A rabbi’s daughter sheds her ignorance

Israel/Palestine
on 21 Comments

Generally I’m not optimistic about the Jewish community’s ability to come to terms with the tragedy of the Palestinian experience; I think ethnocentrism hobbles our community, and at this stage in history, Jews need to reach out to others for leadership. But though I can be harsh, I am also a proud Jew, and I know that there are some Jewish leaders who grasp the full moral dimension of what has befallen our community; and I want to tell you about hearing a Boulder pediatrician named Wendy Zerin speak about a recent trip to Israel and Palestine.

Zerin appeared yesterday morning at a panel on “The Crisis in East Jerusalem” at the Rabbis for Human Rights of North America conference in New York. The conference was hosted at the Jewish Federation building on E. 59th Street– i.e., it was ensconced in the bulwark of the official Jewish community.

The daughter of a rabbi and a practitioner of Buddhist meditation, Zerin is obviously a spiritual person. When she was young, she had been an exchange student in Israel. But she hadn’t been back to the country for 15 years, partly because she was avoiding the bad news.

In that time, she said plainly, she “acquired a great deal of ignorance.” And then she went there in October with a group organized by Rabbis for Human Rights.

“I’m not an expert on the situation but what I can offer are my impressions of a 10 day whirlwind trip that was heartwrenching, awe-inspiring, amazing, the whole range of emotion. East Jerusalem is rather hard. Maybe because it blindsided me. And I will cop to my own ignorance of the situation there.”

Zerin told us that the blindsiding began as soon as they got to Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem. For they saw a crowd surrounding a car, and a settler in a yellow shirt talking to a police officer. The man had tried to run over a Palestinian. “He tried to kill my cousin,” a Palestinian man was shouting. The Palestinian neighbors had stopped his car when the settler tried to drive away.

And it was explained to the visiting rabbis’ group that nothing would happen to the settler.

“That was a shock to my system. The impunity. That writ large or multiplied a thousand fold, speaks to the situation there.”

The group then met Palestinians who were living in tents on the street after they had been evicted from their homes to make way for Jewish settlers. As they stood talking, the settlers walked past. Zerin showed us pictures of the tent and its denizens in a clinical no-holds-barred manner.

“Something I was not prepared for was the brazenness and the audacity. It was so out there in the open, and that was a shock to me…

“The other thing that haunts me is how easy it would be not to be aware of this situation. You visit Israel and have no ideas of the reality as it is experienced… on a daily basis, by the people who are living there. That is with me… the human price. The cost to the psyche. The humiliation, the indignity, the homelessness…

“All of a sudden his children is sleeping on the street. What that does to them– and what it does to me as a parent.”

Since returning, Zerin has hosted some gatherings in her house, small, so as to bear witness to what she saw.

“I’m not an authority. I can’t engage in debate. I will lose. … For those who might be able to see through my eyes and be moved as I am, that’s what I can offer.”

You won’t lose, Dr. Zerin, please get over that.

She said she will take further action, maybe develop expertise. “I don’t know how it plays out.”

Lynn Gottllieb was in the room. She is an activist rabbi, and she said, “What you see here is just the tip of the iceberg that’s been going on for 60 years. He [the evicted Palestinian] is one of millions of people who have had that experience.”

Gottlieb said that Jews have to think about how we define settler, and insider and outsider. In all her journeys to Israel and Palestine over many, many years, “I’ve seen the exact same situation going on, and we are just waking up to it now. It is very sobering. But I don’t want people to think, this is a new situation. It is not.”

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Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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21 Responses

  1. yourstruly
    December 7, 2010, 12:13 pm

    With impunity a “Jew” running over a Palestinian? How is this any different than a Stormtrooper knocking down a Jew in the streets of Berlin, circa 1933? That the settler-entity Israel is a Jewish democracy? Or is it that said settler-entity is neither Jewish nor a democracy? But if not that, what? How about barbaric and fascist?

  2. pabelmont
    December 7, 2010, 12:17 pm

    Thank God who has allowed me to live long enough to see these (testimony) things happen. If it takes 60 years to open a few people’s eyes, so be it.

    Imagine the problems faced by the so-called “Good Germans” (1933-1945) who faced (I suppose) death for helping Jews, for bearing witness by their brave acts.

