Pretty much every Jewish kid the world over eventually is taught the story of the prospective convert who asks the sages Hillel and Shammai to teach him all of Torah while standing on one foot. Shammai was like: get out of my face. But Hillel was on it, telling the would-be Torah scholar to not do unto others that which is hateful to himself. Or in modern parlance: you don’t get to be an a@#$%^&*!!.
There’s a reason why, to this day, Hillel is consistently on the best sellers list. Because all that other stuff—ethics, mitzvoth, shomer Shabbat, Talmud study, mysticism, keeping kosher—is too much for many, myself included. A rabbi I’m not. But I do know that pretty much everyone, by which I mean humans of every variety, understand that unless your life’s ambition is to be a truly terrible human being, it’s not cool to be a selfish heartless self-worshiping wanker, even in politics where, as often not, lying, threatening, and cheating pays.
Here in the United States of Selfish, the idea of “individual rights” has in recent years been twisted to mean something like “The right to do pretty much anything I want as long as it doesn’t land me in prison.” Thus the hordes of mask-free travelers in our newly-busy airports, the frat-boy mentality that allows people to blast music out of their open car windows in neighborhoods filled with sleeping babies and doddering oldsters, and the spread of a me-first mentality from coast to coast. And don’t even get me started on “gun rights.”
Meantime, in Jerusalem, Jerusalem Day saw the usual right-wing morons march through Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, a thumb in the eye, an “eff you” to its mainly peaceful, mainly decent, mainly law-abiding residents. And this, of course, is as Israel, in all its humane glory, is allowing nationalist settlers to displace whole families of Palestinian homeowners in Sheikh Jarrah—as has already happened in other pockets in the Arab side of the city.
From where I sit, for a Palestinian watching a display like that put on by the celebrants of Jerusalem Day out my window would be akin to watching a parade of white robed Klansmen march down my street, an experience my late grandmother had time and again as she, along with her Jewish family and their Black maid and her family huddled behind the closed drapes in the drawing room of their house in Henderson, Kentucky. Or to take a more recent example: it would be like watching a parade of scary-looking Trump supporters in a long line of pick-up trucks drive past my lake house in upstate New York on the Fourth of July, revving their engines, honking, and waving Confederate and MAGA flags. If the intent was to scare the living bejesus out of me, it worked.
But Jerusalem isn’t New Jersey and Israel isn’t the US. I get it. But people are people, no matter what the historical and geographical context and the complexities of claims and counterclaims, and if the power-majority celebrates its continuing power with displays of in-your-face, we-won, eat-dirt machismo, what do you think is going to happen?
Meantime, does Israel really want to be plunged into a reprise of Gaza 2014? The answer seems to be: damn the bloodshed, full speed ahead. And of course Hamas is evil. There’s no doubt that Hamas is evil. But what about our side?
“What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”