I was getting frustrated at the tendency of some mainstream Jewish organisations to put their heads firmly in the sand when it comes to openly fighting antisemitism. in particular when two good friends of mine went to visit a rabbi who refused to accept that antisemitism is alive and well in the city of Calgary. Despite the evidence of an actual physical attack, he just spouted the typical ” The victims asked for it” meme that we hear constantly. The mainstream organisations all seem to have the same ideas about “rocking the boat,” namely don’t do it. Remember these are all well-funded organisations to which people donate money, believing their money goes to a good cause. Yet these organisations rarely do much other than talk. Several grassroots organisations run by students have stepped up to fill the gaps, and organisations like Camera and Stand with Us have also stepped up in a big way.
As someone who genuinely believes that windmills are for tilting and who has studied the history and culture of Jewish folks in great detail, sometimes this tendency towards inaction is baffling and almost enraging. Why is it that a people who have undergone oppression and marginalization do not want to stamp it out immediately wherever they see it? Why do they allow “open Hillels” and other such foolishness from mainstream Jewish organisations? Why are people who attack Israel and Jews not treated like the bullies they are?
I believe the same almost fatalistic attitude that makes Jews so damn tough is also one of their weaknesses as a group. They have undergone such horrific things in their history that nothing much really fazes them anymore. They have the attitude “Well things might be bad, but they could always be worse.” I understand this attitude because my own family thinks like that. One time Merv made a pot of chili and used MY hot sauce to flavor it. Instead of throwing out the pot, he sat there eating a ridiculously over-spiced bowl with tears streaming down his face and his nose running. When I asked him why he was doing he said ” I don’t want to waste it. Besides, it could always be worse.” I just laughed and made a sandwich. Growing up, Merv didn’t always have a lot of food, so it was ingrained to just ” tough it out” rather than waste it. While that’s commendable – wasting food is bad – I would prefer to not eat something that is painful to eat now that I am not in fact starving. (actually I would prefer that Merv tasted the hot sauce before dumping it in, but that’s another story).
A lot of my Jewish friends share that it could always be worse mindset, but they do not take it to ridiculous extremes. In fact they are much closer to my own philosophy that just because something could be worse, it doesn’t mean we cannot work to make it better. A year ago one of my very best friends was feeling discouraged. She had found out that our organisation (Calgary United with Israel) was being painted as a radical group, and that students were being discouraged from joining us by mainstream Jewish groups who thought that we were “provoking the enemy” by standing up to them. She was really upset as our group was not actually very radical. We just held a firm belief that action not inaction is always the best way to go. We believe that every time we remained silent, the line moved just a little bit more. The bullies get braver.
I told her something then, and I apologize for my language, which can be salty at times.
“Sarah, we are not going to rock the boat, we are going to tip the fucker right over, and then, we are going to build a new boat, a better boat and anyone who doesn’t get that can sit in the boat we are about to tip.”
I like to think we have made a difference. We have prevented antisemites from getting government assistance to speak here; we have educated people about asshats like Miko Peled who spread lies about Israel; we have brought to light antisemitic textbooks and had them removed from the curriculum; we organised rallies here showing that my city is not going to stand for bigotry in the guise of human rights, and we are not done yet. Because we know that even though things could always be worse, they could also always be better and we are going to work at making it better, not just talk about it. I believe that people see that and jump on our boat with us.