October 3, 2008
Middle East Crisis In My Backyard
Anastasia Rosen-Jones Special to the Jewish Times
(copyright Anastasia Rosen-Jones, 2008)
Frederick - MD
Recently I traveled to the United Nations with a group of international teenagers. These handpicked, future leaders of the world were participating in a model United Nations camp, learning to rise above obstacles to global unity.
The trip was a splendid success, touched by two poignant images; Ground Zero and Ellis Island, evoking thoughts of my grandparents moving through this immigration checkpoint many years ago.
There came a point, however, when I feared our trip might not turn out so well. As our return was unavoidably delayed, approximately 50 students and their teachers, almost none of whom spoke English, became irate, and the unity of our group broke down.
Subsequently I heard the few teachers who spoke English suggest that the entire two-week program was a grave disappointment, basing their appraisal on a particular set of incidents “just going to prove how inconsiderate Americans can be.”
A turning point to the upset occurred when I encountered one of the foreign teachers on the way to the bus restroom; almost by chance we momentarily exchanged formalities. Before long, captured as we were by the narrow aisle and surrounded by the restless crowd of students, we alluded to the conflict running throughout the group.
Gingerly sharing a few inviting words to move beyond being strangers, soon a heartfelt opening occurred between us. Options to resolve differences, including forgiveness and surrender, were then surprisingly suggested by the foreign teacher. From this exchange, the polarization subsided, a resolution to the conflict occurred and an awe-inspiring sense of commonality was experienced.
Weeks later as I watched the Olympic games being broadcast from Beijing, I was even more grateful for this experience as I reflected upon the fact that my simple little moment of healing on the bus, like the Olympics, had occurred with a group of Chinese, with tensions between two disparate cultures being temporarily transcended.
I couldn’t help, then, but reflect on how it must have been for my grandparents to find that countless Americans, many also foreign born, did not welcome their arrival as immigrants. They had become the “other,” even in America as they had been innumerable times before.
They were, again, subject to prejudice, stereotyping and disdained as second-class citizens. It seemed to make sense, then, to live in Americanized versions of their Eastern European shtetls; their village-like Jewish communities providing necessary sanctuaries and protective barriers against inhospitable treatment.
Now in the 21st century, Jews have found their niche as Americans. Yet anti-Semitism continues today in the United States, notably fueled by the ongoing Jewish/Arab conflicts in Israel. Against this background, how we as American Jews handle ourselves, particularly with other newcomers to America is a crucial personal responsibility.
We are called to go the extra mile to exemplify the justice and compassion we seek so determinedly for ourselves. The issue of personal responsibility to newcomers by Jews was brought home to me when a Jewish/Muslim controversy broke out in my backyard of Frederick, Md.
The central issue of contention: A challenge by a Muslim leader to the local Jewish community to build bonds of brotherly love was met with a polarization of viewpoints from Jews and non-Jews.
The Islamic Society of Frederick’s imam had spoken of “opening doors” locally as a pathway to opening “them in the Holy Land.” Dissenters saw the Imam’s challenge as inappropriate. Many of these saw the Imam’s invitation as a manipulative ploy, rather than as a sincere invitation, wondering at his motives.
Although there were Jews who did their utmost during the time of controversy to reach out to the Muslim community to help heal the breach the incident caused, many cast aside the newcomer Muslims. What was most disquieting to me, however, were the Jews who responded to the challenge by putting their heads in the sand.
While front-page media coverage pointed its finger at the local Jewish community, many insisted no problem existed at all. Almost as if they were seeing a naked emperor and ignoring that he had no clothes.
Attempting to sustain their, now obsolete, old country principles that ordain the pushing of conflict under the rug in order to be safe, they split among themselves. Taking this route, they abandoned what had been for hundreds of years in Frederick County—the inviolability of the respect of the non-Jewish community.
Additionally, the toll of this confrontation-averse stance pitted Jews against one another at a time when unity might have heralded opportunity. Time will tell whether or not those who chose to ignore the brouhaha were in error or not.
The broader significance of the event is yet to unfold, begging several questions.
- First, can American Jews, particularly in this post-911 era, afford to ignore situations such as occurred in Frederick County where a gauntlet was so pointedly thrown down to Jews by a Muslim leader.
- Secondly, do we not add cost to our silence by not, at least, talking openly among ourselves about such an upheaval in order to find common ground and overcome internal polarization among members of the Jewish community?
- Thirdly, does not the turning aside at such times fertilize the soil in which anti-Semitism can grow, whether in Frederick County or elsewhere?
The cost of quiet might be far too great to risk doing otherwise.
We need to be mindful of that possibility.
Anastasia Rosen-Jones is a retired psychotherapist and the founder and director of the Small “Zones Of Peace” Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to violence prevention and community development training.
She is the author of four full-length works in progress, including “The Middle East Crisis (In My Backyard)” and numerous articles. For further details, call 240.409.5347 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. http://www.newhorizonssupport.org/.