When I was in the middle of my Bar Mitzvah celebration at age thirteen in Brooklyn the furthest thing from my mind was that fifty seven years later I would find myself highly critical of Israel–specifically, the Israeli government–the refuge for European Jews after the Holocaust. I’m fortunate, or maybe unfortunate, to have access to progressive TV networks and to publications (including this one) which offer scenes and narration of the consequences of the current IDF attacks on Gaza. Since I’ve been out of touch with my Jewish roots, my extended family for many years, I have no idea what their opinions are on this ongoing massacre of innocents in the name of bringing Hamas to its knees. My guess would be that most of my cousins and my surviving aunts are generally supportive of the Israeli leaders. They are almost all, if I recall, sports fans and fans root for the home team—no matter what. Many of them were guests at my Bar Mitzvah, including the great aunt of NBC anchor Matt Lauer, no friend of progressive views and politics. (Her gift to me, by the way, was a gold plated wrist watch.)
I can conjecture that, like most Americans, my relatives haven’t viewed the carnage inflicted on Gaza. They haven’t seen the corpses of young children and the destruction of thousands of homes and buildings, not to mention the loss of limbs of civilians whose only crime is being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Such scenes are not shown in the mainstream media. Interestingly, my non-Jewish friends presume I would support Israel—again, the Israeli government–even if they tortured, maimed, and killed every last citizen of Gaza. (“Israel” and “Gaza,” as well as all other nations, are only concepts; they have no existence in the real world. Only people exist.)
So, what do I tell my Jewish friends and relatives if they ask how I feel about the situation between Israel and the Palestinians? I can say I’m still a “nice Jewish boy” for one thing. I can even say that I’ve always thought the Jews who were the victims of the Holocaust had every right to kill their captors if they had the opportunity. And, finally, I could also condemn Hamas for continuing to fire rockets into Israel at the obvious cost of the lives of Palestinians. In that sense Hamas is very little different from the Likud government even though their fire power is miniscule compared to that of the IDF. In fact, Hamas, one could argue, is Israel’s partner since the rockets don’t provide any defense at all against Israeli policies. No five year old Palestinian child who has just lost his parents, his legs, and his home can feel a sense of pride in the Hamas offensive. There is NO defensive strategy in the effects of the rockets. They only support the ethnic pride of Hamas soldiers and leaders.
So, if I had my Bar Mitzvah speech to do over again right now—I did get to say a few words of my own after reading the Hebrew prayers—I could really be a “nice Jewish boy.” Having a Bar Mitzvah means that the boy has become a “man.” Often at the end of the ceremony the Bar Mitzvah boy announces to the congregation in the temple, “today I am a man.” I didn’t know then what that pronouncement actually meant. But today I can say most sincerely that I really am “man,” a “mensch,” if a mensch means you are not only aware of what’s going on in the world but you also have a very fine moral compass.
I am aware, and that awareness makes me revolt against the IDF as well as Hamas, and most especially their respective leaders, for the crimes they inflict on innocents. Any respectable mensch must revolt against this massacre of innocents.
Richard Sahn is a professor of sociology and a Contrary Perspective regular.