This is What Having a Multicultural Identity Feels Like

Written by

Tomás Tedesco

Where I come, and where I go.

If you hold me, I’ll let go.

How can you know me,

If I don’t?

 

I’m the whistling arrow.

I’m the incoming bullet.

I’m the flammable air between lips.

I’m the transition of the seasons.

You can’t tame me.

 

In my worst days, my presence can be conceived

As two addicts pulling torquing springs

Frozen in the crooked wind.

I’m the feverish body fumes you feel inside

A thick wool blanket on white winter dusk.

 

My blood’s substance is heavier

Than two eagles smirking into the incoming ground.

I’m the ocean spilling itself against countless grains of sand.

I’m the insects pilgrimaging a desert of tiny boulders.

I’m an uncanny alliance.

 

I’m the breeze before the slap.

I’m the heart that beats love with war

And that puts the pieces together

When nobody is around.

I’m what remains after everything vanishes.

 

I’m a misconception because different worlds

Describe me with exclusive words.

Only I know what copper wires I’ve burnt

And melted into my pot.

I know the feeling but I can’t explain its meaning.

 

How can you know how strong I am,

When I’m made of more more materials

Than you can know?

How can anybody know how pliable and durable

You become while walking in the fragility of ignorance?

 

But since clarity is underrated,

And by poetic sloth, neglected.

I will tell you who I am:

 

I’m an immigrant, I’m discrimination, I’m the exile.

I’m how my last home felt like,

I’m a map that confuses your location while you

Are trying to get from point A to point B,

Because anywhere is the destination and although traveling is linear, time is not.

 

I’m religious and agnostic alike, sinner and saint, conqueror and conquered.

I’m a lone star shining around  dark blue

Sky spilled with LED lights.

I fluctuate every time

I transform a new place into a home.

 

I search and find

Comfort in not fitting in.

Who am I?

I’m multicultural identity

And I can only breathe in the space in between.

 

So let me breathe

Wandering

Written and Illustrated by Amanda Leiserowitz

When I turned twenty, I realized something was missing from my life; an element which had once been so natural to me that I was surprised to realize had drifted away so easily. That element was my Judaism.

I spent half my childhood in Jewish places. I went to Jewish day schools until fourth grade, on campuses connected to temples. I learned conversational Hebrew. I went to Jewish summer camps, both day and sleepaway. As I got older, I had my Bat Mitzvah and visited Israel with my temple’s youth group. Judaism was natural to me, even if my family didn’t light Shabbat candles every Friday night.

But after Rabbi Avi Levine (who led my Bat Mitzvah ceremony) died, and Rabbi Ettman (who eventually replaced him) left after only two years, I stopped going to youth group on Tuesday nights. With both Rabbis I had relationships with gone, attending felt like a time sink, better utilized with AP classes; so I decided against it, and just like that, gone were the Torah and Talmud studies with peers I’d known since childhood. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time. High school was rough. It took most of my attention, the social drama and difficult classes, college applications, and then the huge transition of leaving my parents’ home behind.

Moving to Santa Cruz last fall, I had one friend on campus. My parents and brother were eight hours away, and the rest of my family even further. I was a stranger in a strange land, learning how to navigate busses and college classes for the first time. Being adrift was new to me. I’d never felt further from my roots, especially my Jewish ones.

At first I felt guilty. Judaism has been a large part of my life and identity, yet this year, I didn’t even eat an apple on Rosh Hashanah. But I’m realizing that it doesn’t mean I’m a bad person, or even a bad Jew. Wandering and exploration are part of us, the people who spent forty years traversing the desert in search of a home.

Turning these thoughts over in my head at the beginning of fall quarter, I impulsively asked a couple friends if they would celebrate Shabbat with me sometime. One asked, “Isn’t that a religious thing?” “Yeah, it’s a Jewish thing,” I replied, “But you don’t have to be Jewish to do it with me…to light some candles and have some challah. I was just thinking, maybe I want to be the kind of person that does Shabbat.”

