From the time they were exiled from their land to the time they returned, Jews have been put in ghettos. Some ghettos were economic, others social and many were physical. Jews were kept together in order to better control, and eventually exterminate them.

Understandably, Jews in the ghetto became distrustful of those on the outside and fiercely protective of those on the inside. Jews did the best they could with what they had and eventually fought to be freed from the ghettos.

Now, we have returned to our homeland and all Jews may live here free and in the open. And yet, both here and outside of these borders certain Jews still live in ghettos. They remain locked in a ghetto of their own making in their individual and collective minds.

This mind-ghetto causes great damage to the people within. It is unsustainable and it is fetid. It feeds on itself and those inside and becomes ever more alienated from the world in which it lives.

The mind-ghetto is a place where no one outside the community can be trusted. It is a place where ‘everyone hates us because we are Jews’ and no one can say otherwise. It is where the authorities are the last place to go when something is wrong.  

The mind-ghetto blinds its inhabitants to the injustices within. It makes anyone who challenges these injustices the enemy, even when the challenger is one of their own.

In the mind-ghetto, nothing is more important than the integrity of the walls. Not child victims of sexual assault. Not women kept chained by their husbands. Not criminals who break the laws of the land.

The mind-ghetto minimizes the wrongs committed inside it- it circles the wagons-  and holds appearances dearer than justice.

In the mind-ghetto, we don’t air our dirty laundry even when it stains us all.

In the mind-ghetto, we are more defined by not being ‘them’ than by being ourselves.

In the mind-ghetto, the more insulated we are, the less we will be hurt.

In the mind-ghetto, reality is warped and life outside the walls is a dark and dirty place.

In the mind-ghetto anything done in defense is justified. Holocaust imagery is abused and anti-semites are seen in every corner. Nothing from the outside is legitimate and those who leave the sanctity of the walls have the gates locked forever behind them.

But whom does the mind-ghetto serve? Whom do its walls protect?

Does it make for a safer community? Does it keep evil out?

No. It does not.

Evil grows where people look away. Injustice breeds in the dark corners of fear.

And the victims wither in the shadow of the walls, where they are left to rot for the greater good.

And evil is defended and protected. And victims are mocked and ostracized; thrown outside the walls for daring to speak out; called liars, mosrim, rebels, traitors.

And those who seek to break down the walls — or at least create a doorway, letting in some light and air — are drowned out by those who live off the fears of others, and those who are swayed by cries of “Mesorah,” “Tznius” and “Goyish.”

The guardians of the mind-ghetto reject the idea that one can be true to one’s faith and still live in the world at large.

Values are diluted into inches and colors, and other easily-measured and judged criteria.

Nuance is choked out of existence as ever-proliferating rules become the saviors of a people dependent on direction. The walls become thicker, the shadows darker.

Enemies from without are vilified and made larger than life by those charged with keeping people in. A common enemy keeps us together you see.

It matters not who is hurt, what is right and what is not as it seems. For nothing, nothing is as sacred as those walls and the control of those within.

And yet…

We were not meant to live in ghettos. Not those built by others and not those of our own making. We are meant to live in this world- together with all humankind.

Our faith, beliefs, convictions and traditions are strong enough to survive in the sun, beyond the walls — as they were meant to do.

After all, how can we be a light unto the nations when we are stuck behind walls of our own making — walls that seal out the light?