Monday, September 5, 2011

From a Jewish Mother's Perspective

I've been twirling the idea to write this around in my head for a few weeks now as we quickly approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11 -- an event that has changed in its meaning for me multiple times over the past decade. Changes that evolved mostly in part to major life changes of my own: becoming a mother; reacquainting myself with my religion; and swimming daily, up to my eyeballs, in the constant unspoken rhetoric of being a Jew in a harshly anti-Muslim atmosphere; surrounded by the heavy ever-present question of my own personal view of Israel.

A lot of it has to do with my job; I am entrenched in the politik of my religion. It's assumed that you are 100% pro-Israel but when the conversation actually makes its way to the bubbling surface, you suddenly discover that there are two very distinct opinions on the topic -- and one which is considered correct. I'm not going to state what my feelings are about Israel but you are either pro-Israel all the way or pro-two state solution. I have my thoughts on both.

But let's rewind a bit, shall we? Where were you when the Twin Towers went down? I was in an English Lit class when suddenly it felt like the air had been sucked out of the room. The news began to spread and the pace of everyone's gait picked up as we all seemed to practically run out of the building, immediately picking up cell phones and staring wild eyed at the sky.

I was only able to get one (hysterical) relative on the phone and at that point, no one knew what was happening. It looked like we were under attack and no one knew for sure where the next plane would come darting from the clouds, it could have been anywhere. My heart racing, I grabbed my keys, went straight to the gas station to buy a pack of Marlboro's and drove at warp speeds (along with most of my companions on the road) to my sister's house where my mother was also on her way.

I don't remember much after that; I smoked a lot, yes. But I think my brain just shut down and I remember falling in out of sleep like I was in some sort of horrible trance that I couldn't bring myself out of. I couldn't watch anymore news coverage and I think, in a way, I was just waiting for the final blow -- a bomb, another hit, the world to come to a cataclysmic halt. It was mind-numbing.

When I stumbled out of the trance a few days later, I read something that hit me in such a way I have never been able to forget it. A young Israeli girl, probably near my age, was interviewed and her response on the whole event was humbling, "we live with this every day," she said,"I've lost friends, family...but I still keep living my life. It's all you can do." Who were we to think we were beyond the grasp of such terror? And what had we done to cause it?

Although it still makes me sick to my stomach, part of me feels guilty. Before anyone judges me for not being patriotic, know that I try to see things from a holistic point of view -- I'm very much a believer of the three-fold rule: what you do comes back to you three-fold. Yes, we've done a lot to help other countries but a lot of innocent people have died in the midst of our actions. That cannot be argued.

During this time, I also became a mother....a year and two months to be exact after the attacks. My head space was tremendously affected by the fear I had brought an innocent child into a world no one knew anymore. The name of the attackers daily ran through my mind as I sat in the hospital trying not to watch the news. It is not the way to become a parent but it's not as if there was a choice. Our present had been decided for us whether we accepted it or not.

The maternal perspective you gain of the world post-partum changes a lot of things. I really felt an enormous sense of guilt for what had happened, a connection to all events leading up to the attacks, a sense of responsibility. This thing did not just happen out of nowhere -- it was an accumulation of hate that had been spiraling for ages.

For the past few years, its been (sadly) easy to put out of my mind (like most traumatic experiences). Until my relocation to Tennessee, a hot bed of anti-Muslim hate speech.

It's no different to me what is being said now against Muslims than the lies that spread like wild fire about Jews during Hitler's hold. It's ignorance and it's embarassing. Not an hour from where we live, shots have been fired, buildings have been burned and people have been put on trial for their belief system. Esteemed scholars, clergy and politicians have been drug through the mud for their support of our Muslim community. And the reason? As so pathetically put by the plaintiff's attorney in the recent Murfreesboro trial regarding the building of a mosque, "this is not a religion [but] a way to train people to holler 'Allahu Akbar' while strapping bombs to their chests."

They defend their hatred for Islam by citing how Sharia Law requires them to treat their women and children. What I find so devilishly hypocritical about these statements is that most of the men (and women) who use this defense are those who seem to hold highly antiquated gender role stereotypes as truths.

If we took the Bible at face value, we would all have 10 wives and sacrifice our animals. But we don't. The Bible is what? A guide for those who would see it as a way to live their lives, not a literal manual from G-d. And honestly, folks, a lot of people who stand by their Bibles need to read them again. G-d does not judge. So let's all take heed to that, shall we?

Obviously no one can argue that there are radical Islamists who would like nothing more to infiltrate our oh so peaceful society (which, by the way, it is not.....our children kill each other in classrooms in case you haven't noticed). But you cannot judge an entire religion by the actions of some.

And please, for the love of all that is left in this world that is sacred, stop touting The Constitution as if its also a defense mechanism for this weak and wilted case. The Constitution actually protects our freedom of religion and as the plaintiff attorney and all those who padded his strangely-designed pockets in the Murfreesboro trial found out while they sat as petulant children playing a game of "he said, she said," the US Government also cites Islam as a religion, no matter your argument that it is not.

So what does this have to do with my being a Jewish mother? This: as a Jew, part of a people who have been persecuted since the beginning of time, I was taught not to judge. Ever. To love unconditionally. To see both sides. To be open to those who walk different paths for those are the people you may learn from. To understand that G-d created us, everyone, and so we are therefore not 'wrong' in our make-up even if we are misunderstolod. To not hate our enemies, but to try to find empathy for them. To see the world not as a person, but as a piece of something whole. It is with this teaching and these lessons that although we cannot forget, we can forgive. And we have. Time and time again.

It is also with these lessons that we learn to appreciate those around us and to debate on a respectable and scholarly level without insult or perdition.

And these are things I will try (until I am blue in the face) to pass on to my child. As much as I would like to protect him from terrorist acts, I would equally wish to protect him from bigotry, racism, and hatred. There is no use in any of it.

On this ten year anniversary, I will not just reflect on 'what has been done to us.' I will also reflect on what I can do to help bring change and understanding; and to stop the hatred that spreads. The Muslim community of Murfreesboro is not responsible for 9/11. But we are responsible if we allow them to be bullied and mistreated in the name of justice.