Jerry Isaak-Shapiro
Jerry Isaak-Shapiro

Windows and Mirrors

I had, perhaps, deluded myself into thinking that the number of ‘likes’ and ‘hits’ and ‘views’ didn’t mean anything to me – that I was above the external corroboration of my convictions. I may not have been as evolved as I would have liked.

So I oh-so-causally looked at the number of views and likes and comments associated with articles I was posting, and a fascinating observation came into focus. Posting “Do I wear the kippah or switch to a baseball cap?” elicited scores of views and dozens of comments (thank you, by the way). I attribute some to my preternatural ability to eke out an interesting phrase, but if I’m honest, I know that many if not most of those e-responses were because I focused my ire on our common enemy. Let’s face it: it’s not too hard to get someone (not to mention a member of the tribe) to agree with me when I’m singling out an antisemite. Pledging that I’m strong enough to wear that kippah in the face of what’s going on out there is tantamount to milking the audience for a second curtain call on a farewell tour – it’s manipulative as hell and it’s nearly a shoe-in for a standing ovation.

Compare if you will the number of electronic responses to “If you say you love your family, then show it” – my subsequent attempt at throwing shade at us, not at someone else. The target for opprobrium this time wasn’t a knuckle-dragging, easy-to-hate hater. This time, I suggested that we turn the lens on ourselves, particularly at our historical penchant for belittling those fellow tribesmen who pray or think or affiliate differently than we do.

It might have been because this was ground thoroughly plowed over the years, so much so that it elicited more of a yawn than enthusiastic agreement – the Jewish community’s version of dog-bites-man inevitability.

Something tells me that that wasn’t the case. I think that my completely unscientific analysis pointed to a troubling-in-a-different-way conclusion. Looking through the windowpane at our very real enemies is one thing. It can be painful, and anxiety- and anger-provoking. We need to come to grips with who’s out there and what we need to do to protect ourselves physically and emotionally. It is clearly an all-hands-on-deck scenario.

Staring into the surface of a mirror however is painful in a very different way. When I’ve approached this topic in a class or lecture, I usually share historical antecedents of the intra-tribal behavior that can still be found – easily – in the Twenty-first Century. When faced with the Second Temple period, with Eighteenth Century Poland or with the Yishuv in the Twentieth Century, we have a tendency to hang our heads down and ‘fess up to our ancestors’ faults and deficiencies. Many are acquainted with examples of Mitnagdic derision about Hasidic customs, or about the internecine warfare between the different underground groups in pre-State Palestine. Our individual and collective predilection is to try to place those acts in some sort of context that explains – or attempts to explain – the turf wars and enmity. At best, we tsk-tsk from the superior position of the descendant. At worst, we insist, with no little hubris, that we would have done and thought differently.

Perhaps. Though with a few exceptions, we continue to fall into the same traps (the path is pretty well worn by now), and that’s – again, perhaps – why the number of views/likes tumbled. We’re not too thrilled with that mirror. We – and especially those with titles and positions – don’t like being called out about our own whispered name-calling and stereotyping. Better – and far easier – to bemoan two-thousand-year-old sinat chinam than point it out when we see it today, or engage in meaningful tshuvah that forces us to look into our own mirror.

None of this means that we drop arguing with each other (I can’t think of a less-Jewish thing to do). Argue – passionately, with conviction – but out of love and respect. We tell ourselves and our students that we’re the people who enshrined the very concept of the minority opinion, and that the engagement and struggle with each other and each other’s opinions can ultimately be in the name of – for the sake of – Heaven. Now that’s worth a ‘like’ or two.

About the Author
Jerry Isaak-Shapiro has a Masters's in International Affairs, specializing in Middle East history and U.S. Foreign Policy. He has been a teacher, madrich, camp director and head of school, and is convinced that nearly everything can be seen through the lens of leadership. He's a lifelong Zionist and adamant pluralist.