I feel very strongly that we need to teach compassion for our fellow Jews and to avoid sinat chinam (senseless hatred). Many Jews condemn other Jews, citing internalized anti-Semitism, in-group elitism and the unpleasant practice of figuring out whether a person is Jewish or Jewish-enough. I think it is important to stimulate compassion for the people who do this. They are the ones suffering. We need not take on their bad behavior, nor their dark feelings and fears. We can and should feel sorry for them and we can and should strive to act differently. There is an old poem that my father used to recite that is my guide in this area in particular:
They drew a circle to keep me out,
Rebel, heretic, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win,
We drew a circle that took them in.
We are the fortunate ones when we don’t feel the need to reject others.
In my teens my good friend, Irene, became a born again Christian. At one point she burst into tears and said she was so unhappy because I was going to hell. I said to her, “Irene, I’m 17! What can I have possibly done at this age that would cause me to go to hell?” But for her, not accepting Jesus as my savior was enough to bring this terrible fate and, for her, such grief. How lucky was I to be free of this dark fear! I knew she accepted Jesus as her savior and although I didn’t believe poor Jesus could do a thing for her, I believed she would be fine. She was, and is, a good person. I had and have no fear for her soul.
This is not to say that anyone has the right to pry into the background of another person. My June column of Mixed and Matched is about deflecting that rude behavior. But I want to congratulate those of us who are fortunate enough to not feel a need to invalidate or degrade a fellow human being, Jewish or not.