Saying it out loud reminded me of something my mom had always told me: that I could create my own traditions as an adult, and do Shabbat more often in my home. Even though I’ve been a Jewish adult since I was thirteen, it’s only now that I want to be Jewish, take part in the Jewish community, and light the Shabbat candles on Friday nights.

My period of wandering, without a real place I could claim to understand, and doubting my major life changes, has ultimately helped me call myself a Jewish adult. After all, one of my biggest takeaways from my nights spent in discussions at Temple Sinai’s youth group was that questioning is a core part of Judaism. Having done my fair share of asking if I’m making the right decisions and feeling like an outsider to any – and all – communities here in Santa Cruz, I feel that it’s time for me to accept that not belonging is part of life. And so is the ability to belong again.

 

One of a Kind Experiences

Written by Jessica Moreno

I came across a website a couple of weeks ago called Read it Forward. It offers an endless amount of literary articles, or if you’re a subscriber to the site they have book recommendations. As I was exploring I noticed an article titled, “A Jewish Literary Map of New York City” written by Abbe Wright. This caught my eye and I immediately clicked on the link. The piece provides a Jewish literary map of the city based on where the specific authors lived and what they thought of the city. The map itself is based off the text “You are Here: NYC: Mapping the Soul of the City” by Katharine Harmon. In her text, she assembles hundreds of maps that illustrate New York from the past, present, and the future.

Primarily, the article focuses on the map of Jewish writers from the Big Apple and I found this to be quite interesting. It surprised me and introduced me to texts that I didn’t know I was interested in. Harmon draws out on the map what parts of New York the authors are from, and a description of their text. As I studied it I recognized a few of the writers, such as Isaac Bashevis Singer and Henry Roth. Each of these authors grew up in a version of New York different from one another. And it makes me think that students at UCSC, like the authors in New York, have their own unique opinions when it comes to their lifestyle, study habits, etc.

It was eye opening to see how many Jewish literary writers are out there and how New York has influenced their pieces. The illustrated detail from the writers helps to paint a picture of New York’s atmosphere at the time for the readers.

Harmon forms a connection between the authors and the city. Each one of them has a different perspective of New York, whether it be positive or negative. It is really astonishing to see a multiplicity of ideas of what New York is like. It goes to show that everyone has their own perceptions, especially when traveling to a country foreign to some of the writers. The authors that I’m familiar with: Isaac Bashevis Singer, Henry Roth and Sholem Aleichem experienced New York in different eras. Each of them came from different backgrounds, whether they grew up in the city, or immigrated there for safety from the dangers, such as pogroms or the Holocaust, taking place in their birth countries. From my readings, I believe their ideas are all distinctive, they display how they felt moving to another a foreign city and whether or not they fit in. I have learned a lot not just about the city itself, but the history that took place in each author’s generation. Just like the authors, the people we are surrounded by at school, at home, etc. may try to understand where we are coming from, but won’t be able to fully grasp onto what we’ve experienced.

Like the authors, our thought process is unique. All of us grab onto something different that catches our attention. Take Isaac Bashevis Singer for example, his New York and his life was revolved around the street he lived on: Broadway. To him this was home, there were many other exiles from Nazi Europe who formed a life together on this street. He grew fond of it, and as time passed by it changed, but he always remembered it the same way from the time he had immigrated to the day he died. Whereas Henry Roth, who also immigrated to New York at a young age,  felt like an outsider from the moment he moved into his newfound home. He didn’t feel like he belonged, as if he was isolated from his community, New York didn’t suit him as it did Singer. He takes his experience and ties it into his novel, Call it Sleep, he exhibits from a fictional point of view of his lifestyle at such a young age and it helps the readers understand and see the struggles he went through. Both their experiences in New York from an immigrant’s perspective are distinguished, one author immediately felt at home, the other didn’t.

