There Is No ‘I’ in Bris…..Wait….

Ultra-Orthodox protest at Women of the Wall event. Photo credit - Emil Salman
Ultra-Orthodox protest at Women of the Wall event. Photo credit - Emil Salman

How does the joke go…. oh yes, a Jew is finally rescued on a desert island, and the rescuers are shocked to see during his stranding this Jew has built not one, but two synagogues. The rescuers, perplexed, asked the man, “We can see why you would have built one synagogue, but why two?” to which he replied, “Oh that synagogue over there? I never go to that one.”

According to the Anti-Defamation League, 52% of Americans think Hitler came to power by force, while 41 percent of Americans and 66% of millennial’s couldn’t tell you what Auschwitz is. This poll was similar to one done by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, found that Americans 31% in general and 41% of millennial’s believe that fewer than 2 million Jews were killed. Meanwhile there is an increase by 57% of Anti-Semitic incidents in the single year of 2017 again according to the ADL. That same year, cases were reported in every single state. 22% of the aforementioned millennial’s admitted to have even heard what the Shoah (holocaust) was. This last Shoah remembrance day the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust found that 1 in 20 Brits don’t believe it even happened, while 1 in 5 think that fewer than 2 million were killed. But hey, at least Trump mentioned Jews in his statements on this remembrance day this year.  (Link to stats)

Being Baal Teshuva and having as a young person spent time in a religion my family chose that wasn’t Judaism, I can guarantee we are on our own here and “they” don’t care about the flavor of the Judaism of your choice. The Nazis didn’t care if you were a Chassid, an atheist, an academic, or if you were adopted into a family whose grandfather’s grandfather was a Jew and your last name ended up being Cohen, you were getting on the cattle car. What makes anybody think it will be any different next time, or are you betting against all odds, and against the cycles of history, there won’t be a next time?

Members of the Reform movement and the Hebrew Union College confront ultra-Orthodox protesters and security guards while trying to enter the Western Wall plaza, in Jerusalem’s Old City, November 16, 2017. (Noam Rivkin Fenton/Flash90)

The Orthodox don’t like Conservative, the Conservative  don’t like the Reform, the  Reform don’t like the Reconstructionist, and the Rabbinate would reject some folks who died in the Shoah as even being Jewish the Third Reich deemed Jews, thus Israeli citizenship. How many stories I’ve read where Jewish infighting at the birth and spread of Chassidus cuased pain, suffering, and even incarceration and death, Jews against Jews, just to prove who had cornered the market on kodesh. How many stories I’ve read that even the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash was due to Jews hating other Jews. What is going on here? (Temple Destruction Causes)

I recently took one for the team, I got circumcised at 51. I’ve even got the t-shirt, and my foreskin in the freezer to prove it. When I told my local Chabad Rabbi that I was getting circumcised by the closest mohel I could find, which happened to be a Reconstructionist mohel in Salt Lake City, he promptly let me know this wouldn’t be a “kosher” circumcision. Yet, given my devotion to my practice, and through no fault of my own, my Jewish mother not bothering to have the job done when I was an infant, I was sick of reading every Sabbath how because I am not circumcised, I didn’t get to participate in the rest of the Sabbath. Indeed, except for that one issue, I’m Shabbos shomer.

So many thoughts went through my mind in the months leading up to the big event. How much would it hurt ranked number one, and my daily parsha readings had multiple details and outlined multiple events that made it sound like it hurt, and I half expected Levi and Simeon to bust through my door on day three, so incapacitated I would be. Other thoughts were, well if Abe could deal with it at 90, then of course I could do it at 51, and anyway Isaac didn’t even blink when it was his turn, and he was just a kid. There was the thought of my sex life being ruined, having heard many stories of men having lost sensation, yet at 51 and 5 kids under my belt, I’d not be missing out on anything really. But, the most pressing thought of all was that I would finally have all questions of being a Jew wiped from anybody’s mind, at least anybody who mattered to me.

