samedi, mai 30, 2009

Au 'voir, ancien regime

Over the past few months it seems as though outside events, like the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor, and the death of John Hope Franklin, have been impelling me to grapple with questions around race, ethnicity, bigotry and victimization/victimhood.

I've thought of how different my dad's experience probably was, and how it might have shaped his views on topics like the way Israel behaved towards her neighbors and the Palestinians. A child of immigrants, Dad grew up at a time when some colleges still didn't allow Jews to teach. Even after the Holocaust of millions of Jews and others, he was probably more aware then me of persistent anti-semitism, both here in America and abroad, in places like Argentina.

Dad and I rarely talked about how Israel treated the Palestinians, because it would usually end in an argument. I adore my cousins, but I don't bring up that topic because of fear of where it could take us -- although it bothers me profoundly.

The prejudice I have confronted is much more subtle. A childhood friend from down the block. whose parents were friends of my parents, tells me that "your people killed Christ." I reflect with embarassment on the times I've heard anti-Jewish remarks in my presence and sometimes remained silent.

And then there was my grandmother Smith. Sarah Jackson Smith. The legend is that my great great uncle got the "Jackson" when he intervened in a fight to help an old Jewish man whose beard was being pulled. The young toughs invited my uncle, "Gentlmen Jackson" to join his gang. So Grandma came from stock in which you stood up for the underdog. Stood up for Jews being persecuted by Nazis, of course. But also for merchant seamen. And blacks facing prejudice. And the Japanese after Hiroshima. And the Marshall Plan to repair Europe after the Second World War.

My grandmother was a citizen of the world. And although I don't do as well at it as she did, I aspire to be one, too. Her thirst for a world in which there would be no prejudice was an inspiration to a young girl, and is honored still, even when I fall short of my own dreams. We're getting closer. What we see now is some of the death throes of those who are threatened by that vision -- and by our own instinctual tribalism. But I think that Grandmother Smith had the kind of secular faith to believe that someday that vision would triumph. And on my good days, I do, too.

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