Harmon’s text, “You are Here: NYC: Mapping the Soul of the City,” ties the authors’ different lifestyles and their texts together. She brings all walks of life within the same culture closer. She is introduces to her readers and subscribers of Read it Forward  to unique points of view on the history of New York, especially by creating a Jewish literary map. By doing this she illusrates the rich history of Jewish culture showing that there is so much out there that we don’t know about, as well as the viewpoints of authors and how they presented their extraordinary stories through fictional characters in their works. The readers get a chance to experience and try to perceive what the writers went through, and to see their different takes of New York.

Like the authors, we as college students we develop our own thoughts that revolve around the decisions we make. The moment we walk onto campus, we are on foreign ground that is waiting for us to create something out of ourselves. Our experiences, and choices, being either positive or negative, make us into the people we are now. Though all of us chose to attend UC Santa Cruz, we all chose under different circumstances, and we pave our own paths throughout our time spent here. Harmon brought this idea to the surface of my mind. All our experiences and views are one of a kind and that is why it makes us who we are.

 

Looking Back: Origins of Leviathan

Written by Wesley Whittlesey

Illustrated by Georgie Blewett

For the past 45 years, it has been the mission of Leviathan Jewish Journal to inform UCSC on issues, themes, and stories relating to the Jewish world. For the past five quarters that I have been a part of the journal, it has been a place to practice journalism and share ideas. However, it has also been a place where a single question has been lingering in my mind: Why was Leviathan chosen to be the name of our journal?

In order for me to find answers, I would have to go back to the beginning of Leviathan’s history and track down the alumni of the first class of Leviathan from 1972. My search began when my Editor-in-Chief informed me that Bruce Thompson, a professor at UCSC who specializes in Jewish studies and is the current faculty advisor for Leviathan Jewish Journal, might know the founding members of Leviathan. After getting into contact with Bruce, he informed me that he did not know the founders, but he did know members of the immediate succeeding class. This led me to getting into contact with a gentleman named Ron Feldman, an alumni of Leviathan, who informed me of an article titled “We Stand in the Belly” written by Arthur Waskow in 1972 for the first issue of Leviathan. I was told that this article might give me some clue as to how and why Leviathan Jewish Journal got its name.

After combing through  Leviathan’s archives, I was finally able to find the article and read it for myself. In the article, Waskow refers to the story of Jonah, a Jewish prophet who appears in the Hebrew Bible, when he says, “Jonah was commanded to preach the destruction of Nineveh, that great city. He refused, again and again; but finally, gave in, and the city repented, changed its society, and was saved.” The story of Jonah says that Jonah received a vision from G-d that he was to go to the city of Nineveh and to preach to them that they must change the ways of their society. Jonah initially refused due to Nineveh being a far away and dangerous place, so he attempted to flee from his task by sailing away on a ship. During his attempted escape, Jonah’s voyage was impeded by a huge storm. In order to attempt to save the ship, the sailors onboard threw Jonah overboard. Jonah was subsequently swallowed by a giant fish. While inside the fish, Jonah repented his actions, praying for any kind of salvation. Upon being freed, Jonah immediately went to Nineveh to give the message that he was tasked with, ultimately saving the city.

Admittedly, when I first read Waskow’s article, I did not exactly understand what point he was trying to make about Leviathan. After collaboration with some of my peers and really taking the time to think about why Waskow would make a reference to Jonah, I came to the conclusion that Jonah’s experience being inside the fish and the lesson that he learned was exactly what Leviathan was all about. There will be times in every person’s life in which they will come face to face with some kind of difficult or uncomfortable task. In this case specifically, it is not always easy to share new and potentially uncomfortable ideas, but sometimes it is necessary. Sometimes it is better if one can stand up and talk about things that need to be talked about, things that make people uncomfortable, or things that call for a change, for the benefit and knowledge of others.

That is essentially what I have found in today’s incarnation of Leviathan. We look at issues that are relevant in the Jewish world and we talk about them and show their importance. Some issues that come up within our journals might pertain to topics that can be considered controversial or uncomfortable, and there are those who may shy away from talking about those subjects. As the current members of Leviathan, we find it our duty, however hard it might be, to open our minds and use our voices to spread the word on issues and other news that we believe is ultimately beneficial for the students of UCSC to be aware of.

