With a headline like the above, you know that I’ll be treading quite a bit distant from this blog’s primary focus and the observations relate to the recent South Carolina tragedy.
There’s no secret in how I discovered my answers to values-related questions, figuring out my Jewish identity in a raucous bar-room on Good Friday, 1980, in a tribal village that had been at the centre of the Rhodesia/Zimbabwe war. You could say, in addition to the copious amount of alcohol I poured into myself that evening to induce an epiphany, that I experienced virtually every extreme and test within the human condition. I also ended up with a rather serious hang-over (and the next day was sacked from my sub-editor’s job on the Bulawayo Chronicle.)
After all, when you mix race, religion and self-identity you are bound to discover contradictions. When does healthy pride in who you are (and your background/upbringing) evolve to xenophobia/hate and negative stereotyping of others? How much of our fate reflects individual responsibility, and how much is it our environment/fate?
It is hard to put all the pieces together into an answer that can be truly satisfying. I know I’ve been lucky, to live in a free, democratic and tolerant nation. Eighteen-years ago, after two miscarriages, we adopted a five month-old boy from Guatemala and had him converted to Judaism under Orthodox Jewish law. He is graduating from a Jewish high school this month and has enjoyed incredibly close friends with his peers. Any doubts we had about racism and tolerance soon disappeared as he became among the most popular kids in his class.
Yet, in appreciating my own heritage and family, I also know that quite a few Jewish people have the hate on for others, many of whom reciprocate the feelings. It is a messy world. I doubt I would try the same learning experience I encountered in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe as a young adult, in Syria or Pakistan (or for that matter, today in northern Africa.) There are adventurous discovery processes and reckless suicide missions, after all.
I will advocate for tolerance, respect, and appreciation that there are good and not-so-good people among all nations, races, religions, and socio-economic status. There is hope in the world, as well. In World War II, Germans massacred six million Jews. Today, Germany and Israel have healthy relations and there even is a vibrant youthful Jewish community in Berlin. This is why I believe there will be some positive change and even redemption occurring in the Carolinas, and elsewhere, as the community of individuals with faith and morality will overcome hate and racism.