I am never going to be good enough for some, such as the Rabbinate and their devotees the Orthodox and in my neck of the woods that means Chabad, as much as I love and appreciate them. Unfortunately, my family were too attached to staying alive during the Spanish Inquisition and their subsequent move to Colombia, South America, to have the right kind of paperwork for Orthodoxy. Indeed, “Ver ah your papers!” coming from the Ashkenazi has been a refrain over the past few years, a manifestation of the results of a type of epigenetic, Stockholm syndrome where they seem to have become obsessed with genetics, much like the Third Reich itself. But, you got to love their persistence in having it all ways, both wanting to be citizens of Israel while denying that right to others, and at the same time refusing to serve in the IDF.

Still, there I was, laying on a table in a urologist’s office in downtown Salt Lake City, with strangers handling me in a way that was mortifying enough, let alone what they were actually doing to me. Before the procedure I sat in the room and read the parsha where Abraham was given the mitzvah and went through with it. One of the last things I remember reading was how he was so shaky that he was scared he was going to mess things up, and my guts concurred, and I found myself feeling lucky that I wasn’t going to be handling any scalpel. Amazingly, the procedure I simply felt a profound sense of feeling blessed and found myself continually just thanking Hashem that I had finally, after years of contemplating and running through the scenario, that I was finally going through with the act. Not only was I taking one for the team, I was now, no matter what anybody wants to say, officially on the team, in mind, spirit and body.

Still, the pain of the procedure pains me less than the apparent inability of Jews to get along. I don’t care that the Rabbinate wouldn’t see fit to give me citizenship, despite my family clearly being observant Jews for several thousand years. Fine, I guess Israel doesn’t need any new nurses. But here in America, we are not discriminated by anybody more than each other. Well, not exactly true, I recently lost my job as an Registered Nurse at the state mental hospital because I asked them to put in writing what I was told in a meeting of “…you can’t work on delta wing because there is a patient there that doesn’t like Jews.”, I mean at least they recognized me as a Jew right? So, if I have the fortitude to go through such a thing at 51, I am feeling more empowered to confront biases among my people. I refuse to play the game of “better than you” when it comes to being a Jew, since I know there isn’t anybody who has the whole thing dialed in, and if they say they do they are liars. Yes, I’m going to be the mohel to a few “circumcisions of the heart,” considering I actually remember what it really feels like, and know the pain isn’t something someone won’t live through.

After the shooting in Pittsburg, on the heels of the multiple bombs sent by yet another white man empowered by the White Nationalist ideals of Donald Trump and company, we Jews came together, at least for a while. Some of us got armed, some got mad, some spoke of tightening our ranks, and we all were heartbroken. I wasn’t particularly surprised, knowing as soon as Trump began targeting Mexicans and our Arab cousins that he was simply a demagogue who was going to use age old tactics of division and hatred and light the fuse to the racists who had been amassing figurative and literal weapons during the Obama presidency. I was however surprised to see how many Jews he would end up dividing, especially with the strategic use of Jared and Ivanka, whose Rabbi ironically isn’t recognized by the Rabbinate, making me wonder if moving the American Embassy scored any points.

There are now plenty of American Jews who are going along with this scoundrel who uses G-d and patriotism as backdrops, because they think since he’s got a few Jews going along for the ride he must be okay. These same folks are the same kind of Jews that are oddly supporting far right movements in Germany as well, apparently not students of history. How do you get Jews to understand they are simply supporting the same people who would drive the locomotive that pull the cattle cars? I don’t think you do, thankfully I live very far from them, and very close to the Canadian border. Still, I cringe to see how wrong they are, and hope it’s me instead who is wrong, and we don’t see another extermination, despite our own liturgy that tells us to.  (Far Right German Jews)

Given the Rabbinate’s current vice grip on the corrupt power structure of Israel it is not hard for me to imagine a scenario where one of the increasingly nationalist countries begins yet another genocide on our people, and unlike the Rabbinate, doesn’t discriminate near as much as to who or who is not a Jew, and a boat load of reformed Jews heads to Israel, like the St. Louis, only to be turned back because they don’t have the right kind of paperwork. The Rabbinate seems intent on purveying the divisions that exist between us, simply because they just know better, indeed, they assume to know the will of Hashem, making a mockery of the supranational. (The St. Louis)

About the Author
Robert Retallick is a father, activist, Orthophillic Sephardic Jew, and Registered Nurse in Missoula, Montana. He is a lifelong activist who's work has included creating community gardens, organic agriculture, providing free medical care for at risk populations, and supporting Native American culture.
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