 

Impressions of Barcelona’s Ancient Synagogue: La Sinagoga Major

Written by Raquela Bases

Barcelona is crowded. La zona turística is filled with people, constantly. Many come to walk along Las Ramblas (a famous tree-lined path with souvenir and ice cream kiosks), to visit the Picasso Museum, or to rollerblade near the coast. But few come to visit the ancient synagogue, La Sinagoga Major, small and inconspicuous.

I was about three months into my semester in Spain when I first visited the synagogue. My cousins were in town, a newly married couple honeymooning in Europe. After visiting a few typical tourist sites together, we began our search for the synagogue. We turned the paper map torn out of their Barcelona guidebook upside down and sideways. Google Maps kept directing us in circles near and past our destination, Carrer de Call. We asked several locals for directions but only a handful were able to give us the general indication that we were on the right track. Finally, rounding a tight corner boasting high-widowed apartments and a tattoo shop, we spotted, on the seemingly ordinary wall of a narrow passageway, several Hebrew characters etched into the stone.

A few paces past that corner was a small, white fabric sign, embroidered with the word “Shalom,” the most common Hebrew greeting and the word for “peace,” a warm welcome. Inside was a small (only about 60 square meters), cavelike enclosure of crumbling bricks. One can see the original, sixth century brick floor supporting subsequent layers of thin stones, marking the passage of time. Half of the synagogue is laid out like a museum. Several informational panels help guide visitors through the building’s history and a host of liturgical objects, donated by collectors from all over the Mediterranean, donned the main room in glass display cases. No standing congregation holds services there, but the room is a potential prayer space. A Torah can be brought in and housed in a wooden ark and there are several rows of seats.

The guide, Natalia, was friendly. She spoke Spanish, English, Hebrew, and Catalán, and with her children, spoke all four. The tour she gave my group was conducted in English. It told of the specific history of the place, tracing events that mirrored the Jewish people’s complex historical relationship to Spain. The building underwent multiple restorations. Originally constructed in the sixth century, its floor has been raised, its width doubled, its doors and windows sealed shut, and its interior converted into a storeroom for grain. Now, it functions as a museum, charging a modest 2.5€ admission. It had once been a flourishing prayer place for Barcelona’s Jewish population, celebrating, partying and socializing all in Catalán.

I fell in love with the little synagogue. After more than a thousand years and several rounds of expulsions, the small stone building remains standing. Seated inside, one can feel the struggle and persistence of the structure and of the culture who one worshiped within it.

 

Finding a Jewish Identity Through Music

Written by Robin Kopf

Illustrated by Jessica Fischman

My first summer and my subsequent eleven summers at URJ Camp Newman changed a lot of things about my life, but it mostly changed my view of my personal relationship to Judaism. I grew up in a gently religious, Jewish household, raised by a classic “Jewish Mother.” If Judaism was important to her, it was going to be important for her kids. I groaned when my mother told us that we would be going to Friday night Shabbat services, let alone for the high holidays. Until the fourth grade, most of my relationship to Judaism was spoon fed to me like matzo ball soup without salt. My Jewish experience for the first 10 years of my life was largely flavorless and uninteresting to me. That first summer before fourth grade was like a much needed sprinkle of salt.  

I remember standing on the basketball courts, wearing white for Shabbat with my cabin mates, counselors, and friends. We jumped and we clapped and we stomped our feet and we sang until our throats hurt. At the center of the basketball courts, on a flimsy, metal stage were two songleaders. They wielded guitars and sung into microphones what we would then sing back to them. More songleaders, sometimes also campers, milled around with their own guitars, interacting with the crowd. They had the chaos of the hundreds of campers and counselors dancing around the asphalt totally under control with smiles and beads of sweat on their faces.

They were also the people that changed services from a place to sit quietly until dinner to a place of connecting with a culture that was starting to inspire me just by singing its melodies surrounded by a community of friends. Every day they led us in prayer and in song sessions and every day I watched them with total fascination at the way they exuded confidence and joy. I grew to love not just the melodies of the prayers that we used at camp during services, but also the songs that we learned to just sing and have fun with. These songs were usually in Hebrew or combined Hebrew and English sections. This was not the kind of music I was used to hearing on the radio, but I still felt connected to the songs we sang.

