Extreme Effects
By A.D. Freudenheim

9 September 2001

I had never really thought of it this way until now, but Ariel Sharon and I have something in common: we are both letting extremists control our actions, and probably against our better judgment.

As Israeli and Palestinian leaders make an effort towards another round of "peace talks," the Middle East seems to have exploded in a twisted fit of rage. Almost certainly these attacks have been planned by militant Palestinian groups opposed to any further talks between leaders of the Palestinian National Authority and Israel - and their ploy will be probably be accepted, most gratefully, by the recalcitrant Israeli Prime Minister Sharon, who says that he believes no serious talks can take place until all (Palestinian initiated) violence has stopped. Practically speaking, Sharon has handed control to the terrorists (on both sides of the conflict), allowing them to end any possible negotiations by restarting the violence.

At home, I find myself heading into the Jewish new year and the subsequent days of atonement in a position that is equally awkward, though thankfully not violent. Since last fall and the start of the new Palestinian Intifada, I have had little desire to attend synagogue services. Although there are surely Jews living in America whose beliefs about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict are similar to mine, the viewpoints expressed in sermons, and in the conversations among congregants, is all too often blindly pro-Israel and frighteningly parochial.

I do not believe that Zionism is as much a theologically-inspired religious movement as it is a political one; therefore, the connections between Jewish religious services and an unfailing devotion to the Israeli state should be anything but automatic. Political Zionism is not a movement that theorizes about the coming of the Messiah as part of its land reclamation goals, nor was it supposed to be a movement towards Jewish superiority, granting Jews some divine right to inflict on others the same kinds of anguish that Jews themselves have suffered over the centuries.

As a political movement with nineteenth-century origins, Zionism was to offer Jews the same opportunities for freedom and self-determination that they not only wished for themselves, but for everyone else as well. Similarly, the Judaism I was taught - and the one I believe in - promotes peace as a central value and is imbued with a respect for humankind - Jewish or not - above all else. Alas, in deciding not to go to synagogue, I have in effect allowed a group of extremists here in America to control my religious observances, by creating an inhospitable religious environment that seeks to equate notions of being a "good Jew" with an unfettered support for the state of Israel.

As I begin the process of reflection that characterizes these Jewish holidays, I am saddened to think that both Ariel Sharon and I must be filled with such torment, and that we have such little faith in other humans that we allow their views to manipulate us, instead of facing them and trying to change their minds. Unfortunately for Sharon, the practical implications of my abstention for synagogue are significantly less dramatic than the results of his abstention from peace talks.  Maybe with the approach of the new year, and the self-reflection that it can inspire, we will both find the strength and the courage to change our minds.

Copyright 2001, by A.D. Freudenheim. May not be used in whole or part without written permission. However, you may link to this page as desired! Contact A. D. Freudenheim for further information.
This page is part of: The Truth As I See It.