    • Psychopathic god
      December 7, 2010, 4:34 pm

      I hate to always pick fights, but it doesn’t stop me –

      Look at those dates for the Germans — 1933-1945.
      It was bad. Very bad. (I am convinced it was not as bad as many people claim, but very bad.)
      Look at how Germany was punished, and paid reparations, and going on two generations is still living with a burden of guilt that Jews perpetually reinforce — not only on Germans but on Americans — see here: link to booktv.org
      Also note a rough timetable of German concentration camps: GERMANS were the first to be imprisoned; even Jewish Virtual Library recites that only in 1940 were Jews sent to concentration camps.
      ALSO note that Kristallnacht, another horrible event, lasted one day, in 1938, and only after Jabotinsky had ordered and accomplished numerous “kristallnachts” of embassies throughout Europe as early as 1930. Ya don’t hear about those, do you?
      Look at the dates over which Palestinians have been dispossessed and humiliated — at LEAST 1933 – 2010.

      moral equivalence anyone?

      • wondering jew
        December 7, 2010, 6:09 pm

        PG- “and only after Jabotinsky had ordered and accomplished numerous “kristallnachts” of embassies throughout Europe as early as 1930. ” What does that mean?

  3. Pamela Olson
    December 7, 2010, 2:19 pm

    “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.”

    ~ Abraham Lincoln

    Most people are good. The problem is, everyone’s kept deliberately ignorant these days.

    • annie
      December 7, 2010, 2:29 pm

      The great point is to bring them the real facts.”

      perhaps that is why, according to Shuli Linda Yarkon, a PhD candidate at Tel Aviv University “there are really no facts when you discuss this issue. There are only narratives.”

      ;)

      • Citizen
        December 8, 2010, 5:44 am

        The only facts are the settlements, ever more of them. That’s the point of the narratives. People actually live in those facts, eat, sleep, play, pray; outside in the street those kicked out do the same. No narrative needed.

  4. Kathleen
    December 7, 2010, 2:40 pm

    “I think ethnocentrism hobbles our community” You can sure say that again. Been going on for a long time

    ————————————–

    “and I want to tell you about hearing a Boulder pediatrician named Wendy Zerin speak about a recent trip to Israel and Palestine.

    Zerin appeared yesterday morning at a panel on “The Crisis in East Jerusalem” at the Rabbis for Human Rights of North America conference in New York. The conference was hosted at the Jewish Federation building on E. 59th Street– i.e., it was ensconced in the bulwark of the official Jewish community.

    The daughter of a rabbi and a practitioner of Buddhist meditation, Zerin is obviously a spiritual person. When she was young, she had been an exchange student in Israel. But she hadn’t been back to the country for 15 years, partly because she was avoiding the bad news.

    In that time, she said plainly, she “acquired a great deal of ignorance.” And then she went there in October with a group organized by Rabbis for Human Rights.”

    I am in Boulder right now and lived here for years 35 years ago. Was also part of the Buddhist community here when Trumpa Rimpoche was alive. Still practice. Lots of Jewish folks who moved towards Buddhism in Boulder over the decades. But many at the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center link to rmpjc.org have said that many Jews in Boulder are really shut down to looking into the facts on the ground in Israel. Avoid it. Or when something is written in the Daily Camera many Jews in Boulder have knee jerk reactions. Closing down to the facts.

    Amazing to think that people who consider themselves “spiritual” have such thick road blocks up

    ,

  5. Kathleen
    December 7, 2010, 2:47 pm

    Even though Zerin is just choosing to turn on the lights about the facts on the ground over there. Maybe she could contact the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center and offer to speak. This group has said they have met with strong resistance from Boulder Colorado Jews about the facts on the ground. Strong resistance. Notice that their focus is now on Rocky Flats an issue I was working on almost 40 years ago in Boulder with a sizable group of activist. Don’t see any focus on the I/P issue at their site any more. Maybe they are taking a break from being attacked on this issue

    link to rmpjc.org

  6. Mooser
    December 7, 2010, 4:09 pm

    How could anybody not know? How the hell do you think it’s done?
    This is that wide-eyed disingenuousness which drives me nuts.
    Frankly, what I think she is doing, even if unwittingly, is providing excuses for people not to know.
    I know that sounds crazy, but I always knew, even before I could locate Israel on a map. That is, I always knew once I thought about it as an adult, rather than childishly.

    How the hell else is it done? How was it always done? with political minipulation and violence. How was it done in America?
    And the trust in Jewish/Zionist leaders, from whence comes that incredible credulity?

    I’m sorry, you’re a grown-up, and even if you haven’t been to Israel, you must know something about US history, at least.

    We all know. The challenge is in finding ever more convoluted ways of ignoring it or excusing yourself.

    • Mooser
      December 7, 2010, 4:25 pm

      And what is even more incredible is that any Jew can’t know, in their very bones, that while the Palestinians are, of course, the ultimate victims and will suffer the most harm, it is non-elite Jews who will come in a close second in the Zionism’s victims sweepstakes.

