Heart-wrenching scenes outside the Israeli Parliament: dozens of refugees, shivering from the cold, forcefully crammed into buses which will take them to jail for the crime of being refugees. We have forgotten, completely forgotten, what it means to be Jewish. Tami Molad-Hayo seeks a different kind of Judaism.
Photo: Refugees at Freedom March, Jerusalem, Dec 17 2013, Active Stills
We have forgotten what it means to be Jewish
By Tami Molad-Hayo
Being Jewish is first and foremost to be different, to be rejected and persecuted, and yet to persist. Being Jewish is to remember the principle of our relationship to the other, to those who are different from us. That the entire Torah can be summed up as, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
I am not a religious woman, but I am a Jew with every fiber of my being. Every insult, every persecution, every attack and murder which others have suffered because they were Jews has made a deep mark on my soul. Every such moment in our history imprinted an undying message on my character: no more, ever again. Never will I allow them to persecute another human being because he is different, never will I be silent when I witness abuse towards those who are weak, never will I turn a blind eye in the face of injustice. I am unable to accept that what was done to me throughout history will be done unto others.
For who understands like we do the true meaning of persecution, of intolerance and indifference? Jews who have been ostracized, persecuted, and murdered.
Yet it is precisely here in the State of Israel that we have turned into thugs, into oppressors and persecutors, into people who silence and ignore the plight of others. We – the country, the authorities, the organized collective known as the State of Israel – are doing this. And make no mistake: the state is doing this in our name.
Intoxication with power and the blinding fear of repeating the past have made us cruel, cold-hearted, and indifferent to the plight of others, others who are different from us and others who come from our own ranks.
There is a clear line which leads directly from the persecution of Jews over our long history to the persecution of refugees here in Israel, to the wretched poverty of children and the elderly, to the ongoing occupation and mistreatment of Palestinians, to the use of force against civilians by the police and security forces, to the attempts to silence anyone who does not see eye-to-eye with Israel’s current government, to corruption, to exploitation, to chasing after wealth, and to the perpetual search for enemies rather than for peace and justice.
From our own persecution we have learned how to persecute and from the cruelty visited upon us we have learned how to be cruel. From being outcast we have learned how to be indifferent, from our own destruction we have learned the power of the destroyer. The lesson we have yet to learn is how to accept others, to show compassion, to offer assistance, to bear witness, and to save those in need.
This country, which came into existence from the ashes of war and annihilation in order to guarantee our own existence and continuity, will not survive a collapse in our moral fiber, in the ethical essence of our being. We cannot abandon our promise to be a “light unto the nations,” an exemplary society which evinces proper ethical, humanistic conduct.
We have forgotten, simply forgotten, who we are. And if we do not wake up and remember and stand up and align ourselves with the oppressed of the world, then who are we and why are we here?
It’s not too late to correct this. It’s not too late to remember. This change needs to start here at home, first among the weak sectors of Israeli society, including the refugees, and afterwards we can make peace with our neighbors. And then, tall and proud, we will be able to stand in front of the world as torch-bearers of humanity and fight against cruelty and injustice throughout the world. After we light our candle, we will be able to light up the entire world.
It’s not too late.
Tami Molad-Hayo is a journalist and a social activist.