Racism has no place in Jews

Shalom!! I am so excited to be blogging for Times of Israel! Before I tackle the real issues, let me introduce myself and tell you the story of a young boy who at 19 years of age, makes his first voyage to a mystical land for the first time in his life. As he got off the plane in his people’s homeland, he feels that connection, that place of belonging that eluded him for 19 years.

There are large gaps between the extremes of Judaism
There are large gaps between the extremes of Judaism

Obviously, this boy, in the best year of this life thus far, is me. I came to Israel for the first time this September finally having this unbelievable opportunity to spend my gap year learning at a Yeshiva in the Old City.

Being that this is my first time in Israel, I took the time to stroll around the Rova and explore one of the most fascinating cities in not just the Jewish world, but the world at large. As I walked up the stairs from the exalted Kotel on one of those first nights, I saw something that angered me to my core. I saw an Ethiopian Jew, not hurting or bothering anyone, getting accosted by a Haredi Jew.

“You are too black to be Jewish!” He called at him.

Had this just been an isolated incident, I don’t think that it would have ruined the perfect picture I was thus far painting of Israel.

Unfortunately, this was just a bead in a necklace of a problem that Jews have struggled with for years. I remember once, when I was 14, I confronted a Jew about this and his answer really had an impact on me.

“We are Jewish, we HAVE to be racist.”

Of course, despite already being passionate about this issue, it did align with my perception of Orthodox Judaism.

In the 2008 election, when I was 13, I remember the argument against Barack Obama in my Yeshiva was solely that he was black and that his middle name was Hussein. That same year, during Operation Cast Lead, I continued to hear that the “Arabs” were attacking Israel, as though they all had something to do with it. The real heart break was when one colleague stuck his head out the window and yelled “Death to all Arabs!”

What made him better than the “Arabs” he spoke of? He was just as horrible.

As Jews, I think it is our duty to have a higher standard for ourselves. As Jews, a nation that has being through so much persecution for our ancestors, we cannot allow ourselves to even imagine a world that we ourselves are the oppressors.

I’ve been told to “chill out” about this, told that it was all just words and no action. That was all proven wrong on the night of July 1, 2014 after the brutal and despicable murder of a young Arab boy, Mohammed Abu Khedir. The passion of the hatred towards the kidnappers of the three Jewish boys led to a crime against not just the Arabs, but humanity itself.

Where does this all come from?

I’d venture to say that racism and intolerance in Jews stems from the same psychological effects of being bullied. For years, Jews have been persecuted, now, finally in perhaps the best position they have been in since the Temple stood, many Jews find themselves coupled with fear and not knowing how else to govern.

The last paragraph of Parshat Ki Teitzei reads the command to kill Amalek. It was always something that bothered me. How can the Torah advocate for Jews to dispose of a certain nation, Amalek? Even more so, if that is our commandment, what can Jews really say in the fight against Jihad? That it’s unethical? To be honest, I struggled with this question a lot.

I was never satisfied with “Well we don’t know who they are.” answer because it still advocated racism in a sense. I came to Israel for answers and this was one of the first I got.

Amalek is not just a nation, but a set of values. Most Non Jews don’t exemplify these values but it would be correct in destroying those who do. Perhaps we are commanded to destroy a group of people that are changing the Middle East with beheading videos released every two weeks, but knowledge that Islam is not the enemy, IS is.

In Tanach, we read about the heroic actions of Yael, a non Jewish woman who killed Sisro. Yael has been immortalized in Jewish culture, as Jewish parents unknowingly name after this “goy”.

The Torah doesn’t advocate racism.¬†We aren’t born with racism. It is taught. It is taught at the home as a father voices his displeasure with his black co workers. It is taught in religious papers that do not appreciate the necessity to be politically correct. It is taught in the schools that do not teach tolerance. It is taught on our Facebook walls that show our side of conflict only.

It is a chain that must be broken. If we ever want to get along with not just the world but with each other, we must disregard the racist mentality of judging others in a superficial and sickening way. We mustn’t generalize and we must ensure that we are constantly politically correct, lest we see the passion rise into Jewish terrorist groups that will forever blemish our Jewish name.

About the Author
Shai Reef is a Political Science student at York University.