Confessions of a Self-Hating Jew
Recently I attended Saturday morning services with my parents at the synagogue they have belonged to since I was a little kid. This would not be particularly noteworthy except for the fact that this is the first time I’ve been to services in more than 35 years.
I am an atheist. I do not believe in a supreme being. I still do consider myself to be a Jew because we are a people. Being Jewish is about being part of an ethnicity, a culture and a history and heritage. I acknowledge and embrace those aspects, but I don’t practice the faith.
All that said, despite the fact that the Saturday morning service was a grueling three hours, I found much of it comforting. Being in the sanctuary where I attended services as a child, the sanctuary where I had my Bar Mitzvah. Seeing friends of my parents who were a frequent part of my life as a child. And seeing the general sense of community in this place. I found that quite moving, actually.
My Hebrew was never all that great, so I had a hard time participating in the service, except for the prayers I still mostly knew by heart. I spent much of the time following the English translations of the prayers, intrigued by the frequent messages of peace and love for one’s neighbors, along with the few references to destroying the cities of the unbelievers.
I realized that because religion has little to no place in my life, I take for granted just how religious my upbringing was. Realizing this did not make me angry. On the contrary, I am grateful for it because it gave me a greater understanding of who I am. If anything, during the service, I perhaps felt a bit of regret for turning my back on a community that would welcome me with open arms at any time.
Then the rabbi gave his sermon, and I suddenly remembered why I had not attended services for so long.
To be fair, I have to admit that I took an immediate dislike to the rabbi. First, he’s not my rabbi: he’s not the rabbi I grew up with; but in all honesty, I found the current rabbi rather affected, theatrical and a bit phony.
More importantly, his sermon was pure propaganda. He had just returned from Israel. He spoke of the tragedy of 35 Israeli soldiers being killed. He did not mention the 1000 Palestinians who had already died. In fact, he did not mention the Palestinians at all, as if to mention them would give them something he was loath to give—humanity.
He spoke of the routine horror of air raid sirens and bombs falling. He spoke of the cab driver who gushed over the “Golden Dome” that protected Israel and its people as if it was a gift from God.
And he spoke of a conversation that he had with one of his wife’s Israeli relatives. The man begged the rabbi to go back to America and tell people “our soldiers are not targeting civilians.”
The sermon left me with a horrible taste in my mouth. I commented right away that the old rabbi would have responded in a more measured, less one-sided, emotionally manipulative way. That said, bad memories of pro-Israeli socialization came flooding back.
You cannot be a Jew and not support Israel. Israel is our homeland and therefore must be supported.
And Arabs and Palestinians are uncivilized. They are not people, not like us.
Then I went to college and actually met some Arabs and Palestinians. In fact, some become friends of mine. This may sound simplistic, but it was a totally eye-opening experience for me to actually meet, get to know and become friends with peoples who for my whole life I was taught to believe were my enemy.
And the realization, quite frankly, made me very angry, so angry that it was very difficult for me to step foot in a synagogue.
I began to question. I began to doubt. I reached a state of mind where I no longer supported Israel.
That’s when I became a self-hating Jew.
Or so I was told by other Jews who supported Israel in the way I once did. Israel, they would say, is my homeland. By not loving it, I was hating it, and by hating it, I was hating myself.
What I have witnessed over the last 35 years is that there is little tolerance in this country for a serious critique of Israel. Interestingly, it seems there is much more room for debate within Israel, but certainly not here in the United States.
Somehow, supporting Israel has become utterly intertwined with being a Jew. Frankly, I find this rather insane. Support of Israel is a geo-political question that has nothing to do with who my parents are, who my grandparents were, and what my ancestry is.
And therein lies the problem. For the purpose of this column, I am not necessarily interested in getting into the particulars of the long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. What I will say is that we need peace. As a Jew, I will sleep better at night knowing there is peace. And as a citizen of the world, I will sleep better knowing there is peace because this conflict has, has had and will always have global ramifications until a peaceful settlement can be reached that provides some sort of national sovereignty for the Palestinian people.
But there will never be peace in the Middle East without a fundamental change in how America perceives and deals with Israel.
America is culpable. The American people are culpable. And American Jews are culpable.
We are Israel’s enablers. Yes, the American government has taken pains to try to bring both sides to the table and in fact has come tantalizing close to bringing a lasting peace. Yet at the same time, we provide aid and arms to Israel. When we replenish missiles for Israel’s Iron Dome, we are certainly not providing much in the way of incentive for Israel to seek peace.
Until this changes, there won’t be peace.
I have done my small part here—not that doing that will make me rest easier except perhaps for letting this off my chest.
My name is Fred Schepartz. I am a self-hating Jew.