These songleaders looked, walked, and acted like rock stars: they were the coolest people at camp to me. They led services for a short hour each day, led song sessions and closed out every day with songs and prayers before bed. They were the beginning of my personal connection to Judaism. It was as if the music we sang together bridged the gap from the boredom I used to feel to the feelings of connectedness and spirit that I got at camp. They salted the soup. I decided that I wanted to be just like them someday. I picked up a guitar and as the years and summers went on, I went from leading youth group services for 20 people to leading services and song sessions for upwards of 200 people with not just a smile and a few beads of sweat on my face, but with confidence that I had never felt before.

It took me becoming a songleader to learn that Jewish music is in itself a whole market in the Jewish world. The Jewish community has its own rock stars that fashion the melodies that are sung at Jewish summer camps and synagogues across the country. They record albums, sell their music, and hold concerts the way secular musicians do and many of them make a decent living out of it. The difference that sets them apart is that they write music based on religious texts, often using a Hebrew text and then translating it in a way that is meaningful for themselves and hopefully others. They do the work that inspires people through a combination of faith and music.

This market within the Jewish community started with the place that made me love Jewish music. Debbie Friedman, an American Jewish singer and songwriter, was once a camper at a Jewish camp, like me and millions of kids around the country, and she became the first songleader. In the 1970s, the music used in synagogues was mostly played on an organ, which can be hard to relate to if you are a kid or teen in the 1970s or pretty much any other era. She started writing her own melodies of prayers at camp on the guitar with the intention of writing Jewish music that sounded more like what she heard on the radio, in a more personal way than with an organ. This was the spark of a movement in Jewish music and over time her music changed the way Jews at summer camps and at synagogues pray. Friedman and other Jewish musicians, like Jeff Klepper and Dan Freelander, wrote music that is still used at summer camps and synagogues today, and changed the way that Jews in the reform movement experience music.

Jewish musicians and songleaders at camp, much like the young Friedman, continue to write music that is similar to the kind of music they like to listen to outside of a Jewish context. Where modern Jewish music doesn’t sound the same as Friedman’s sound that at the time was seen either as revolutionary or inappropriate, it continues to grow and change with the kids that listen to it and grow up to sing and write the Jewish music that inspires them. They continue the work that Friedman started by making the music that will inspire the next generation of kids to keep singing to the tunes that they love in the tradition that they love.

I’m glad that I grew up to be a songleader because it taught me to be confident in myself and my skills, which was what I initially wanted, but it also made me want to spread the same joy that was spread to me through Jewish music and this effect keeps me song leading outside of camp. I believe that Jewish music is a way to give flavor to a spiritual practice that often feels outdated and that has the power to get uninspired kids into the traditions that have been passed down to generation upon generation. It has the potential to help people like me that used to not care about being Jewish at all learn to connect with it in their own way, a way that made me want to learn and understand more than sitting bored in a sanctuary waiting for services to be over.

Jewish music made me want to be Jewish and it has taught me that song can be used as a tool to make kids and teens, that connect so easily to music, connect with Jewish life. Camps have known this for a long time, and synagogues are implementing camp songleaders into their schools to teach their children about Judaism through music. In my experience as a camp songleader and then a religious school songleader, I have learned about the power of music as a learning tool to teach kids about Jewish culture, Hebrew and the more faith involved aspects of Judaism. It lets them get up and be silly, but also sit down and think about Judaism as a tradition. Most of all, it gives flavor to Judaism; it salts the soup.

