And so last week, we saw a stand-up comedian inviting his audience to look at the positive side of the Nazi genocide of the Roma. Just to be clear: this is when so-called medical experiments were conducted on children. Where’s the positive side? I don’t know.
Last week we also had a so-called humanitarian organization that invited us to imagine how beautiful it would be to erase the only Jewish State in the world through the so-called return of Palestinian refugees. It does not take much imagination to imagine what would happen if all the people in the world who declare themselves descendants of Palestinian refugees (and have been educated to consider the Jewish State the cause of their misfortunes) moved to Israel perhaps with weapons. Where’s the positive side? I don’t know.
There are many things in common between the comedian who dreams of a world without Roma and the so-called humanitarian organization that envisions a world without Israeli Jews. Both want to purify the world from the presence of a minority whose existence they do not understand, whose language they do not speak, whose point of view they do not share, and which they see as dirty, morally and physically.
Obviously, both the comedian and the activists of the humanitarian organization indignantly reject the accusation of racism. They have nothing against Jews or Roma; they just want them to become “like us”. And, yet, look at the difference. Have there been Roma activists who have tried to explain why their community has a bad reputation? Have we heard Roma pointing out the misdeeds of the criminals among them, of the “settlers” among them? Have we seen Roma taking on social media to explain that the judgment could be a little biased, that some words may be misplaced, but that there was something substantially true in the criticism made towards an important part of their community?
Of course not. But we have seen Jewish activists seeking the approval of the non-Jewish world or the international community by condemning Israel. By dissociating themselves from the community, making sure that the world knows they are not like those primitive, barbarian, criminal and tribal Israelis. What a humiliating spectacle. Intelligent and cultured folks trying to mediate with an organization that aims to wipe out the largest Jewish community on Planet Earth. And trying to see the positive side of this genocidal project, telling that some words in the report may be misplaced, but there was something substantially true and we have to concede that morally we are dirty.
Even those of us who rightly reacted indignantly to the Amnesty International report… How many were actually seeking approval? How many actually dreamed that we would finally read a report from a humanitarian organization that was not soaked with bad faith one day. Longing to read an essay highlighting the positives of the Jewish State – that is, objectively, an island of democracy surrounded by dictatorships. How much of that understandable fury (driven by perfectly legitimate reasons) was actually ‘frustration because we discovered that we are not liked, not loved, and have approval.
I have learnt a proverb during my years of allyship with the Sinti (Roma living in Northern Italy). “Shut your ears”. This is the way their community reacts to racism.
“Shut your ears. Make the most, and go away”. Don’t argue, don’t try to explain; they (the Gadjos) will never learn and accept us. Anyone who has tried to “help” the Roma has, sooner or later, experienced the moment when the conversation ends with “it is our life” or equivalent expressions. It is frustrating for activists, social workers and religious folks. Still, the fact is that Roma don’t care about the approval of the Gadjos, ours. And this I would like us Jews to learn.
Not to seek external approval. I would really like us to get rid of this Diaspora neurosis, which constantly pushes us to show off how useful we are to some humanitarian cause with the same humiliating attitude with which our forefathers have pleaded for permission to settle by talking of the great contribution of the Israelites to the progress of the host nation. I would like us Jews to learn from the Roma to respond to anti-Semitism, above all to the unexpressed one, disguised as humanitarian concerns. Learn to respond with a very simple “who cares”. Shut your ears, make the most, and go somewhere else.
We need to learn that we will never become popular. Does it sound pessimistic? Probably. But think about how much time we could save by staying away from online discussions. In my time as an ally of the Sinti community in Italy, I have learnt that they do not seek approval from the majority. Because they have what they need from within their community, from complicated and sometimes suffocating extended families, almost as complex as the Jewish ones, but crucially, always present.
This is a significant difference.
I have never seen any Roma alone. At home, or in the encampment, there is always some relative, some friend who turns to be a distant relative. And I mean always. Even the worst of them., when they come out of prison, they always find someone outside waiting. When you can count on a real community, you don’t look for an online community. It ought to be said. The only result we get from these endless arguments for or against Israel is to create communities of like-minded people. And I am beginning to think that we engage in online activism because we need these communities to compensate for our loneliness.
But when you are part of a real community, where you find support and approval, you are less motivated to seek approval from outside. In my profession as a Rabbi, I meet many lonely Jews. It can be the widow. It can be the estranged son. It can be the unemployed young person. I am blessed to live and work in a city with a Jewish lunch club very active in pre-COVID times, and a Jewish nursing home regularly visited by volunteers. Yet, there are Jews who cannot bring themselves to any social event because they explain (and I feel all the pain) “I don’t know anyone.”
Loneliness in our community is a tragedy. And one of the symptoms is the intensity of online battles. Yet, online communities do not replace the real ones. This is what I would like our community to learn from the Roma community. The impulse to be present to each other, to support each other and be less fearful of empathizing with each other because we belong to the same tribe. What’s wrong with being tribal: The Roma are. Of course, the outside world will call us sectarians and point out how we close ranks how we become defensive how we do not accept criticism based on “humanitarian” values. Don’t we realize that they do anyway? For the antisemites, we are never enough “open” and always too much tribal. The best answer comes from the Sinti. “Close your ears, make the most, and go away.”