A long time ago, Ray Bradbury wrote a magnificent short story called “The Rocket Man” that told the tale of an astronaut father, his wife and their son. If I remember correctly, the wife, at one point, notes that if her husband is ever killed on a space mission, she will not be able to look at the source of his death. Alas, at the end, she discovers that his spaceship has crashed into the sun … and as a result, she holds fast to her promise, only going out at night and avoiding the sun at all times.
I bring this this bit of science fiction up because it reminds me of an individual that I wrote about some times ago for a Times of Israel blog post who uses the Irish Gaelic words for “proud” and “exile” in the name of one of his many Facebook profiles and is extremely anti-Semitic. I’ve been curious about the derivation of this person’s hatred, which manifests itself in terribly offensive comments that he posts on Facebook, an entity that has banned him numerous times for hate speech. Despite such warnings, he continues to disseminate the same kind of bigotry, often railing against accusations of anti-Semitism and suggesting that Jews are to blame for the prejudice against them.
And now, I think I’ve figured out where he gets all his anger.
Earlier this year, our “proud exile” posted a comment on the Facebook page of another highly bigoted, anti-Semitic individual in which he expressed disgust at the Jewish holiday of Passover. The reason: because the story retold during Pesach in part concerns the slaying of the first born … and he is a parent whose first born has died.
This must have been an agonizing admission for this person—and so telling, too. Indeed, it shines a light on why this “proud exile” lashes out at Jews so much on social media, and while his invective cannot be supported, it must be understood. For he is as human as all of us, even though he is biased, and there is an origin story for his vitriol. He hates Passover, an innocent holiday, because of the story of the slaying of the first born, which affects him personally, owing to the fact that he is a parent who has lost a child. And this is very much like Bradbury’s “Rocket Man” wife who hates the sun because it is the cause of her husband’s death. There is no rationality here, yet there is no need. It is evidence of pure emotion. It should be pitied rather than lambasted. It is a reaction that smacks of a deep wound that cannot be assuaged. It is, sadly, unquenchable.
Late last year, I wrote a blog piece for the TOI that pointed out how many anti-Semitic folks have experienced some kind of trauma in their lives. The case of our “proud exile” may fall into this category, too. He is furious at the world and blames Jews for the horrific heartache that he has endured … much like his comrades in bigotry who express their grief, doubt, guilt and desperation through intolerance. Is there a way to counter this kind of hatred? I’m not sure. But I do think if we comprehend the sources of their rage, we can try to find ways to alleviate their suffering. We must be sensitive in the face of all their insults. We must not turn away from them, as Bradbury’s “Rocket Man” mother did from the sun. They are everything that is opposite from us, yet they still share our humanity. We can share compassion with them. We still have that to give.
If you ever see any comments from this “proud exile” on Facebook, I urge you to bear this in mind. Because he’s still a person, like you and me, despite the loathing for my religion that he communicates. Maybe he shouldn’t be forgiven, but perhaps he can still be acknowledged. He is feeling as alone as the “Rocket Man” wife, and that’s a daunting abyss to face.
We shouldn’t allow him to face it himself.