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August 01, 2003 - Image 77

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-08-01

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Now At The

Cafe • Catering

They're not budging. The first major
review of my book in a Jewish publica-
don, the Bronfman Philanthropy-funded
Jerusalem Report called me a "yoga-prac-
ticing atheist Jew from New York's East
Village," right in the lead paragraph!
I'm an atheist because, like most think-
ing adults, I don't believe in an all-power-
ful creature with the white beard who
rejoices in animal sacrifice. I get that.
But the yoga-practicing and East
Village part? Is that supposed to be
evidence of how far I've strayed — in
neighborhood and exercise regime —
from the Upper West Side of
Manhattan where Jews belong?
And recently, the United Jewish Appeal
Federation of New York — headquarters
of the biKest, most central Jewish organi-
zation in America — yanked an interview
that one of their writers conducted with
me from their Web site, along with all
mention in their calendar of a benefit I'm
doing in their auditorium for a Jewish
social justice charity.
All because, according to the editor,
"a heightened sensitivity to some of
the topics we discussed emerged here
at UJA-Federation once it was actually
Gotta love the Internet: The entire
interview was immediately reposted to
a webzine called Jewsweek, along with
an account of the whole fiasco. A week
later, the excised text reappeared on
the UJA site, albeit with a new title
and a framing paragraph about how
"Douglas Rushkoff likes to sound off."
A UJA representative now says that
the only problem with the original
interview was the title.
I'm not the only one who is facing
such knee-jerk reactions from the
institutions dominating public Jewish
Rabbi David Wolpe, a respected and
published rabbinic scholar now on the
pulpit at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles,
made the headlines for daring to suggest
to his congregation that the Exodus
may not really have happened the way
it was described in the Bible. Or at all.
Though this question has been pon-
dered out loud by rabbis ever since
there were rabbis, today it is too dan-
gerous a topic, and Wolpe is decried as
a "silver-tongued devil."
Because Jews are afraid, and the
institutions that should be helping
them conquer their ignorance are
instead stoking it to further solidify
their grasp on Judaism's future. The
darker picture they paint of Judaism's
plight — the further synagogue mem-
bership dwindles, the greater Israel's
peril — the more money they raise.

Every suicide attack on Israel and
each negative report on intermarriage
statistics lead to a surge in donations.
So it's in the fundraisers' interest to
foster panic instead of discussion, and
to turn their agendas into inviolably
sacred truths. Yet they are not entirely
to blame. It is we who must challenge
these holy assumptions if we're going
to break free from top-down religion
and start to think for ourselves again
— the way Judaism demands.
The first forbidden topic is race.
The Jews' crucial error has been
accepting our enemies' contention that
we are a race. We are not.
The first character in the Torah to
mention an "Israeli people" was
Pharaoh, and he was looking for an
excuse to kill off those he feared
wouldn't support him in a war.
The concept of "Jewish blood" was
invented during the Spanish
Inquisition, so that they would still
have an excuse to slaughter former Jews
who had converted to Catholicism.
Best yet, it was Hitler, gently
reworking a bit of Jung, who claimed
that Jews' "genetic memory" would
keep them from ever fully accepting
the natural German order.
Two millennia of being treated as a
despised race might convince any people
that it's true. Ironically, Jews were being
persecuted, at least in part, for their very
refusal to accept such false boundaries.
Local gods, ethnic purity and national
religions meant nothing to this amalga-
mation of formerly disparate tribes.
Moses' wife was black, for God's
sake. How much clearer can the story
get about race not being the issue here?
By hanging on to racehood, Jews get
to hang on to an immature under-
standing of chosenness. ("I like know-
ing that God loves us the best," a
woman told me after a recent talk.)
Along with being God's chosen peo-
ple, however, come the racism and
elitism that undermine our ethics, but
empower our central authorities.
If Judaism is not a race, then who
exactly are we not supposed to inter-
marry with? They won't tell you that
this whole matrilineal descent business
isn't part of Judaism, at all, but a rem-
nant of the Roman census conducted
in the second century.
Assimilation has always been the Jews'
best strategy. Our mandate in Torah is
not to protect ourselves from others,
but to "share our light" with them.
Part of the reason we don't know
any of this is that we've relegated our
Judaism to our authorities.
The Reform movement was a great


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