      What the hell is the good of having a Jewish ethnic consciousness if it’s just a cheap mellodrama? My God, there are things to be learned from being Jewish. Why be (forgive me) just an imitation of Gentiles, in terms of how you consider your ethnic heritage?

      I can’t understand it. What is it about Jewish history and existence which would make a Jew anything but suspicious of anyone who claimed to lead Jews? Their continued record of sucess and selflessness and self sacrifice?

      • Mooser
        December 7, 2010, 4:26 pm

        “Your comment is awaiting moderation.”

        Well, it is pretty immoderate, I admit it.

      • Mooser
        December 7, 2010, 4:45 pm

        None of that is to imply that Ms. Zerin’s effort to face the facts is not admirable, and her efforts to disseminate not brave. Not at all.
        But the result of 2000 years of persecution by others, and betrayal by leadership is to develop a consciousness akin to that of the spoiled children of Anglo-Indians?
        I just don’t get it.
        You would think that just the fact that that very type of consciousness is so sought after by Gentiles as proof of elite status (only poor people are smart, being dumb is a privilege of the elite) might make Jews suspicious of it.

      • Citizen
        December 8, 2010, 6:02 am

        Mooser, perhaps there is a difference between believing and living a cheap melodrama and being any Gentile? I imagine if Jerry Spinger wanted to, and he could get away with it, he could do a new show featuring only Jewish Americans, and it would be as informative and entertaining as his seminal show, and quite as lucrative. What is it about Gentile history and existence which would make any Gentile anything but suspicious of anyone who claimed to lead them (even the light onto the Gentile types)? Nevertheless, it’s historically true that non-elite Jews have paid very disproportionately with their lives and little treasures when compared to their leaders. Can’t you say the same about non-elite Gentiles? If not, why not? If so, I don’t grasp your point there–unless you’re a semi-secret ethnic elitist yourself but don’t recognize that. Perhaps you have that in common with Jerry Springer?
        I’d rather admire your more obvious grasp of what it means to be human, fully human–sans the ethnic attire.

      • Mooser
        December 8, 2010, 11:26 am

        “You would think that just the fact that that very type of consciousness is so sought after by Gentiles as proof of elite status (only poor people are smart, being dumb is a privilege of the elite) might make Jews suspicious of it.”

        Sorry, I was losing my normally placid temper. It just drives me nuts when Jews are allowed to widen their eyes and “But I didn’t know” Drives me batty. How could they not know? Why did they not find out. How could they not imagine?
        Another words, we are supposed to be so goddam smart, but when it comes to Israel and Zionism, it’s perfectly all right to pretend to the most absurd innocence.
        But there I go again! I can’t even think about this without losing my equanimity. And it’s so expensive to go and find it and get it back.

      • Mooser
        December 8, 2010, 11:34 am

        Maybe the best way I can put it is this: Go and find me the Jew who professes the same ignorance about the Holacaust. Go and find me the Jew who says “But they weren’t really trying to wipe us out, were they?” Or, “That wasn’t slave labor, everybody has to contribute to the war effort in their country”
        Or “Well it was legal under German law, so it was allright” and so on. They would be considered insane, right? And their suppositions of Nazi goodness would make you angry.
        In fact, any atrocity story about the Nazis is believed with no proof. And it would be considered really dumb not to believe it. But the very same people can pretend to a wide eyed innocence about what went on, and what goes on in Israel.
        I can’t buy it.
        And I think, perhaps too cynically, that most of this change of heart is due to the fact that people are starting to realise that the credulity towards Israel and ZIonism no longer pays, so they start moving to the more acceptable (depending on who you want to be accepted by) position.

      • Mooser
        December 8, 2010, 11:35 am

        I’m gonna go find my equanimity. I think it’s in a little box in the music room. But where the hell is my lighter?

      • eljay
        December 8, 2010, 11:45 am

        >> I’m gonna go find my equanimity. I think it’s in a little box in the music room.
        Love the (unintentional?) Python reference… :-)
        link to orangecow.org

      • MRW
        December 8, 2010, 11:59 am

        Mooser December 8, 2010 at 11:34 am,

        On fire again today, Mooser, and appreciated. Your lighter is to the right of your computer, somewhere.

    • Kathleen
      December 9, 2010, 2:53 pm

      A choice to not know, not want to know, refuse to know. Whether it is becoming the hip thing in the Jewish community or it is being driven by the desire to save Israel from itself or is being driven by compassion and understanding. What ever the reason the movement the facts on the ground are moving by leaps and bounds.

      Keep pushing.

      Contact your Reps. Help tip the scale for justice.

  7. eee
    December 8, 2010, 11:51 am

    Mooser,

    Did you know this about your own country:
    link to theatlantic.com

    Doesn’t seem to hurt your “equanimity”.

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