Oh I so don’t want to get into politics here… talking about many things, personal things, can be so very dangerous, but talking about politics is even more so. Talking about politics and religion—often entwined like two serpents—in the same breath is like crossing an ice-covered lake during a Spring thaw.
I’m neither qualified nor motivated to begin nor maintain such a discussion. But what I can do, what I promised to myself to do when I started this blog, is bring here what I’ve read or seen or heard that gave me pause. I sift the grain and I display what is left, resting on the sieve, raw and unprocessed.
Recently an article has been bouncing around several media sources, written by Allison Benedikt, who (and I know this only by the byline of the article) is the film editor of the Village Voice. The article has a catchy title, and at least in some of the sources where I found it, a photo which is equally as provocative.
“Life After Zionist Summer Camp,” accompanied by its photo of Israeli solders, the one in the forefront a woman with reddish blond hair, stretched out on the ground aiming machine guns, is an article that had great resonance with me, and clearly with many others as it has been tweeted and retweeted, blogged and reblogged with enthusiasm and often accompanied by vociferous commentary.
What struck me most of all was how brave the author was, to bare herself with the tale she tells of her life from third grade to the present, and along with it that of her lovers, her family, her friends, of Israel and the U.S. and love and war and tolerance and intolerance. It’s a story not often told, at least in such a raw manner, opening itself up to attack from all sides.
But what stands out to me from her almost perfunctory telling of this life, written very matter-of-factly despite the fact that she speaks of such complex issues and experiences, is not the political rightness or wrongness of the worlds she describes, but the fact that even within her universe, within her experience, there are so many webs of connection and disconnection, so many dichotomies and ironies, so much beauty and so much ugliness. Her world is not black and white, but full of subtle nuance, and blatant difference. Both sides shout at one another, yet at the same time they find ways to intermingle and co-exist, to find common ground, or not.
But what really gives me pause about her story is that one could translate her experience to that of any child raised within the sphere of the major religions, or minor religions for that matter. Or to any child raised anywhere who is raised to believe he is different and that others somehow threaten this. All of us to one degree or another “do feelings” rather than “facts,” as Ms. Benedikt described it. The definition of what is right and what is wrong never truly definitive but always presented as such. I have seen Christian children and Muslim children and Jewish children who were raised with the same myopic vision of the universe and their place within it, and that to me is the mirror she holds up, reflecting anyone who dares to look within. Sometimes we can best see our own weaknesses and failings by witnessing them in others.
Agree or disagree with Ms. Benedikt’s take on her experience it remains just that, hers. What transcends the political thread is the human one, the lesson about opening our eyes to our own experiences and how they color the way we see others and the world. And then, I suppose, to face it honestly, and to choose, for in all of life we must choose. Perhaps what her tale best points out is that the choice is as individual as the thousands of colors possible when two are mixed, each valid, each real, each inherently pure and inherently flawed.
And of course, insert religion here, insert race, insert socio-economic cultural gender-based difference there… if we grouped children in ways that brought them together rather than separated them what a different world this would be.
How could I not think of something that gave me pause long ago, not “Jesus Camp” which rivals Zionist Camp for its zenophobia, but “Promises,” a documentary I saw several years ago which never loses its relevancy. In it seven children, Palestinian and Israeli (two of whom are shown in the photo above), are interviewed and visit one another to learn a bit of the other’s reality, hopefully to see how similar it is, in fact as well as feeling, to their own. Look at the faces of the two boys: therein lies the truth about difference.