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Feb 21, 2020 By Peter Himmelman Category: Education,
Singer-songwriter Peter Himmelman: Jewish unity should come from love, not fear
With just a few Facebook messages and some phone calls, tens of thousands of Jews marched together in New York City to combat anti-Semitism. Yet could we even imagine a similar rally in support of Shabbat observance? How much of the power of our unity as a Jewish nation has been given over to those who hate us?
While shared oppression is a sort of unifier, the “unity” it creates seems to be far less powerful than the proactive aspects of our tradition -- namely, our unbroken chain of mitzvot observances such as Shabbat, kashrut and Torah study. When we give our unity over to oppressors, we make mistakes. We inadvertently make our bonds with one another contingent on the animus of our enemies, and we neglect to teach our children about the wisdom and beauty of Judaism. As a consequence, we become a weaker people motivated by fear as opposed to a strong people of faith.
But in his pursuit to write a book that strove to share only the most relevant themes of the Rebbe's thinking, Rabbi Jacobson was correct in omitting the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. Perhaps surprising to some, those subjects were not crucial to the Rebbe, who rarely spoke or wrote about them. They were important issues, but compared to uplifting ideas such as instilling hope, love and unity in the Jewish people (and beyond), the Holocaust and anti-Semitism were more like tragic footnotes. Today, for many Jews, anti-Semitism and the Holocaust have become central to their Judaism.
Moving past victimhood
While I strongly believe in discussing and examining the Holocaust, successfully passing Jewish values on to the next generation requires our children receive a message that soars well beyond mere victimhood. Yes, we must take measures to protect ourselves. Yes, we must discuss ways to keep one another safe and to safeguard our security by every effective means. But we never should make the source of our unity contingent on the dark motives of our enemies.
My views on anti-Semitism have undergone an evolution over the years.
They were the three kings of the Westwood Junior High's dirtball dynasty, young hoodlums who regularly and without fear skipped school, smoked filter-less Marlboros and shouted “(insert invective here)” to students and staff members alike, save perhaps for the Jew-hating shop teacher with whom they forged an abiding friendship.
I envisioned grabbing Stuey by his neck with both hands and clawing at him until my fingernails pierce his skin and blood spurts from his jugular. I wanted to take the clear plastic aquarium algae scraper I made in shop class this very morning and use it gouge out one of Nelson’s eyeballs. In my daydream, Craig would try to run, but I catch him by his mullet and shove his head into Elaine locker. I slam her locker door on him again and again.
Six months after that incident, it was summer vacation. We Himmelmans flew from Minneapolis to New York and from there, non-stop to Lod Airport, just beyond Tel Aviv. In less than two days, I was on a towel on the beach in Netanya, looking out at the cerulean blue of the Mediterranean.
As I lied on the hot sand, Mirage fighter Jets with blue Jewish stars emblazoned under their wings suddenly streaked so low across the water that I could smell jet fuel. As they screamed overhead, the whole beach seemed to shake. With a strange sense of clannish satisfaction, I stared up at the planes as they roared and finally rocketed out of range.
Don't look for hate, look for love
My youthful experiences gave me a sort of primitive, limited, almost tribal relation to my Judaism. It was almost as if I’d seized upon a pride and love for being Jewish, not out of love for our traditions and culture, but out of hatred for our enemies. In other words, I’d bonded with my fellow Jews, not over the beauty and positivity of Shabbat, but over my fear and animus to those who hate us.
I’ll leave you with a recent vignette. You could say it depicts where my "evolution" has taken me.
I was in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, a couple of weeks ago. I had just come up out of the subway when a strong wind whipped up and blew the black hat off a young Chassidic man. Who went into the middle of a busy street to return the hat? A young African-American man.
If you’re looking for hate, you’ll find it. A lot of it.
If you’re looking for love, you’ll find even more. Love always has been, and always will be the greatest source of strength and unity.
Peter Himmelman is an American singer-songwriter and film and television composer.