 

Cheese Puffs Recipe

Written by Jessica Fischman

Photo by Katie Fischman

My family typically makes this recipe during the high holy days. We call them Cheese Sambusuks. Cheese Sambusuks are an Indian-Jewish recipe that has been used throughout the years.  My grandparents and my mom were born in Calcutta, India. Cheese Sambusuks are great with tea and coffee. My family would serve it with high tea. In Calcutta, we would make these at home and most kids and adults enjoyed them. Traditionally, we would break the Yom Kippur fast with a few Cheese Sambusuks to hold us over until we could have our real meal. We would pack Cheese Sambusuks right before we left for synagogue. I have many memories as a child looking forward to breaking the fast right after the Yom Kippur service. The Nahoums and Sons Bakery is one of the last Jewish bakeries in India. The bakery was founded in 1902 by a Baghdadi Jew, Nahoum Israel Mordecai and is over 100 years old, located in the new market. Ironically, they are famous for their Christmas fruitcakes. Many people go there to experience the wonderful taste of Indian and Jewish delicacies.

 

Dough

2 cups flour All Purpose

¼ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ pound (8 tablespoons) butter

⅓  to ½ cup cold water, as needed

 

Filling

4 ounces cheddar or mozzarella cheese

4 ounces feta cheese

2 eggs beaten

½ teaspoon freshly ground black  pepper

(makes 20)

1

First, mix the dry ingredients — the flour, salt, sugar and baking powder — together. Add the margarine or butter by rubbing or cutting it into the flour. Add enough of the water to prepare a moist, but firm dough. Knead the dough for a minute for smoothness, then wrap the dough in foil and refrigerate for an hour or more.

2

 While the dough is chilling in the refrigerator, grate the cheese in a processor and add the eggs and  black pepper. Mix to a smooth consistency.

3

Break the dough into walnut-size pieces and roll them into round balls. Roll out the balls into

3 ½ to 4 inch circles. Put 1 heaping teaspoon of the cheese mixture into the center of each circle. Moisten the lower edge of the dough with a your  finger and fold the pastry in half and press the edges together firmly.

4

Heat the oven to 400˚F. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes. Remove and cool.

*They are best served warm but may be served at room temperature.

These can also be made with almond filling.

 

Almond Filling:

½ cup blanched almonds

¼ cup sugar

1 to 2 drops of rosewater (optional, can purchase at whole foods)

 

Grind the almonds coarse in a processor. Mix it with the sugar and rosewater.

Prepare the pastry the same way as the cheese puffs and fill with the almond mixture.

Bake at 375˚ F for 15-20 minutes, or until pastry is light brown.

 

At the Risk of Sounding Radical: How to Respond to Neo-Nazism

Written and Photographed by Zachary Brenner

Illustrated by Evan Harris

Charlottesville, North Carolina. August 12, 2017. Tiki torches hoisted in the air, proud neo-Nazis march the streets, chanting “Jews will not replace us.”  It was in this moment where I realized that the people who I had assumed were living underground, out of sight, emerged into the forefront of American culture and my own Jewish life. I had assumed for so long that the legacy of the Holocaust haunted most Americans. With discourse seemingly revolving around guilt and disgust associated with stories from Holocaust survivors about the treatment of European Jews in the 1930s and 40s, I believed most Americans were pained and repulsed by the history of state-sponsored execution of Jews and other marginalized groups. I also assumed that the neo-Nazi’s main aspiration was to destroy or distort the memory of the Holocaust because I thought that the Holocaust is what made Nazism taboo and reprehensible. I believed that the main obstacle for neo-Nazis rising to prominence in American culture was the legacy of the Holocaust. I was wrong – their goal was not as subtle and devious. It was worse.

Forgetting the Holocaust was not on the agenda of these anti-semites responsible for the death of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville. The goal was to preserve the Nazi legacy – to outrightly announce that Jews will not replace ‘truly white’ individuals (whatever that means, as whiteness is not definite but socially constructed). The question for me becomes this: in the midst of such atrocious, disgusting, evil behavior, what do we do? How are we meant to respond?

The common responses I see to this event are as follows: extreme anger, fear, utter disgust, and desire for vengeance. At the risk of sounding radical, and at the risk of disgusting myself in the process, I am going to argue the case that these neo-Nazis in Charlottesville deserve our empathy. For those feeling the impulse to curse me out and slam the journal closed, I hope that you hear me out.

