Today Jews all over the world are participating in the day of mourning known as Tisha B’Av (which usually falls, as the name would suggest, on the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av. However due to a bit of a double booking with the sabbath is commemorated on the 10th this year.) In most circles, this day commemorates the destruction of both the first and second great temple in Jerusalem (you know, the one we still have one outer wall of that people want to kill each other over) and in modernity has taken on the added significance of mourning the senseless violence committed against Jews throughout all of history. Boiled down, its the day Jews lament the 2000+ years we’ve had a target painted on our backs, usually by fasting and other assorted means.
I’ve had a bit of a rocky relationship with this day for quite a while (and with most aspects of Jewish practice, but that is an entirely different story). While on the one hand I am fully on board with the whole “don’t eat to commemorate your people being consistently and often systematically persecuted and murdered by pretty much every civilization anyone can name” deal, I am also not really a fan of Jewish victimhood.
When I was younger, I was pretty openly and proudly Jewish. I also happened to be one of three (sometimes four depending on the season) Jews in a public school system of over 3000 in a small New Hampshire town. Given that, I ended up encountering a pretty bad crop of young anti-semites. It was nothing particularly severe from a physical perspective (I wasn’t attacked or anything) and from a psychological perspective I realize now I probably shouldn’t have let get to me as much as I did. A bunch of ignorant rednecks with parents that are cousins shooting their mouths off about things they had no clue about (I swear I had a girl try to convince me Judaism began in the 1970s) wasn’t anything new to me at that point. The fact of the matter is that I went out of my way to make myself different, and that community at that time (and probably still, if we’re being honest) despised difference. If I wasn’t Jewish, I would still be the fat, Canadian kid that liked Pokemon a lot longer than he had any business doing so. My Judaism was a target, but not necessarily the target and, in a lot of ways, it was the target I chose for myself.
Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t going to turn into one of those “I did it to myself” posts. I know I didn’t make those rednecks ignorant (genetics probably did) and I sure as hell am not going to make the argument that I should have been less proud of my heritage. My history played out the way it was meant to play out and I am (probably) a better person for it. But Jewish victimhood is an entirely different thing altogether. Throughout history and especially in the wake of the holocaust, many Jews the world over (and one or two in my immediate bloodline as well) have taken on the role of consumate victim. They believe that no matter what happens, no matter how the tides change or political parties ebb and flow, the Jews will always be hated. And strictly speaking, that is probably not a lie. But hunkering down and crying wolf every time a redneck kid makes a misguided slur they heard from their grandparents does not mean the sky is falling. As a people and members of the worldwide religious/cultural community, we can do better than belittling ourselves, painting “defenseless” on our foreheads and lashing out every time stupidity rears its ugly head. Phrased another way: if we keep going around with our dukes up then eventually someone is going to want to punch us in the face.
There are no easy conclusions to be reached here. On the one hand, anti-semitism isn’t going to go away and we must always remain aware of that fact. I once spoke to an older woman that spent her life creating opportunities for young American Jews to be Jewish that claimed that “the world would never let us forget we were Jewish” and the sad/liberating truth is that she is absolutely right. Sad in that hatred will always exist and liberating in that we shouldn’t want to forget that in the first place. On the other hand though, there is an argument to be made that the more we embrace who we are, the more we will be persecuted for it. When homogeny is the goal, difference is the enemy. The bigger the difference, the bigger response it begets.
Today, the ninth of Av, I mourn this conundrum more than the destruction, holocaust, and persecution that the day has become known for. I mourn the lack of answers and the unending torrent of questions. I mourn the simple and direct injustices that have tragically become the norm.