What I Have Learned This Year
By A.D. Freudenheim

9 September 2002

The Jewish "Days of Awe" are here, the time of repentance and prayer that comes with the beginning of Rosh Hashanah this past Friday evening, and will end with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, next Monday. I find that for me, these are always complicated days, marked by a certain level of internal struggle: filled with introspection, and sometimes just the desire for introspection; much repentance, and occasionally a sense that repentance is slow to arrive; and humility, a complicated sensibility that on these days can (and should) force me to distance myself from the material world I inhabit perhaps too much of the time.

With the start of this period of introspection, I was reminded of a disturbing column I read several weeks ago, by a psychotherapist named Jonathan Goldin. Titled "Love Yourself As Your Neighbor," and published in the Jewish-oriented weekly The Forward, Goldin's column articulated his dismay at what he sees as a drift into "self-hatred" by many American leftists. Although he acknowledges the dangerous power of the term, he nonetheless claims that the self-hatred of the American (and American Jewish) left "originates with the question 'why do they hate us?', and seeks to answer that rhetorical bombshell solely on the basis of American sins of militarism and global exploitation." Goldin then dismisses this answer as "superficial," noting that "Arab and Muslim civilizations are engaged in an existential struggle with modernity, not due to American imperialism or Israeli aggression but to their own long history." Goldin wants, as he says, a more "nuanced perspective."[1]

The thread connecting these Days of Awe and Goldin's article centers on Goldin's desire for nuance - because it is precisely nuance that I struggle with at this time of year. Where is the line between acknowledging my wrongs and hating myself for them? How does one face the mistakes that have been made, accept responsibility for them, and still move on?

What the last year has taught me - perhaps more viscerally than in any other year - is the degree to which the world is interconnected. In a world where words can be disseminated globally in seconds, where weapons that can destroy thousands of lives can be wielded even by one person alone, and where the disparity between the haves and the have-nots is not diminishing (as was once promised) … it is foolish to pretend that the actions and attitudes of powerful nations are disconnected from those of the weak and less powerful. There is definitely a connection between American militarism and the turmoil in other nations around the world; America may not have directly caused other nations' problems, but that does not mean we bear no responsibility, or that we should not reflect upon our own actions and the results of those actions. Israel did not create the suicide bombers whose actions are so despicable - but this does not mean that Israel is without any responsibility for creating a miserable, oppressive environment that helped nurture the offensive fundamentalist ideology that lies behind the bombers' devastation. Or to put it another way, and to address Goldin's point more directly: Yes, Arab and Muslim civilizations are engaged in an existential struggle with modernity. And which nation, more than any other in the last 200 years, has actively sought to bring the ideas, ideologies, and technologies of modernity to other nations? Being an isolated-interventionist is an untenable position.

We should all be proud of our accomplishments. We should seek the right balance in our lives between negative and positive perceptions of ourselves. But we should not fool ourselves into thinking that humility in the face of another person's weakness or wrongdoings also means that we are self-hating. Humility, introspection, and ultimately repentance are what makes us human - beings capable of seeing the wrong in the world, and then striving to make things right.

[1] "Love Yourself As Your Neighbor,"
by Jonathan Goldin, The Forward, 26 July, 2002.
Copyright 2002, 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.