I received a letter from a treasured friend, a professor in Belfast, who summers and spends holidays in the little town we live in north of Montreal. He knows I’m Jewish and was anxious for me. I know not what religion he was born into or if he practices. I know him only as caring and intelligent, as is his spouse, a couple whose company we enjoy around the dinner table frequently.
He asked how the war in the Middle East and the accompanying world-wide chaos was affecting me.
I fear the answer is unwieldy as are the issues at stake. My personal experience with anti-Semitism, other than the “kike is the Jewish gentleman that just left the room,” meaning I know not what is said behind my back, has been minimal.
A Revenue Canada bureaucrat in a bad suit demanded I pay a $2,000 tax bill immediately cause “your name is Sherman, you father must be rich,” when my income was a little over $250 a week. My father cut dresses in a factory.
When I wandered into my high school during a Jewish holiday to work on the school paper, I overheard two young men point out the school smelled better with the Jews not around. And a publisher of a magazine I edited for 20 years told me, “You’re not like the others.” I had passed a litmus test for which only he could discern the colours.
Fear and homicidal rage have not been part of my experience. But I live in a civilized community, have had few Jewish lovers until the woman I now live with and my religion didn’t stop me from getting the jobs I wanted. I have a few Jewish friends and no idea what religion the rest are. Hatred has not been a part of my Jewish experience and no one here expects me to be wearing horns.
I know what Israel does is wrong. But, as I oft told an Islamic friend who was an anti-Zionist but not an anti-Semite, that had we lived through the Holocaust or lost families in the camps or threatened with extinction -- walked a mile in an Israeli’s shoes -- our attitude might be different.
I have a cousin who calls regularly and rants about how Gaza should be turned into a parking lot and Palestinians exterminated. He would feel right at home at a Republican conclave. When I asked him, “How much killing is enough?” he started calling Reisa. She has markedly more patience than I, even though she finds his views abhorrent. To her further credit, she is not a news junkie and can find respite in the mundane tasks of sweeping the floors and scrubbing sinks.
I have found myself plunged into a deep depression, exacerbated by reading one of the young women hostages had been beheaded. The image in my mind will not go away and I won’t talk about it to Reisa because she doesn’t need to walk around with that image in her head.
A columnist in the Times wrote Hamas and Israel are trying to “out-crazy” each other, attempting unspeakable atrocities sufficient to dissuade the other from committing more. The strategy has not been successful.
Now, the animals are out of the cages. Ukraine, Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Russia, China, the U.S. are all getting involved, as you know, and anti-Semitism has joined the U.S. scourge of guns threatening everyone in America and the Christian proponents of hate now embrace Jews — my enemy’s enemy, etc.
When I look into the dark cloud that has engulfed me these last few days, amplified I’m sure by Covid, the end of a spate of professional responsibilities and winter’s dark approach, I see this not only as part of a global wildfire of hate, inequality and violence, as witnessed daily in our southern neighbour, but also as a form of click bait — videos and commentary and news 24/7 gluing us to our devices so we can absorb ads and more ads and more ads. Death and carnage as a marketing tool and profit centre: look at the bloodied bodies and brush your teeth with Pepsodent. Or how about our latest sweaters for winter? A new car, perhaps?
You would know this latter part better than I, Kevin, but I don’t think our brains are made to deal with this. The great invention of the microchip that begat phones that are everything else and tablets feed us a non-stop diet of death amidst pretty orange fireballs, smoke bombs, flares and the rubble they create and it's debilitating world view. Despite the wide-screen images of the wails of sorrow and endless tears surrounding the parade of bodies wrapped for burial, I see people go about their daily affairs, talk trivia, watch hockey as I do for relief, as if everything is normal. Which, in our little enclave in the mountains, it is. We are helpless in the face of this storm, our only choice is to watch or look away and neither seems an option I can live with. Can you be human and turn your back? Can you remain human and absorb the inhumanity? Can you be human and ignore it?
So, Kevin, how am I dealing with it? I don’t know. I stare out at the snow and the fireplace a lot. Realize how lucky we are. But my head’s a bee’s nest. I think it would be the same if I wasn’t Jewish. Regardless of under which religion’s rubric it’s committed, I don’t comprehend barbarism.