is to
prepare the Jewish child to take his or her place in the world of Judaism.
I was one of those true believers. Much more so than Hal. I know this
because we went to Hebrew school together. At first, I was sent to an
orthodox temple, but when I drove my parents crazy with my ongoing
religious fervor, they switched me to a conservative temple. My fervor
died down a bit, but remained intense. Indeed, I thought I would become
a rabbi. I walked away from my temple and all religion at the age of 14
when I realized that every adult around me was somewhat of a hypocrite.
Spouting the grand lessons of the great biblical teachers while carrying
on a life of prejudice and hatred. My new religion became the civil rights
movement, where I found less hypocrisy. But even I so sensitive to these
currents of scorn missed the obvious.
That realization didnt come until I was in college and I was asked by a
friend of mine to take over his sisters Hebrew school class as a teacher
while she was out on maternity leave. She fully intended to come back to
class. Well, by that time I had no feeling about any religion, not to
mention Judaism, but still identified culturally as a Jew. As I do today.
And the temple was reform which meant it was as far away from Jewish
tradition as you could be and still collect money under a not-for-profit
umbrella that exempts religious organizations. So, I figured, what would
be the harm? My first day, I taught three different classes. At some
point during each class, the kids initiated a conversation about those
dirty Arabs. This was 1969. These kids didnt distinguish between all
of the different cultures in the Arab world, including the Palestinians
whose land had been stolen. They were all just filthy Arabs. I heard the
most vicious words come out of these otherwise nice, young middle,
upper-middle class mouths. The Arabs didnt deserve their land, because
they were ignorant and lazy and didnt know how to develop it. And it
went on from there, getting worse and worse. After the last class I
walked into the office to hand in my materials and asked if as part of
their curriculum, these children were being taught tenets of hate. The
principal and other teachers looked at me as if I came from Mars. Or
further. Then I remembered that I was taught the same thing when I
was a kid and that the only teacher who tried to tell us the truth was the
sole Sabra on the staff. Sabra is a native-born Israeli. She told us that
everything we were being taught about Palestinians was a bunch of lies
and sinful. When I told the principal I would not teach that part of their
curriculum because I thought it contributed to the worlds misery, I was
fired on the spot. I was a college student sometimes working 3 jobs in
order to get myself through school. So, walking away from a job was not
easy.
Later on, I would learn that this hatred was taught in Muslim schools as
well. And it still is and Im going to bet that here in the glorious U.S.A.
that current of thought hasnt lost much currency in Hebrew schools.
So, whenever I hear an American Jew like myself, lament the killings of
innocent Israelis, especially in occupied territories I want to tell them this
story. I want to say to Hal and all of my other cousins, you want to
stop the hatred? Well, start with yourself. Start at home. Start when
you send your kid to a religious school and if you learn that racial hatred
is part of the syllabus, withhold your money, your support of such a
school. This ethnic depravity is a perversion of religion, no matter where
it originates. It is a perversion of being Human.
I do not claim to have any solution for the Middle East. I may be a fool,
but I have my limits. However, I do know that each of us is responsible
for what we put out into the world. If we can just expose the darkness,
we may suffer slings and arrows from neighbors who are comfortable
with their loathing, but I believe that each persons job is to turn that
righteous ease of bigotry into the squirming of someone whose ground
has suddenly turned to quicksand. So, Hal, why not go to your local
Hebrew school and audit a class or two to see if the tradition of racial
revulsion is being upheld. And if so, forget about Facebook. Voice your
concern in real time, in the big 3D. You may not remain the most
popular guy at the Bar Mitzvah, but I guarantee you that your words will
affect at least one person who may question a nasty tradition theyve
been taught all their lives. As I write this thousands of Palestinians are
being bombed and burned. Revenge killings have commenced. Did they
ever stop? Here in the United States, we stand by wondering how people
can be so cruel and crude. All in the name of religion. Not just Jews
against Muslims, but Muslims against Muslims, Christians against
Christians, Jews against Jews, everyone killing everyone else. Its all
happening in our country as we contentedly chew our cud clucking our
tongues at other societies, thinking we are immune. Wake up.
Immunity has evaporated into the fires of despair.