Every week after Shabbat services, our congregation adjourns to a festive Kiddush luncheon. Inevitably, there are two people who come and talk to me in between my bites of sponge cake and tuna fish. I have given both of them nicknames; terms of affection.
One is Chicken Little. He is a distinguished man with salt and pepper hair, somewhere, I am guessing in his mid 60’s. He earns a nice living and his children are grown. He is called Chicken Little because every week he tells me the sky is falling. Whether it is Iran’s nuclear capabilities that will be achieved by this Thursday, or some terrorist cell that has infiltrated the US and will strike Jewish targets any minute, or perhaps a grand scheme imagined by our government that will soon deport all Jews from their homes, he is convinced that the good days for the Jewish people are not so good and indeed, our sky is falling.
His counterpart is known (only to me) as Mr. Blue Bird, the optimist fowl who sits on the shoulder of the person singing Zippity Doo Dah, who symbolizes cheer and hope. He is in his mid 40s, his kids are in high school. He has a few streaks of gray in his moustache and his hair is thinning. Each week, he finds me socializing during our post-service lunch and shares the latest and most advanced discovery in the world and how the Jews are a critical ingredient in its arrival. From the RE-Walk that helps people who are paralyzed take steps, to the pill-cam, to the story of a Temple that feeds Police and Firefighters on Christmas, he inevitably highlights some feel-good story that underscores a sense of arrival and significant contribution by Jews or Israelis.
I am not sure if Chicken Little and Mr. Blue Bird have ever broken Challah together. I would love to be a fly on the wall for that conversation. I imagine that such discussion from one perspective to the other would be tantamount to a human having dialogue with an anglo- Martian, a shared language but no shared understanding of how each sees the world.
Rabbi Danny Gordis once shared that there are two narratives of the Jewish people today depicted through two distinctive images; the boy in the Warsaw ghetto wearing a yellow star stitched to his tattered jacket with his hands in the air. Fear is painted on his face as he stares down a rifle and his eyes beg for life. Juxtapose that with a picture of young Israeli boys praying on the back of an Israeli made tank. One picture is the narrative of imminent doom and the other is a picture of invincibility. Chicken Little and Mr. Blue Bird.
We live in an era where the awareness and simultaneous delta between these two camps has never been more present. The latest episode from the ASA highlights this divide perfectly.
Less than two weeks ago the American Studies Association (ASA) chose for the very first time ever, to boycott a country and cease academic relationship with it. The country they chose to boycott was Israel. Their reasoning was to protest Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and what it described as the involvement of Israeli universities in supporting government policy. The leader of the ASA was asked why for their very first academic boycott they chose Israel, a country that educates men and women, people of all religious and political stripes, a country where openly gay people can serve in the military and is the only democracy in the Middle East. His response was, “We have to start somewhere.”
It isn’t hard to strip this down to what it is – anti-Semitism, clear and simple. Countries that surround Israel violate countless human rights that the ASA embodies. Nations like China, North Korea and Afghanistan are in daily violation of such rights. Yet, these did not make the list nor consideration. Israel is singled out, again. Chicken Little has plenty to bring up this Shabbat.
However, the ASA never predicted that scores of universities would outright reject the boycott and even consider divesting from the Association for its decision. Ivy League, Big Ten, Division AA, SEC and countless other schools – led by Presidents and Chairs of Boards – have stood shoulder to shoulder with Israel and vociferously denounced this boycott. Whether stifling academic freedom or white washing anti-Semitism, the hypocrisy is thick and the tolerance for unfounded discrimination is thin. To date, eight universities denied their membership to the ASA, four other universities removed themselves from the ASA and, 75 schools excluded themselves from this action. The list is growing by the day! In short, the boycott seems to hurt the ASA much more than Israel. Mr. Blue Bird has a file full of evidence too.
Today we are at the crossroads where two narratives of the Jewish people come to a head and we do not always know which one to follow: The anti Semitic, boy in the ghetto, they are a comin’, we are victims story – or the narrative of the boys on the tank, the leaders speak up and we won’t sit idly by, we are strong and we stand together account. The latest episode of the ASA highlights a world where both influences and storylines rise to the top.
Who will you be sitting with during Kiddush, this Shabbat? Chicken Little or Mr. Blue Bird?