“Jewish people don’t need to believe in heaven because they live here” Ryan Mervin Bellerose
Today, Israel is viewed with disdain, based on opinions by people who’ve never been to the country and in all probability never met a Jew, let alone an Israeli. There are 7 billion people in the world; 14 million are Jews. Almost half live in Israel, about 3 million live in New York City, which leaves very few scattered around the world. Years of anti-Semitism, beginning with accusations of killing Christ, have taken a toll. It has become second nature to question Jews and Jewish motives and the right for the Jewish people to have a Jewish state-questions never asked about others. This is not rational thinking.
Today, rational has a new definition. It now means something that the majority believes, and because the majority of people seem to prefer emotion over facts, being rational is in fact irrational. We’ve become a nation of people who make opinions based on emotion. We have decided somewhere along the way to dismiss facts-especially those that contradict our emotional response. It feels right, so it must be right.
It was Ryan Mervin Bellerose, a Catholic Métis from Alberta who sent that definition to me. He founded Canadians for Accountability, a Native rights advocacy group, is an Idle No More movement organizer and participant. He’s also a founding member of Calgary United with Israel (CUWI).
Ryan is in Israel.
“This really is a different world and its one that I have loved since I was a kid and now I am realizing that while books and my imagination were good, the reality is even more amazing.”
The trip was made possible with the help of StandWithUS, an organization committed to telling the story of Israel – a complex, diverse democracy- and to educate the communities about the young state’s challenges and remarkable achievements. StandWithUs Canada, launched just over a year ago, brings Israelis- Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Arab, Druze, Bedouin, black, white and colours in between, in touch with people, like Ryan who have an interest in Israel, and others who are sadly misinformed.
Israel is alive with many cultures. Ryan has seen soldiers with darker skin than his Aboriginal father, “women in short summer dresses, walking alongside men in dark robes and suits; Arabs, Jews, black people, Chinese people, you name it, all walking the same streets.” In Jerusalem he saw “Orthodox Jews in fur hats, Jews in what looks like western garb, Arabs in full on sheik outfits, Arab women in hijabs and in western clothing, all mixing together.” In Jaffa he saw Arabs and Jews mixing together, “smiling and enjoying life.”
During the Remembrance Day ceremony, May 4, he saw several Arabs, and some Ethiopians and other very dark skinned people in the crowd. He traveled through Jerusalem and saw numerous neighborhoods “including one Arab neighborhood that is apparently famous for its hummus. No joke, and cars were lined up to go there for lunch.”
He walked Tel Aviv and Jaffa looking at the diverse neighbourhoods and ate shawarma. He tasted cabbage with tahini and onions. And then later he had “amazing chicken and lamb at a BBQ.”
Then he was introduced to the other Israel: the Israel that has been bombarded with more than 10,000 bombs and multiple genocide bombing attacks since 2001. He visited a home in Tel Aviv with a “safe room” with metal shutters, concrete reinforced walls. These rooms are all too common in this country- a democracy. Ryan said he was saddened by the fact that it’s just so commonplace.
“No child should ever grow up with such things being ‘normal.’”
Israel, especially Jerusalem, speaks to all people because of its history. You walk the same streets, over the same cobblestones that Jesus walked, following the Stations of the Cross, enter the church with the cave where St John the Baptist was born, walk the same paths that Solomon and David walked. You see the Tower of David then visit the King David Hotel. And no matter your religion, there is something spiritual at the Western Wall.
“It was something I cannot describe, it’s one of the holiest places on earth and I stood at the base of the wall and prayed.”
“I had to gather myself several times on the tour, at least twice I was on the verge of breaking down and crying. The last time I did that was a couple years ago at Wounded Knee…I believe it was Stalin who said ‘the death of one man is a tragedy; the death of millions is a statistic.’ He was right insofar as how people perceive these things…Today, I learned that every one of those people had a name, they had families, they had people who loved them. As a logical person I see the world as a strange place but the vast majority of the time, things can be explained, but how exactly does one explain something that has no explanation? No rational reason.”
After the tour Ryan said “I realized something that brought on an epiphany. IT DOESN’T MATTER WHY- it only matters that we do not ever allow something like it again… I believe that the stubborn refusal to completely assimilate is at the core of Jew hate, their strong self-identification offends some deep seated belief of superiority of “wasp” culture.”
This from a young man whose ancestors also know the meaning of genocide. He studied the mass death of Native North Americans and other indigenous peoples, about the ways government sponsored and encouraged the killing and subsuming of his own people. He’s acutely aware of the damage inflicted on his people by those who should have protected them.
“The thing that always affected me the most about residential schools was that it was perpetrated by people who I was taught to venerate and who I always assumed were kind and decent people, Priests and Nuns”
Ryan has now experienced the miracle of Israel and has felt the connection between the Jewish people, their history, and his own “damaged people” whom he believes can learn from Israel. Like the Jewish people who rise up like a phoenix from the ashes-over and over again, so too can his people. He has watched the Jewish people not only survive but thrive, never falling into the role of victim or victimhood.
“Our circumstances may not be exactly the same, but there are lessons here. We only have to pay attention…I see the State of Israel as an indigenous project …that is now not only successful but wildly so. It’s the first time in history that an indigenous people have retaken, resettled and rebuilt their shattered nation, and while it’s not perfect, it’s something that shows it’s possible and an achievable goal… Alone among other nations, Jews’ language, history, culture and folklore were born and forged in the Holy Land. Accordingly, to claim the Jews are colonizers in the Holy Land delegitimizes all indigenous peoples because such attempts trivialize the unbreakable, maternal ties to the land that make us, like the Jews, indigenous.”
Ryan summed up his trip this way:”This entire trip has been an unexpected blessing.” Hopefully he will take home his respect for the Israeli people, the Jewish state and share his experiences with others. This is the purpose of StandWithUS.