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December 20, 2014 | 28th Kislev 5775

Solidarity I

Galilee Diary #220
February 13, 2005
Marc J. Rosenstein

…With [the people] Israel, if one of them sins, all of them feel it: “O God… when one man sins, will You be wrathful with the whole community?” [Numbers 16:22] Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai taught a parable: It is like a group of people traveling in a boat. One of them takes out a drill and starts to drill under his seat. The others say to him: what are you doing? He answers: what do you care – I am drilling under my own seat! They respond: but the water will come in and sink the whole boat!

-Leviticus Rabbah 4:6

Here’s an activity we have been using with Birthright groups:

“A 14 year old Palestinian girl, with a school backpack, approached an Israeli army checkpost in Gaza one weekday morning. The soldiers, believing she might be a terrorist, shot at her and she fell to the ground. Their commander walked to where she was lying and emptied his magazine of bullets into her at short range. All that was found in her backpack was books. The officer is now facing a court martial.” [from news reports, January 2005]

As a Diaspora Jew, how do you feel when you read a report like this?

  • Worried about how the world media and public will use this against Israel
  • Angry at the press for always highlighting bad things about Israel without giving the context
  • Frustrated by the difficulty of always being in the position of having to defend Israel’s actions
  • Angry at the Israeli government for its policies that cause such situations to occur
  • Embarrassed to be connected with Israel
  • Refuse to believe the story as published
  • Angry at the Arabs for once again winning the propaganda war by their exploitation of children

It is interesting to reflect on our feelings in situations like this. In Israel, where we are the majority, it is relatively easy for us to dissociate ourselves from individual violations of norms – we can say of this officer that he acted as an individual, that there will always be people who do terrible things, that he should and will be tried, and if appropriate, punished. Some Jews do bad things – what can we do? However, in the Diaspora, where we are a minority, everything that a Jew does somehow reflects on all Jews; it is not so easy to dissociate ourselves, to calmly say, “Murder happens, and I can’t be responsible for every Jew who sins.” It seems that there is a sort of universal phenomenon that members of a majority have the luxury of being able to see themselves as individuals, while members of a minority cannot avoid being held responsible – and holding themselves responsible – for the behaviors of their fellow minority members.

And so stories like this one make us wish we didn’t have to go to work the morning after and face the questions we will get, real or imagined; they arouse a feeling of helplessness, caught between our obligation of solidarity and our wish not to be associated with everything our fellow Jews do. And so, we make ourselves feel better by sending each other emails listing Jewish Nobel laureates (I wonder: do Christians send each other emails listing Christian Nobel laureates?).

Whenever Jews come to encounter sessions with Israeli Arabs, the first question they ask is: “What do you think about terrorist bombings?” Needless to say, the answer “Murder happens, and I can’t be responsible for every Palestinian who sins” is generally not considered acceptable. The next question is usually, “Why don’t you do something about it?”

What’s the right answer?

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