Monday, June 14, 2010

Shah! Shtil!

In the world today, with all of the PC BS and universities that censor ideas, a world in which certain groups and peoples receive privileges and others don't, how often do you find yourself self-censoring?

Imagine living in a culture that grew up in the West through many episodes of violent hatred and persecution at the hands of the dominant culture, and that for this reason, developed a vocabulary and manner that encourages self-censoring.

Sha! Shtil!
Don't make a shande fur de goyim!

In Yiddish the first means "be quiet" and the second broadly means 'don't make a fuss because you might embarrass us all in front of "the nations" (the non-Jews).' The idea is that by not speaking up, Jews won't offend anybody and then maybe the ubiquitous "they" will leave us alone. We all know who the ubitquitous "they" are: they are the "they" that have burned us at the stake, forbade us to own land or to enter the professions, herded us into ghettos and concentration camps; they are the "they" that have murdered millions upon millions of Jews. They are the "they" that have the power to vote against Israel in church resolutions, to tell offensive Jewish jokes in the White House, and to make us afraid once again of what will happen to us and those we love only because we are Jewish.
We musn't offend them.

Just like the IDF made the mistake of thinking that if they went onto the Mavi Marmara with paintball guns, the ubiquitous "they" would finally approve of Israel's right to self-defense, so too, in the press and on comments, and even in sermons in synagogue, there are Jews telling the rest of us "Sha! Be shtil!" There are Jews telling the rest of us to stand down, to not tell the whole truth, to evade the reality that antisemitism is rising in the world once again, for fear of making a "shande fur de goyim."

Unless, of course, that antisemitism comes from the "officially approved" enemies of Jews in America, the conservative Christians*. But if it comes from self-hating Jews on the left, or from the members of the World Council of Churches, or the United Nations, then we should be meek and quiet and hope that the ubiquitous "they" of the left will make things right by us come the revolution. (That they never do seems blindingly obvious to even the casual student of history).

*I know very well that conservative Christians are among the best friends of Israel there are in the United States, and many of them are good friends of mine as well. However, in 'liberal' Jewish circles, where the leftist social agenda is often equated with the Ten Commandments in importance, the conservative Christians are understood to be aligned with what is glibly referred to as the "right-wing" Christian agenda, which is understood by a good number of liberal Jews to mean that they wish to force their religion upon us by law. Since there are a few vocal dominionist Christians in the broad patriot movement, this fear is not entirely implausible, making it easy for people who claim to speak for the whole Jewish community (an impossibility) to create a stereotype of all conservative Christians. That's what I mean by "officially approved" as enemies of Jews. (Added to clear up misunderstanding on June 16).

On the Friday evening following the Mavi Marmara "peace activists" attack on the IDF soldiers, I saw a significant example of self-censoring Sha-be-shtill-ing on the part of our rabbi.

I had expected it to some degree, as last High Holy Days, following the annointing innaguaration of Barack Hussein Obama, we heard endless rabbinic references to "hope" and "change" woven into the otherwise completely non-political prayers of the season, sometimes to the point where some of us had to walk out to keep ourselves from developing 'Pukinson's Disease.' The realization that BO does not like Jews and that he has a special antipathy for Israel--although easily foretold from the fact that BO spent 20 years listening to the sermons of his maniacally antisemitic preacher ( apparently without suffering a single case of PD or walking out)--must have come hard for our rabbi.

Although it was the Friday Night services of Confirmation weekend, many members of the congregation came to services also because we had been told by an e-mail that our rabbi was going to discuss the flotilla incident, and the response of the MSM, NGO's and other mavens of Israel bashing and Jew-hatred that represents the sum of the collectivist left organizations. (To understand why Israel bashing on the left is synonomous with hatred of Jews see Sultan Knish's excellent analysis here). We were expecting to hear our rabbi's analysis and to gain some badly needed solidarity with other Jews, having spent the week hearing not just Israel, but the entire Jewish people villified and threatened yet again.

