Every now and then, Hevria writers get together to do joint pieces about topics we feel are pressing in the world.
There are, of course, so many subjects that it’s impossible to pin anything down that we all feel called to speak about. But the Muslim ban’s reinstatement felt like a moment for us to share and reflect our emotions. We often write about Jewish matters, such as a terror attack in Israel, but this time we felt, with all the things happening, that we’d write from a Jewish place about things happening to non-Jews.
Here are our thoughts, from four Hevria writers.
Billye Tziporah Roberts
A Simple Prayer in a Complicated Time
I don’t like children. I almost never say that. And when I do people generally don’t believe me. After all I’m a woman. I couldn’t possibly mean that. But I do. It’s the reason I don’t have any.
And despite being a member of not one, not two, but three marginalized and discriminated against groups (I’m Black, female and Jewish) I love my country. I still know the tune to a song we used to sing in Girl Scouts: This is my country. The land of my birth. This is my country. The greatest on earth.
The greatest on earth? Maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it isn’t. But, up until now, I always thought it was trying to be. I always thought there was a chance that someday it might be.
Watching/reading the reports of what is going on at the border of *my* country makes my stomach hurt. Thinking about it makes me tear up. I keep wanting to turn away. Just stop watching or reading about it at all.
And the weird thing is, while what is going on would still bother me, I know it wouldn’t bother me nearly so much if this was only happening to adults. I may not want smelly, loud, tiny humans running through my life, making messes and breaking my things. But I don’t want them hurt or damaged or hungry or mistreated or torn away from the people they love and who love them either.
For someone who has words pouring out of her fingers, sometimes faster than I can type them, I struggled to think of something, anything, meaningful to say about this. Finally, this is the best I could do:
THIS IS WRONG. IT NEEDS TO STOP.
And I suppose I should add: We, the people who love this country, need to stop it. I’m just not sure how.
I plan to do something this Saturday that I never do: I’m going to a protest march. I’m older. My back aches when I walk and stand for a long time. And I can’t even tell you how much I hate crowds. (Crowds being more than two or three people.) And I’m not sure it will do any good. Plus I’ll be breaking the rules of Shabbat. But I’m going.
And… I guess I’ll start praying and reading Psalms because that’s what we Jews are supposed to do in a disaster.
Please G-d, hear us. Fix this. Amen.
When will the world end?
It’s feeling mighty apocalyptic.
What will the apocalypse be?
The ultimate trauma?
The Holocaust is an indelible horrorstain on my personal history.
Part of my ancestry was wiped out in the concentration camps, like so many. My grandfather, who grew up in Germany and left at a young age, returned to fight as a soldier in World War II.
It wasn’t something we spoke too much about in my house when I was young.
Every family, and, to be sure, every human, processes and deals with trauma uniquely.
I remember when we learned about the holocaust in school.
It is unspeakable. I remember seeing the black-and-white photographs of bodies piled in ditches. Disgrace doesn’t touch it. Bodies built of the same DNA as my body.
I remember reading The Diary of Anne Frank. I remember how she kept her faith in humanity despite everything…and was slaughtered along with so many others.
And I remember questions.
So many questions.
I used to ask, How on Gd’s earth could any human allow this to happen?
How could the people of Germany…of Europe…of earth, let this happen? It was inconceivable.
I was given answers. The financial collapse, the way people would carry wheelbarrows of money around to buy a loaf of bread, the fact that toilet paper was worth more than the paper money in Germany.
That people were desperate for answers and hope, and Hitler was charismatic.
These were the justifications I was handed over.
These were the rationalizations I was asked to reconcile with.
It was explained to me that this was how such a thing could happen.
I couldn’t shake my questions. I still can’t. How could entire nations have blood on their hands and not have stopped what they were doing immediately, and put a halt to the Shoah?
How did they sleep at night?
And now, here we are, with multiple humanitarian crises, and blood on all of our hands.
A straight-up fascist regime.
Children separated from their parents and thrown in prison, children being beaten and shot full of antipsychotics.
Muslim people denied entrance to the USA.
Puerto Rico. The sickening tragedy of it.
The list goes on.
I used to wonder: how did the Germans not see this coming? How could they not see it all building toward the shondeh that it became?
It’s that sadistic experiment: put a frog in a pot of water, turn the heat up slowly…before he knows it, he’s boiled.
There is blood on all of our hands.
We said “never again.”
But here we are.
Never again. We said “never again.”
Here we are with a clown-monster for a president.
I used to ask, how on Gd’s earth could any human allow this to happen?
This is the culmination of a great shadow that has been a long time coming.
We saw the signs and we let it happen.
We saw this clown-monster. He’s been showing us precisely who he is. For decades. Greed. Corruption. Predation.
Even on “reality” television. For all the world to see.
We used to know a little bit about what was fake and what was real.
We have watched this all unfold and we, the citizens of the USA, let it get to this point.
The clown-monster shows us who he is.
He told us his intentions regarding the Mexico-USA border.
He told us his intentions regarding Muslim people.
He told us he is a sexual predator.
I could go on.
We are the fools, numbed out and doped up on network news and corporate agendas.
He shows us who he is. At every turn.
Ever heard of Mein Kampf?
Like holy Rabbi Maya Angelou, (may she Rest In Peace) taught us, When someone tells you who they are, believe them.
Sometimes I wonder how long the planet will even be inhabitable. We are the ones who screwed that one up too.
We have destroyed environments and ecosystems. We are culpable for so many extinctions.
So, sometimes I wonder how long we will even be around.
And it’s hard to deny that for every other life form on this planet, both plant and animal, human extinction would be a very good thing.
