We must not become the barbarian

“Do not rejoice in the fall of your enemy, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles.” Proverbs 24:17

It is a sad commentary on the state  of affairs when the words of one of our greatest matriarchs, Golda Meir, remain true, today. ”We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children…” My fear is that we will not be able to prevent them from turning us into barbarians. Becoming hateful, vengeful people. I can never forgive them for doing that to us.

We cannot let that happen.

“God made our lot unlike that of other peoples; He assigned to us a unique destiny.”

We are the light unto the nations. It is a light that requires constant attention or it will flicker and die. To respond to barbaric acts with the same vengeful spirit is to become them. And they win.

The seed of hate is within all of us. We choose whether to let it grow or wither away. Our Rabbis tell us we are born neither good nor evil, but evil comes easily, so instil goodness. We must make a conscious choice to turn away from hate because we have been commanded to make choices: “Choose life” we were told, and all that it means. That command has never been more important for world Jewry.

This summer of 2014 has been filled with hate toward the Jewish people. It’s visceral, vehement and vindictive, filling the streets with cries of “death to the Jews and Israel.” I see signs from protestors decrying the “genocide” of Palestinians. Where? Where is this genocide? Lies and deceit are promoting hate.

And I find myself hating in return. Anti-semitism has the potential to lead us down a path of hate so that we become like the ones who hate us. We become the barbarian.

“Barbarism, like the jungle, does not die out, but only retreats behind the barriers that civilization has thrown up against it, and waits there always to reclaim that to which civilization has temporarily laid claim.” Will Durant

There are times I think that is the purpose of Jew-Hatred. To turn us into them. To turn the light into darkness.

How it must annoy those who hate us, that no matter what they have done to our people through time, we have not become vengeful people. We are not a people who thrive on killing our own, or others. We do not eat our young. So many today are tribal and the first response to anger is murder-in the name of honour. While to us honour is sanctifying life.

But this summer has been particularly difficult. Like everyone else, I have been listening to and watching the media reports from the Middle East. There has always been a bias against Israel but it was a quiet bias, more sins of omission than sins of commission. But not anymore. NBC,MSNBC, CBS,BBC CBC, New York Times, Toronto Star (name the country you will find an anti-Jewish media outlet) have been particularly guilty of sins of commission. They are feeding the insatiable appetites of the Jew haters by pointing their cameras at the suffering of the Gazans-and they are suffering, at the hands of Hamas, while blaming Israel. No comments about the abuse of funds given to Gaza, used for making tunnels to attack Israel rather than build homes for their people. And we know that the media have been successful because of the rise of anti-Semitic incidents world-wide.

Up 436% in Europe, a 1200% increase in anti-Semitism in South America, an increase of 600% in South Africa, an increase 800% in Oceania, an increase of 127% in the United States and an increase of 100% in Canada. My country.

Yaakov Hagoel, head of the Department for Activities in Israel and Countering anti-Semitism of the World Zionist Organization explained the rise in hate and hateful actions:

“The ongoing incitement against the State of Israel in the world media, the joining of various ‘human rights’ groups with pro-Arab organizations and neo-Nazi institutions, is translated by an angry and brainwashed mob into anti-Semitic incidents in which Israeli flags are burned, mezuzot are uprooted from homes of Jews, Jewish shops around the world are torched, and the delegitimization of Israel undermines the security of hundreds of thousands of Jews around the world.”

And I think the constant attacks, the level of vitriol, against the Jewish people have affected us. We are human, too. As Shylock expressed so long ago:

If you prick us with a pin, do we not bleed? And if you treat us badly, won’t we try to get revenge? If we’re like you in everything else, we’ll resemble you in that respect.”

And so there was dancing in the street in Israel by some when they heard about deaths of children in Gaza.

Am I no less guilty? I feel my blood boil, my desire to kill rising, to see those who murder our people be murdered in return. I remember reading about terrorists coming into Israel who were stopped dead in their tracks. And I realized I was thrilled. I was cheering.

And I knew. We are falling, falling, falling into the trap, into the abyss of hatred. And that will be the end of the Jewish people for this is not our way. We came out of the desert 3500 years ago with an ethic that Irish author Thomas Cahill calls “The Gift of the Jews.” It was given in the desert, in the wilderness, publicly and openly, in a place to which no one had any claim. “Everyone who desires to accept let him come and accept.” (Mekhilta, Bahodesh 1) It is the revolutionary ethic that separates the civilized from the barbarian. The ethic that made it possible for some tribal societies to transform themselves over the millennia into democratic nation states that welcome people of all races, colours creeds religions and sexual orientation to live in one country without fear.

That ethic does not ask us to get along. That ethic demands of us that we care for the other as we care for our brother because it goes against our nature, our tribal instinct to care only for those who are just like us. That ethic demands of us that we leave vengeance to God-that we do not take our anger out on another by committing murder, by giving into our bloodlust-that old “eye for an eye” that is practiced, today, in far too many countries around the world where limbs are amputated, noses and ears cut off, acid thrown in faces, women sacrificed on the altar of “Honour.” This ethic, the Judeo/Christian ethic, built on ethical monotheism demands that justice be tempered with mercy. This ethic reaches out to us to teach us to let go of hate.

And here I am, floundering in hate. We, the Jews, are not merely fighting Jew hatred, anti-semitism. We are fighting a bigger battle. A battle within. Between our good and evil inclinations.

We must not only rise above the barbarian that lives within each of us. We must fight to stay there, fight against the hate that they want to arouse in us to bring us down to their level, into the gutter back into the cave. And if we lose that battle we are lost, forever.

We must not let that happen.

About the Author
Diane Weber Bederman is a multi-faith, hospital trained chaplain who lives in Ontario, Canada, just outside Toronto; She has a background in science and the humanities and writes about religion in the public square and mental illness on her blog: The Middle Ground:The Agora of the 21st Century. She is a regular contributor to Convivium: Faith in our Community. "