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.
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
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.
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.