Here’s a little thought experiment: there are five people in a field of strawberries. Four of them share the strawberries equally. One, however, eats more than their fair share. Suddenly, the whole group suffers from a shortage of strawberries. So what to do? There are a few options.

  1. You can expel the thief of the strawberries.
  2. You can, in response, collect all the strawberries for yourself and hide them from the greedy bastard.
  3. You can confront the person and ask them why they stole the strawberries and hope to reach a resolution to the issue.

So how does this relate to neo-Nazis marching the streets? How dare I use such a petty analogy to discuss the very real and dangerous reality of neo-Nazis? Firstly, because the same basic dilemma lies behind each scenario: we either drive neo-Nazis out of society, through direct exclusion or deprivation of resources, or confront them and seek to understand why this problem persists. And secondly, when it comes to a field of strawberries, there are fewer emotions that interfere with rational thought — and rational thought is crucial as a first step in confronting any serious issue. Inevitably, emotions will become a significant factor. By beginning with rational thought, one assesses the situation and can logically think of what the realistic consequences of any particular decision will be, rather than how it will feel to make a particular decision. By beginning with emotions, we focus our attention toward making cursory decisions that will feel great (such as taking revenge), but ultimately may not solve the problem.

Still, neo-Nazis will likely have much stronger and more personal reasons for being publicly anti-semitic and white supremacist than an eater of strawberries would for stealing fruit from a group. It will be difficult for a neo-Nazi to change. It will be even more challenging for a Jew to confront a neo-Nazi rationally, when we are obligated to remember the history of our people that has manifested in millions and millions of state-sponsored executions in the previous centuries. But in this dilemma lies my point: anti-semitism has persisted for centuries, sometimes publicly and sometimes privately. It seems to me that the solution is to confront the issue systemically — we must confront the people and their personal histories behind these horrible actions. How else are we supposed to resolve the issue? I argue that resolution is key, not avoidance and not revenge — which will only persist the problem indefinitely.  

So, how do we confront this predicament systemically? Some believe we should drive the neo-Nazis underground. This, I admit, is incredibly attractive. On the surface, this plan appears perfect: scare these atrocious humans enough to get them out of the public sphere so we can live our damn lives in peace. After all, these are the reprehensible individuals who would have wished us dead and shipped us off to Auschwitz, Treblinka, Birkenau, or Bergen-Belsen. These are the people who if we attempted to speak to them might scorch us with their tiki torches and laugh as we burned alive.

However appealing and personally satisfying it would be to resort to exclusion of these individuals, there is still a key issue with this tactic:  it does not actually address the issue. What happens when a leader who does not actively and explicitly condemn neo-Nazism rises to power? The neo-Nazis crawl out from their hibernation with unaltered opinions — ready to march the streets proudly. Perhaps they even have more desire for revenge in their blood  given the fact that they have been forced into hibernation. This is what is happening today in our country. After decades of seemingly living underground following the Holocaust and Nuremberg Trials, the Nazis have reemerged ready to take the world by storm, with the state-sponsored support of the President of the United States, affirmed by his lack of condemnation of the neo-Nazi activity in Charlottesville.

Driving them underground won’t work. They will re-emerge eventually, for our kids and grandkids to have to deal with more than we have to now. 

So what about this solution: let’s do what our animalistic desires tell us to do. Let’s just kill them all. Let’s go all out Inglourious Basterds and collect their Nazi scalps. Perhaps not quite so violently in reality, but you get the point. And while I love Basterds as a piece of cathartic entertainment, I would never abide to that logic in my everyday life. I stand adamantly behind the idea that we should not kill in order to fix our problems. Perhaps these are my Jewish values speaking, but I believe that unless there is a direct threat to your life or the lives of your loved ones that is unavoidable unless you kill, we should not kill to fix our problems.