We are the country that turned the St Lewis, a ship full of Jewish refugees, around and sent them back to Germany and certain doom.
All of this doom and eschatology—how will all this end? How will the world end?
Even this thought comes from a place of unconscionable privilege.
For the babies in prison, the apocalypse is already happening.
For every person of color shot in cold blood by police,
For all those who have perished in Puerto Rico,
For the millions who perished in the Shoah,
For so many…
…the world already has ended.
And this word, civility, now being thrown around, I will not fall prey to this attempt at creating false equivalency.
I’m Jewish, this argument doesn’t work on me, people have been trying to wipe us off the planet for centuries, and all the while been asking us for “fairness” and “civility.”
Let me repeat one more time:
There are children. Separated from their parents. Locked in prison. Being pumped full of antipsychotics.
There is a Muslim Ban being upheld by the Supreme Court.
Cops are using men of color as target practice.
Right here in the USA.
This is not a time for intellectual dalliances about “politeness.”
My heart aches, it screams, it cries out and rails against this atrocity.
I don’t know what to do.
I’m figuring it out.
We must mobilize.
For now, I can do so little—and what I offer is less than a drop in the ocean of what must be done.
It is shameful.
But it is what I can do.
For now, for this moment, I can stand up in this forum, here, on Hevria and say I, for one, as a United States Citizen and Jew, I can say, to my Muslim brothers and sisters, to the children, to all those we promised never again, I am at your side.
I declare my solidarity.
We said never again.
I will stand and be counted on the side of love.
I will never stop believing in love.
I will fight.
I will be a warrior for love, until the end.
We are separating ourselves now. Or, being separated, rather
The ones separating us are wise, just, doing everything they can to keep us safe.
So, hurry along now, get into your line, don’t ask too many questions. They know best.
Make 2 lines:
The good ones, the bad ones
The Americans, the foreigners
The light skinned, the dark skinned
The snakes, the lambs
The godly, the godless
But, how can you tell which category you belong in?
If your mom was from a bad country… you’re bad then, right?
But, what about if your dad’s ancestors came from the good countries? Can you switch sides then?
What if your family comes from the good countries but does lots of bad things? You still get to go on the good side, right?
What if you’ve never done anything bad, but someone who looks like you did something terrible? Bad side, right? Or is that only if your skin isn’t white?
What if your mom believes in the wrong god but your dad believes in the right one and you’re not sure If you believe in any at all… what side should you go in then?
What if your skin is light but your mom’s is dark? Can you just slip quietly in line without anyone asking too many questions? Or will they check your papers? Do we all have papers now?
And, what about the children? Where do the ungodly children go?
Last was the yeshiva.
Before that, going to Israel.
Earlier than that was the Chabad house.
Before that, a book called The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Jewish Mysticism.
But the first thing, the first thing… was a person.
I was an extra in a movie called The Kingdom. It took place in Saudi Arabia, so they tried to get every Middle Eastern looking person in Arizona to join on as an extra.
I was one of them, but I was the only Jew. The rest were Muslims, with a few Hispanics thrown in to the mix.
I kept my religion private. I had been liberal for my entire life, but I had an irrational fear of telling people I was Jewish when everyone else was Muslim. I don’t know what I was really thinking would happen, but I suppose we all have biases that we don’t truly have to deal with until we’re confronted with moments that test us.
But they were so nice. And kind. And I was spending full days, like 12 hours at a time, just standing out in the Arizona sun with them. Soon, like summer camp, we became great friends. Soon, we got over standing in a multi-million dollar set and talking about that, and started talking about each other. Soon, we spoke about each other’s lives.
And soon, I told them I was Jewish. And it was fine. Of course.
It was around this time that the first moment happened, the spark that led me on the road to becoming an orthodox Jew.
He must have been 50 or so, and yet somehow we also became friends. He had a heavy accent. And at some point, as we were standing together during a scene, the conversation turned to religion. I asked him about his own beliefs. He smiled and told me about them, telling me how it gives him peace. How “heritage is the most important thing.” Heritage. I didn’t quite understand, and wondered if perhaps something was getting lost in translation.
Finally, he asked, “How about you?”
I shrugged sheepishly, a bit embarrassed after his extorting his own beliefs. “I don’t know. I grew up Jewish, but I don’t really know much about it, honestly. It’s just… I don’t buy into organized religion, you know?”
He shook his head mournfully.
“No, this is not okay,” he said. “It is your heritage. You must learn about it. You must live it. It is who you are.”
It was who I was… Suddenly, I knew what he meant by the word heritage. And after spending a whole summer trying to hide that I was Jewish because I was scared of Muslims, that a Muslim was now telling me that I had to explore my Jewish identity shook me deep down in my core.
A month later, I was shopping at Borders. I idly walked over to the Jewish section. I browsed through them, bored by everything I was seeing.
And then I saw something. Something that tapped into the kind of spirituality I loved learning: mysticism. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Jewish Mysticism.
The next year, I went to a Chabad house. A year after that, I went to Israel. And two weeks after that, I was in yeshiva.
And now. Now I am who I am because of a kind Muslim man who refused to let me forget who I was.
And now, as I wonder whether his family will ever be able to visit him in America, and I wonder about all the Muslim friends I made that summer, and I speak to the Muslim friends I have now… I again feel called to remember who I am.
My heritage. The heritage of a people who relied on the kindness of others throughout our history. Of a family which wouldn’t exist if my grandmother wasn’t saved from regular riots against Jews if it wasn’t for her Muslim neighbors. By a belief that teaches us to treat our own foreigners as equals so that the world can look at us as priests and learn from our example.
And I know that the heritage the Muslim man asked me to grapple with is calling me now to stand up for his heritage.