Some of us were sadly disappointed.
The beginning of the discussion was on target, with the effective use of black humor, followed by a discussion of the actual facts of the situation, something that was sadly missing from the MSM. However, the last part of the sermon departed from the excellent presentation of the facts and instead of addressing the attacks on Israel, and indeed on Jews worldwide, veered off into a foggy discussion of the peace movement in Israel, highlighted by quotes from an Israeli Nobel-Prize winning novelist (?) and seemed to be saying that Israel must be willing to sacrifice anything at all for the momentary prize of a cease-fire, and to stand by and do nothing while her enemies prepare to wipe her off the map. No mention was made of the fact that Iran is preparing nuclear weapons for use against Israel and the United States; that as we speak, Hamas and Hizbollah (both funded by Iran) are preparing to launch an attack on Israel across the Lebanese border, and that Turkey is making a sudden move toward Iran and away from NATO.

Since the sermon's structure seemed to require ending with a discussion of the political and strategic situation vis-a-vis worldwide verbal attacks not just on Israel, but on Jews by "reporters" such as Helen Thomas, this ending seemed like a distraction.
The Engineering Geek turned to me and I to him with identical expressions of puzzlement (best described by the WTF? idiom) on our faces. Many people in the congregation were shaking their heads, and even the cantor leaned forward with a surprised look on her face.

Later, I confronted approached the rabbi, as curiouser and curiouser, I wanted to find out the reason for this WTF? ending. As our people are in peril all over the world, and Iran through its terrorist proxies is preparing war against Israel, this sermon did not satisfy; it did not even address the major concerns of the Jews sitting in that sanctuary. We all knew the facts of the matter that were presented in the beginning of the sermon. We needed a message that addressed our concerns at the end. What gives? I approached the question by allowing as to how I had learned by personal experience in the 1990's that the left is virently anti-Israel, and that further, most leftists hate Jews in general. He agreed that this is true.

Puzzled, I probed further. What was with that last third of the sermon? And I was told this:
Visiting the congregation that evening were two 'big machers' from the Presbyterian Church Southwest Presbytery. That organization, a part of the progressive World Council of Churches, was getting ready to vote on a resolution to condemn Israel for the flotilla raid. (This is not the first such condemnation). So the rabbi told me, he softened his stance and changed his sermon in order to placate these two people and to influence their votes for this "important" resolution.

Sha! Be shtil! Don't make a shande fur da Presbyterians.
Self-censorship at the organizational level.

I also self-censored at that moment, because I did not tell the rabbi exactly what I thought of him. This is not the first time he has placed his need to be the token Jew among the super-goyim that make up progressive Christianity before the needs of his own people in the congregation that provides him his pulpit. But I couldn't find the words to do so intelligently.

I wanted to say to him:
"Look, do you think those people care about you, about us, about Jews?
Do you really think that evading reality by not naming the obvious plight that Israel finds herself in is going to change the Presbyterians' minds for their vote? They have an agenda that has been made public over and over again in their resolutions--and that agenda has little to do with Christianity and much to do with advancing the progressive political left in this country. Israel as a nation, and Jews as a people who have stubbornly refused to assimilate into the 'masses' so dear to the collectivists, are a roadblock to their aims of world government and the blurring of indentity among the 'nations.'

"Those particular Presbyterians would be happy if Israel could somehow be dismantled without the inevitable bloodbath, and if Jews could be forced to assimilate without violence. Then they would not have to take responsibility for their real desire--a world in which 'equality' is enforced by 'hatchet, axe and saw.' A world in which there are NO differences, but only the dull, gray world of sameness and slavery.

"How dare you avoid meeting the need of your congregation for them? Your congregation needs a cogent, rational, moral defense of their individual rights, including their right to freely associate themselves with one another, based on a sense of heritage and purpose; and of the right of Israel to defend herself like any other nation. But you have instead given them the tripe they can read anywhere in the MSM; the tripe that Israel has no right to exist, but must beg for the indulgence of the dictators, Jew haters, and tyrants who dominate the UN, in order to survive one more day."

