Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Lonely Man of Questions

On both Twitter and Facebook I shared a piece by Shira Lipkin on her struggle to reconcile her attachment to Judaism and the Jewish people with her distaste and disgust for the violence she now sees in Gaza and the negative attitudes she now sees permeating both societies, Israeli and Palestinian, Jewish and Muslim.

Several people have expressed wonder as to why I would post such a thing. This is the start of an answer.

While I am surrounded by people who seem so certain, I am find myself questioning. Throughout the past two weeks, my questioning has been understood as "breaking ranks" with one or another side. My moral exploration and reflection has been dismissed as seeking "moral equivalency". From where I sit (and I think Shira Lipkin experienced the same thing) I am engaged in a genuine struggle. It is a moral struggle and a spiritual struggle. It is a struggle with myself, with my faith, with my sense of the world and sometimes with friends and family.

Here are a few of the things I struggle to understand:

  • How my friends, neighbors and acquaintances so quickly manage to get their opinions in line with each other when I can not.

  • How is that people who live in a pluralistic society here in America, who profoundly benefit from that society and its values of tolerance can so completely abandon those values to the extent that any kind of coexistence with "others" is unimaginable or even anathema to them?

  • What God's promise of a "Promised Land" means when the grip on that land must be held through a violence that can be both oppressive and brutal

  • How does what is happening in the Land of Israel relate to the Torah's "conditional use permit on the land" the promises of security in the land if we are righteous and absolute insecurity if we are not. How much of this is US, how much is THEM, how much is God? 

  • How much of what people say about THOSE PEOPLE is true? The claims are so black and white and exaggerated. "Palestinian mothers really hate us more than love their children. Palestinians are content to be used as human shields. Palestinian children a fed on a childhood diet of pure hate. Israelis are racist haters who won't be happy til every Palestinian is gone. Zionism is Naziism." The world is awash in these messages. What do you DO with all that besides say everything WE say is true and everything THEY say is a lie?

  • How the same people who could quote hundreds of ahadith demonstrating the gentleness of Muhammad, and may be very gentle in their private lives can be so harsh in the context of strife.

  • How is it that in conflict so many of us who LIVE great values in our interpersonal lives somehow drop them when we are in conflict? Polite people become rude. Merciful people start to sound cruel. 

  • How to square my fierce love for Judaism, Torah and the Jewish people with Rabbis and others (who may know much more than I do) who increasingly de-emphasize the Torah of kindness while promoting a Torah that endorses military force even against "civilians."

  • How what are for ME deep and difficult questions have been replaced by hashtags, memes and slogans that seem to discourage any creative thinking. 

  • What does peace mean? Everybody seems to want it and nobody seems to want it. 

I have lots of questions. These are really just a few of the greatest hits. I am too mentally exhausted to write a complete inventory.

So, if I seem confused, I am. Some of you wish I wasn't. I kind of wish you were.


  1. Dear Lee ,your religion and my religion finally comes down to what are our actions when the crunch times comes.This world is designed in a way to test one is his/her own convictions.Those convictions seem adorable and honorable in "marry time" but when the "testing time" comes its so hard to hold on to those values and convictions.

    That is why "Righteousness"through ages hasn't been a smooth/happy-go-lucky ride its hard and it involves suffering (The kind of suffering which you must be feeling right now) . May G-d Show you the correct path in your endeavor and give you the heart to sustain it .

  2. Salam JihadiJew
    Hope you have a nice day

    If I may, this is my thoughts on Israelite among mankind

    & I wonder if I have found the 10 Tribes of Israel.

  3. Shira is a personal friend of mine so it's lovely to see her thoughtful piece referenced here.

    I have been very lucky in my life and one of the ways in which I was luckiest was that I attended a Jewish primary school in the UK which welcomed (and continues to welcome) Muslim students. See here,_Birmingham

    My education made nonsense of the hate, and at times like these I try to remember that behind every headline is someone who fears for their children.

  4. maybe you can have a chat with the bostoner rebbe

  5. You hit it on the head when you say "How much of this is US, how much is THEM, how much is God?"

    The problem with the middle east politics is that there is a lot of US and THEM but not much of God. Isn't this His land at the end of the day?