The question that drives me is this: why should we ask oppressors to understand our suffering if we are not going to understand theirs? I admit, it troubles me to write that statement. How dare I say that oppressors struggle? How dare I say that neo-Nazis who are determined to preserve a murderous legacy and subjugate all who are not considered a part of them are sufferers? Here is why I dare: they are suffering. They suffer from a lack of education. They suffer as a product of their upbringing that taught them that it was okay and even admirable to torture and potentially kill in the name of white racial purity. And mostly, they suffer because they do not see the miracle behind life itself. Why would we attempt to kill anyone who is a product of billions of years of evolution on a planet that is placed at the precisely correct distance from a huge ball of fire that permits a comfortable existence for creatures with the ability to think. That sounds like a miracle to me. And it also reminds me that neo-Nazis are not mindless creatures: they have brains — they can be reached.  

The point is: neo-Nazis aren’t going anywhere unless we attempt to change this ideology. We should not be fighting fire with fire, we should be fighting fire with education, with the ability to confront certain ideologies we disagree with and learn about why it is happening and then educating in order to change the issue. How are we going to educate these individuals to see who they perceive as non-white groups of people as people. What is at the root of their evil?

Why is it important to empathize with the people in our society who we most hate and oppose? The people who are to blame for so much suffering? Because I believe that it is important for us to understand why this is still happening. And it’s important for us to understand that these people have been corrupted. To an extent, we all have. No one is irredeemable in my view. There is a positive role in this world for everyone. Avoiding the oppressors will not amount to any progress. Killing the oppressors, I believe, will result in a prevailing tendency for murder. Violence and anger are addictive — once you unlock the valve, it’s difficult to change course. In order for true progress to exist, we must confront the people behind this evil and understand why — then we must find a new role for them in this world. A role that is not fueled by hate and violence.

And while this may seem too ambitious and idealistic, I choose to live my life as an idealist. Because even if my plans and wishes do not amount to as much as I want them to, I believe it will make at least a small difference and things will change, for the better. If my plan does not work, and we cannot rid the world of this ideology through conversation with openly proud neo-Nazis (which, admittedly, I am skeptical about), I believe that even the worst of the worst can have a positive role in this world. We should not police those who we only suspect to be neo-Nazis, as it is not our role in a civilized society to police one’s mind (even though it seems we may be participating in this sort of activity presently). But for those with this ideology that are committing acts of violence despite our efforts to confront and change their minds, their positive role can still be something as simple as committing their lives to community service in chains. At least then, nobody is dying.

For now, though, we must change our thought-process. I’m not suggesting any one blueprint for a confrontation that would practically solve this issue: as each confrontation will manifest in different ways. What I am urging for is a necessary change in perspective and to grapple with this idea of empathy.

 

A Young Woman’s Psalm

Written by Abigail Jacobs-Kaufman

 

If I look beyond my body, and see through my soul,

my blood carries the history of my people.

Within my heart, I hold the knowledge that I am of my people,

and in this, I shall find strength. . .

Ages of hate have followed us, and yet,

those who carry anger in their heart have not broken us.

In my hair, my skin, my nose, and breath, lies Ad-nai.

In the face of beating waves, and stinging wind, my heart is full.

For I am a Jew.

In this definition, I am one with all children of Ad-nai,

and, all the creations of such a hand; a community

who will wipe my tears, and raise me from the ashes.

Exiled, enslaved and damned, by those whose seeds plant nothing but hate.

I am not afraid of their words. They may rip at the fabric of my flesh,

and plaster their inability to love, on banners around the world,

Yet, they shall never remove the wisdom inside of me.

I am the child of pain, and love, and beauty.

You will never see me falter.

I am the child of my mother and father,

Of the congregation, and of the Torah.

I pray alongside my temple, and am caressed by an all loving Ad-nai

I serve a G-d who asks me to question.

A G-d who tells me to love my enemy, and to embrace all born of blood.

A G-d who hears my prayers even when

I have not uttered a word.

For, I am a Jew, and in this blessing, I find solace,

for my traditions are created by my ancestors.

I am willing to breathe life to the dead in order

to bring forth a new place of my own.

Unapologetic in my existence and validated in my stance.

Where you may try to tear me down, I shall build new steps,

and rise above it into a state where I am indisputably myself.