That is what I wish I had said. And further:
"Damn the Presybterians and their vote. They will do what they do, regardless of what any Jew thinks or says. Court Jews, though useful in the past, now only confuse the situation, and in continually apologizing for our stubborn resistance to assimilation, and in using the language of moral equivalency between murders and tyrants, and ourselves, they provide a moral sanction to those would strip us of our unique identity and failing that, destroy us."

That is what I wish I had said. But I didn't. Because I know only too well the internal and external pressure to pass, to soften my words, to get along in order to accomplish what looks like a victory (such as influencing the Presbyterian vote). What I learned at the hands of the left during the 1990's, is that those so-called victories are mere illusion, and only serve to strengthen the fantasy of people like these Presbyterians, that being nice is equivalent to being good; that meeting the irrational demands of terrorists is the road to peace; and that acting as useful idiots serves the Eternal Source of Justice.

Win or lose, it is our obligation as Jews to stand on principle, to confront the evasions, and to provide a moral defense for the best that we have given the world--individualism, capitalism, and the G-d that loves freedom. That is who we are, and we have reason to be proud of all of it.


Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

many Jews tend to be 'other oriented' far more sensitive to what others think, than to what Jews think

a response to being a minority for so long perhaps

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Daniel, I absolutely agree. And . . . where has "Sha! Shtil!" gotten us? Nowhere good. It's amazing how loudly and proudly we argue with each other, and yet how that desire to belong, to be included in what looks like the "in" group can shut us up so effectively. Been there, done that and got many T-shirts! ;)

Ours is also a Reform Synagogue, and Reform has lost the prophetic fire it once had when the movement taught Ethical Monotheism. Even between my daughter's Jewish education and that of my son, I have seen a great shift toward "pediatric" Judaism. It's not pretty.

Our rabbi is leaving--going to one of the largest Reform Congregations in the country--and I hope that the new rabbi will be a little less obviously a leftist wanna be. We would have resigned out memberships this year otherwise.

OTO the Holy Congregation is more important than the rabbi. Or so I tell myself. It's difficult here in the Mountain West, where synagogues and community are few and far between!

Retriever said...

Wonderful post, Elisheva. Righteous indignation. I'd have spat at the rabbi, but you are more self-controlled than me...

But not all of us conservative Christians are enemies. In fact, I'd say that more of the conservative Christians I know are devoted supporters of Israel than the hateful PC critics. The Presbyterians and other mainstream denominations (including the Episcopalians, whom I left because they were so PC and leftist) are not conservative, but coopted by a leftist social and cultural agenda. While there are loathsome fundamentalists (especially in parts of the South) who are vilely anti-semitic, they are not the whole story.

Your analysis of the self-hating and the cowardice and fear of those who say Shah! Shtil! is applicable to many other groups as well. For example, when I was trying to become ordained a priest in the Episcopal church twenty ago, but was turned down by a notoriously misogynistic bishop who said "I have too many married mommies who want to be ordained, so I won't support you." He was known for turning away accomplished and dedicated female candidates, and advancing lickspittle guys, but I had internalized a similar fear of rocking the boat. The fear that if I confronted him, or sued him for discrimination, I would be branded one of those awful man hating feminists, or a troublemaker. I slunk away home.

Thank the Lord that rotten rabbi is leaving your congregation. And when I link to this, I will quote your wonderful paragraphs on the rabbi's true duty to his congregation.

Thank you for this post. Friends like you are a blessing, especially when you remind us that G_d calls us to stand up for the truth, not cower.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Retriever: I appreciate your righteous indignation on my behalf, but a couple of things:

1) This rabbi is very much like I was in the 1990's, so it is hard for me to be angry with him. I understand very well what he is doing and why, because I have done it, thinking that by self-censorship I could somehow influence how Israel-haters thought. I believed that their stance comes from reason, but it does not; it comes from wilfull ignorance. I have a story about how I stood up for myself that changed everything for me, and I will blog that tomorrow, most likely.

