The Wondering Jesse by Gilad Atzmon
This week, Jesse Lieberfeld an11th-grade American Jewish teenager won the Dietrich College’s 2012 Martin Luther King, Jr. Writing Awards for composing a beautiful piece about his own moral awakening and journey away from Judaism.
“I once belonged to a wonderful religion. I belonged to a religion that allows those of us who believe in it to feel that we are the greatest people in the world—and feel sorry for ourselves at the same time,” says young Jesse. However, it seems that it didn’t take too long before Jesse found out for himself that what he was part of was neither flattering or glorious.
To read Jesse prose click here
Jewish tribal cultural indoctrination is a full-on, comprehensive process. “Although I was fortunate enough to have parents who did not try to force me into any one set of beliefs, being Jewish was in no way possible to escape growing up”, says Jesse. “It was constantly reinforced at every holiday, every service, and every encounter with the rest of my relatives.”
Inherent to the culture and its maintenance is self-love. “I was forever reminded how intelligent my family was, how important it was to remember where we had come from, and to be proud of all the suffering our people had overcome in order to finally achieve their dream in the perfect society of Israel.”
Jewish ideological and cultural ‘programming’ is rather sophisticated. It is a unique dynamic pattern practiced in both a collective and an individual way. But those who carry the message aren’t themselves fully aware of their role within the tribal ideology they aim to maintain.
Of course Jews hold many different, and even contradictory, political beliefs. But however diverse their views may be somehow, those who are identified as Jews politically always unite against any attempt to criticise the cultural and ideological foundation of their tribal bond. Young Jesse is clearly aware of this. On the surface, it was the crimes against the Palestinians that provoked his ethical sense. “I grew more concerned. I routinely heard about unexplained mass killings, attacks on medical bases, and other alarmingly violent actions for which I could see no possible reason. ‘Genocide’ almost seemed the more appropriate term, yet no one I knew would have ever dreamed of portraying the war in that manner; they always described the situation in shockingly neutral terms.”
One of the most sophisticated tribal aspects of Jewish culture maintenance is the gradual manner in which criticism is silenced. “Whenever I brought up the subject, I was always given the answer that there were faults on both sides, that no one was really to blame, or simply that it was a “difficult situation.” This common Hasbara argument on the surface sounds reasonable but it ignores the fact that in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict there is a clear distinction between the aggressor and the victim. The Israelis are the ethnic cleansers and the occupiers. The Palestinians, on the other hand, are the expelled, the racially discriminated, the abused, deprived, locked behind walls and barbed wire in open air jails and, in some cases, even starved.
But Jesse seems to be made of the stuff of honesty. Unlike some of the Jewish leftists who presents a pseudo-moral argument only to gain credibility so that he/she can then vet the discourse, young Jesse presses on, stripping himself of any trace of choseness and exceptionalism. “It was not until eighth grade that I fully understood what I was on the side of. One afternoon, after a fresh round of killings was announced on our bus ride home, I asked two of my friends who actively supported Israel what they thought. “We need to defend our race,” they told me. “It’s our right.”
This “We need to defend our race,” is a common excuse Jewish activists use amongst themselves. Although Jews do not form a race, Jewish identity politics is still overtly racist. In fact, any form of Jewish secular identity politics is racially driven and fuelled with racial exclusivity. This applies not only to pro Israeli Jews but unfortunately also to Jews-only ‘anti’ Zionist groups.
I guess it is obvious where Jesse is heading. He clearly sees an ideological continuum between the civil right movement in America and the Palestinian liberation struggle. In both struggles, there is clearly a racially driven oppressor and a victim collective - and Jesse draws the necessary conclusion, “I felt horrified at the realization that I was by nature on the side of the oppressors. I was grouped with the racial supremacists. I was part of a group that killed while praising its own intelligence and reason. I was part of a delusion.”
Jesse has obviously identified the Jewish politics and culture of which he was a part, as a form of ‘racial supremacy.’ He never mentions Zionism, in fact, the word Zionism is not mentioned once in his sincere award-winning post. He simply speaks about his Jewish upbringing, the culture and the ideology.
Young Jesse has already grasped that an appeal to his Jewish friends is not going to lead anywhere. He writes, “I decided to make one last appeal to my religion…The next time I attended a service, there was an open question-and-answer session about any point of our religion…When I was finally given the chance to ask a question, I asked, ‘I want to support Israel. But how can I when it lets its army commit so many killings?’ I was met with a few angry glares from some of the older men, but the rabbi answered me. “It is a terrible thing, isn’t it?’ he said. ‘But there’s nothing we can do. It’s just a fact of life.’ I knew, of course, that the war was no simple matter and that we did not by any means commit murder for its own sake, but to portray our thousands of killings as a ‘fact of life’ was simply too much for me to accept.”
It seems that Jesse has the courage to redeem his soul. “I thanked him (the Rabbi) and walked out shortly afterward. I never went back…. If nothing else, I could at least try to free myself from the burden of being saddled with a belief I could not hold with a clear conscience.…I did not intend to go on being one of the Self-Chosen People, identifying myself as part of a group to which I did not belong.”
Surprisingly, Jesse wasn’t compelled to apologise for telling truth. He didn’t have to retract for telling things as they are. In fact he won the most prestigious humanist award for his essay. But I’m wondering how long will it take before ADL’s Abe Foxman and infamous Ethnic-cleansing advocate Alan Dershowitz launch a campaign to destroy the awarding college.
Being a person who oscillates continuously between being an ‘ex-Jew’ and a ‘proud self hating Jew’, I embrace young Jesse and hold him close to my heart. My dear young twin brother, journeying from choseness is a life-struggle. From time to time you may feel lonely but you are never alone. Humanity and humanism are there at your side – for all time.