I have just returned from a trip to Canada. I had a wonderful time with family and was so moved at my grandniece's Bat Mitzvah. She read beautifully from the Torah on the בימה Bima (dais) where her mother, my niece, my three brothers and I all were all B-Mitzvah-ed (not a word - but I don't care). The אונג שבת Oneg Shabbat (meal after service) was a throwback to the best days of truly celebrating the joy of being Jewish.
I have been thinking a lot about the rite of Bar / Bat Mitzvah in גלות the Galut (the Jewish community outside of Israel). It is clearly still very important to many and that makes me very happy. But a kind of sadness came over me, as I felt quite distanced from the rhythm and pace of the Jewish life I once led.
I grew up in a small city in central Canada where being Jewish was something you shared only with other Jews. Being "proud and loud" could bring on unexpected consequences. I know that this does not reflect the experience of many people in large urban centers in the U.S. and Canada (or at least I have been told). But attribute it to paranoia or real threat, we knew to keep certain things to ourselves and to compartmentalize our lives. Jews for life cycle events - birth, adulthood, marriage, death - temporal, secular, "ordinary", for everyday life.
It's not that we were not Jewish in our everyday life. We just didn't talk about it. And we didn't really talk about it much until other Jews in centers like New York started the popular (not scholarly) discussion on תיקון עולם Tikkun Olam (Healing/Fixing the World). All of a sudden, at least in my circles, it was okay to try to build a bridge between global, humanism and Judaism. Social justice, charity to the general community, outreach, tolerance... and on and on were branded as the politically correct way to be a Jew - but not too Jewish. Not too much of that old stuff, the "tribal״ stuff. We were citizens of the world.
Of course we have always been citizens of the world and always concerned about the greater community - but now it had a name in common usage, and a journal.
But out of this, not so new, ethos came a strong push to distance oneself from תיקון עם ישראל Tikkun Am Israel (Healing/Fixing the Nation of Israel), to turn away from the realities of Jewish life and subsume all Jewish ethics into global humanism. And so we get endless tracks on social media asserting that if you are not a global humanist FIRST and Jew second, then you are not ethical at all.
Personally, this has affected me more than I usually care to admit. I am angered and frustrated and saddened by the constant challenge to Zionism. Perhaps it is racist (lost a few folks there) inasmuch as it is focused and intended to support and build a Jewish nation-state. It is not a movement that denies citizenship to non-Jews, but it is a movement and policy that makes it a damn sight harder. Unfair, definitely. Worthy of revile and condemnation - not so sure about that.
In any event, all this is moot if we don't actually have conversations about the state of politics and policy in the Jewish world. And that is the thing that disturbs me the most. Conversation outside of Israel with Jews and non-Jews alike is once again hidden. We can talk about social action and oppression as long as it comes with labels and handy tag lines like "pink washing".
I have found that as long as we stick to "How are you?" "How is the family?" the conversation continues. No one asks with any seriousness about life here. There is an air of "we already know and we don't want to talk about it so that we can still be on good terms".
There is a Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) movement in general against real conversation.
I asked a friend if she would come visit me and bring another friend who opposes the whole idea of Israel. Not going to happen. Not interested in the movement for improving life for everyone within these contested borders. Not interested in anything good. Good is not possible here because there are bad things here. Again a weird sort of compartmentalization.
Strangely enough, the most honest conversation I had when I was away was in a cafe on Fraser Street - Cafe Breka. I saw a family having coffee and I wanted to tell the father that I liked his hat. When I walked up to them I noticed that he had a small cross on the front. I apologized for interrupting (Canadian) and told him I liked his hat. He said thank you and then asked if I was a Christian. I said no. I am Jewish. He said, Jesus was Jewish. And I said, yes I know. He asked me where I lived. I told him. He and his family who were from a reservation outside of Hazelton, B.C., had never left Canada. He did not shun me. He did not stop talking to me. He didn't change the subject. He asked about "the troubles" as the Irish used to say. We spoke only briefly but it was a real exchange. And I had a great donut.
Now that I am back, I am once again annoyed by the techno music, the inability to stand in a queue, the endless forms and bad drivers - but I feel I can breath again. For many Israel is a leper colony - diseased, and deserving of isolation, condemnation and fear. For me, it is real place, with real people and I have many leper-ish friends. What could be better.
To my family who I love dearly. It is okay to speak Yiddish on the street or say you hate another Jew - no one is listening. Too busy trying to get to the head of the line at the pharmacy.