2) When I said the "official enemies" I meant it but not in the way you think. The conservative Christians are stereotyped in "liberal" Judaism as those who would most likely force Jews to abandon their religion, and are on the "wrong" side of every cause dear to the liberal heart. This is a stereotype, and like all stereotypes, not altogether true. For myself, I'd rather deal with someone who thinks I am wrong rather than someone who wants to erase my identity. I am sure the conservative Christians think I am wrong, and I am equally sure that it is the progressive Christians who wish to erase my identity. Therefore, I find myself enjoying the conservative Christians more, even though we do not agree at all with respect to theology. And I think the progressive Christians are far more dangerous to Jews.

Retriever said...

Hi, Elisheva,
You know me, by now, react first, ponder later...

I think your rabbi's message stirred up a lot of memories of self-censorship in me (other contexts), hence my vehemence. Probably inappropriate...

However, I SO agree with your comment about easier to relate to someone who may think you wrong than with someone who wishes to erase your identity. There is a famous passage from the Book of REvelation (a wacky book, to be sure) that addresses a related issue: people who are afire for their beliefs and people who are lukewarm:
Chapter 3:
15I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. 19Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. 20Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

My main objection to some of the "progressives" in the mainstream churches, is that they use G_d for secular ends,that they dishonor Him by using Him as a kind of figurehead for their own ship defined more by human politics and wishes than by a sense of the power and might of our Lord. However, I have beloved friends who consider me a reactionary jerk politically because they are devout Christians and liberal politically to the extreme. So it's confusing.

The identity question is different, but equally important to someone like me. I have a split identity, a dull New England WASP and then a devout Christian. 90 percent of my relatives consider faith irrational, someething for peasants, vulgar, embarrassing, and consider me a fool for mine. It is exceptionally painful when they try to gloss over my "regrettable" fervent theological beliefs for the sake of peace as (tho I want peace) it feels as if they are covering up the most important aspect of my identity. It would be as if someone told you you were the most inspiring Libertarian they knew but could you keep quiet about being a Jew. How can any believer in the Holy One (whichever tradition has led them to worship Him) bear to deny Him? The One who gave one one's identity, breathed life into one, and purpose, and strength and hope?

Sorry to go on so.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...


Go on all you want, that's why the length of comments are not restricted.

It is interesting, because I have been told exactly that I am an inspiring libertarian but that I should be quiet about being a Jew. Even more perplexing, in 'liberal' Jewish circles I have felt the pressure to keep quiet about my libertarian political views in order to be considered a good Jew.
IMO, this is ridiculous.

I still have to tell my story . . . but right now, lunch! Then I have to see if my camera works after a month of RR following being dropped in the river.

I've given it plenty of time . . .

Chuck said...

Well, I've sort of admonished (as if you could be admonished) you before regarding the "conservative Christian" issue, so I won't go over plowed ground; except to say this conservative Christian wants you to be as vocal and proud regarding your Jewishness as you are able. The same goes for any "right" (as in political venacular) thinking Jew.

The PC Albatross has from time to time had us all walking on egg shells as I, and I'm sure other conservative Christians, have stumbled along and not knowing what will be construed as proper humor or accepted conversation with our Jewish friends and loved ones.

What I really wanted to say, and will now -- is that I hope some day to read your first book. You have such talent with your way of making a dullard like myself think outside of the box and to gather some thrown away thoughts out of the trash basket.

As always, thanks. Oh, do you know why the word verifications seem to look as though they could be Yiddish ... at least to an uneducated Gentile?

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Chuck, I do stand by my asteriskical statement about why I said "official" enemies. So take a look at that. I think it is misdirection, because as I told Retriever, I rarely have a problem with someone who thinks I am wrong but that I have a right to be wrong, but I often have problems with people who want to erase who I am in order to be comfortable with me.

I am thinking that I will be writing a book soon, though the whole picture has not come to me yet. It's there but has not pushed itself forward with details.

And I have no idea why the word verifications look Yiddish. I wish I knew and could always make them look that way. It's such an expressive language! But alas, Blogger does not require them from me on my own page, so I never see them here!