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Schaeffer: ‘the religion tends to feed exclusivity’

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A few days back I did a post about Haaretz’s profile of the human-rights-lawyer Emily Schaeffer, who was drawn to Israel from the U.S. as a girl. The piece did not explore identity fully; I wondered what Schaeffer’s Jewish/Zionist identity consists in. She wrote the following to me:

I actually think it’s fairly clear that I’m not a Zionist, and there is even a place in the article where Coby Ben Simhon describes me as "devoid of nationalistic sentiment and full of human compassion," which I find to be very accurate and perhaps the simplest answer to your question on both topics.

But more specifically on religion, I am completely non-religious these days, while being "cultural" the way that many Jews are in terms of marking holidays. I think even as a teenager I had no belief in god, but I found the prayers and community and identity empowering. Now I find that to be quite a complex and difficult arena for me, not only because I cannot say the prayers with any feeling (especially now that I understand their full meaning), but also because of how much the religion tends to feed Zionism or at least exclusivity. I still identify myself as a Jew — it’s at the very least my family history and tradition, and it is the label I take in the Israeli and Palestinian spaces, for better and for worse. But even if you’ll see me dipping parsley in salt water, you won’t catch me in the synagogue, and I refuse to read much of the Hagaddah. And unless I’m with people who I am certain do not espouse Zionism or any form of oppression, I cannot comfortably honor the tradition, or even be sure I want to be part of it.

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