Wednesday, March 03, 2004


Prejudice, being Jewish, black football players and not seeing the forest for the trees.

So, you know that article I printed yesterday got me to thinking about how I have been representing myself lately. There has been an awful lot of Jewishness about the blog as of late. I don’t think that this is particularly bad; I am not ashamed of my heritage in any way and in fact I think I am somewhat proud of who and what I am. But on the other hand I do not “practice” the faith. By this I mean I am not a temple goer, I do not spend time in prayer particularly and taking into account my current economic situation and the eating habits of the people I live with, I don’t keep kosher at all.

But this does not mean that I am not Jewish, or that my parents were not Jewish or theirs or theirs. I am Jewish. In the faith, they say if the mother was Jewish you are Jewish. I am Jewish. But also, I am, at least in my personality, very Jewish. There are an enormous amount of traits I carry that are so easily seen as Jewish (and also from this geographic region that I now inhabit) that there is no doubt that I have been built over the course of the millennia into that very mold. Nature made of nurture over the course of time. I am Jewish because I am Jewish, and that is all there is to it. God himself, according to the man who claimed to have met him, said something like that about his own existence. You gotta have faith.

But if we are talking about discrimination, or specifically about whether or not I feel any sense of being held back because of this particular aspect of my life, I can’t really say. Certainly, I have never been told I cannot work because I am Jewish, or that I must live in a particular place or pay specific taxes because of it.

Now that is to not to say that there has or hasn’t been direct prejudice, I just don’t remember anything overt outside of some mildly insulting comments. There were a few drunks who made fools of themselves outside the new synagogue on the first Friday night it was consecrated. Not a demonstration, just some idiots saying and doing some rather nasty things. The police removed them. And then there was that graffiti I saw on the wall I mentioned where a Star of David was depicted as being hung from a yardarm. And I had one of my students write me after one of the first blogs in which I mentioned I was Jewish. “I didn’t know you were Jewish.” They wrote in their letter. I wrote them back and said “So what?” and they wrote “Oh, it’s nothing. I don’t care. Some of my best friends are Jewish and my uncle says that Jews are great folks and…” I wrote them some things about prejudice and judging people by their character, but they continued on about he subject and eventually the implication was made clear that they had become a little nervous about it. That happened more than once. I went from being their teacher to their Jewish teacher, that’s all. And I also get it sometimes from adult (non-Jewish) friends too, but I know that I should accept that because they are only kidding...right? And even my good friend Bruce liked to hit me with his theory of why the Nazis began (“Living room” he would say in its German form. Not enough living space). And of course sometimes even Tatyana can’t help herself in her excitement in telling me about some “Jewish guy” or other who comes into the bookstore. Though she is getting better. Small stuff, yea?

But then there was Adam Marx.

Last summer I went to a lot of football (soccer) matches at the local stadium with Egor. Pinsk is a fairly quiet spectator; there is no singing or chanting for the home club. They do yell a bit it during exciting moments- “pashol, pashol, pashol!”- but nothing like you hear at European games. But at one such league match against another town from the region though, there appeared on the field playing on the left wing a black fellow named Adam Marx. Now, I would not say that Mr. Marx was of any great superiority to the other players on the field: He played a passable game, fought hard for the ball, created a chance or two. But you would have thought that he was the only player on the field by what you heard from the people in the stands. Pinsk was fairly stunned to be witnessing a black football player. The comments, all jokes at Marx’ expense, built upon themselves as people realized that they were getting laughs from the jokes from the others in the stands, until it was almost a frenzied competition as to who could get the next joke out on him. This multiplied every time he had opportunity to touch the ball. He did not return for the second half, the decision I am sure made out of a mix of fear for his safety and personal embarrassment.

And then there was what the Rabbi’s had said at the consecration of the Temple in Pinsk.

Only a few months ago a Hasidic group reclaimed and rebuilt a synagogue on the same land where the original had been some fifty years earlier. On the night of the consecration, Rabbis from all over came to be there for this great and historic night. I went and prayed with them on that Friday night, my Hebrew far, far too rusty to be effective. But after, as we all sat and ate together (but for the women of course) at a large social hall down the road, I had to listen to a tirade of hatred from one of the leading rabbi’s of the group as directed at the Belarusian people. This Rabbi would not, he said, forget or forgive what people here have done to Jewish people over the years. He said he felt ill being here and wanted to leave. None of them agreed with my relationship with Tatyana. She was simply not one of us, and there fore could never understand.

So, it is true that prejudge and racial, ethnic, chronological, sexual, geographical and intellectual discrimination and divisionism, still very much exist. I know we like to think it is true that times have changed at least a little in the world. In the segregated and walled area of the planet we call First World Society (Made possible by the existence of and its distance from the Second and Thirds worlds), overt and obnoxious discrimination due to race or creed or color or sex etc, is generally less socially acceptable then it has been and therefore harder and harder to practice freely. This is what they tell us anyway. And at least I am sure we would all like to think so.

But I am sure the world has actually changed a little. I am not going to do any flag waving (either red and green or stars and stripes), but there has been for the last .0228% of human existence (10,000 years) an America where the common nature of the place has not been made up of one racial/cultural mix, but of everyone from everywhere. So in this respoect, if it is possible for there to be an a,meroica, it is possible to say that it is possible to live together. Though it is also true that The US has had enormous race, class and religious divisionism for 100% of their 228 years- yesterdays article is an example. However, because of the non-homogenous nature of the ethnic make-up of the States, problems of race and prejudice that have always been accepted as a given, have been attacked with thought and criticism and new ideas and laws, and we have tried to find new ways of how to deal with it. And ironically enough, we have done these things because these have become "OUR" problems. "We" worked a little on this together, and so therefore there has been some progress.

And as signs of progress and about how they have manifested themselves abroud, lest us remember that Adam Marx WAS ACTUALLY there on the field. And the two front men for the “Dynamo” club from Moscow which is still playing in the “champions” league tournament are both black men as well, so really, times must be changing a little. I guess we can thank Jackie Robinson, a very, very great American, indirectly for both of those.

But what is even more obvious is that we simply have not done enough. The Nazi genocidal attack on the Jews was just over sixty years ago. And the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia was less than ten. And yesterday and just at this very moment when I am typing this period: “.”, at least one person will be shot, hit, slapped, cursed, burned, tortured, stabbed, raped, robbed by another fellow human being; that attck based upon some justification or difference of opinion concerning some pregidice base rationale.


Happened again, didn’t it? So, why can’t we, as a species ever seem to learn anything?

Maybe the problem is that we are simply not seeing the forest for the trees. Ms.Tatiana Menaker is fighting very hard, and for that is to be much admired. I agree with a lot I read in that article and I can attest to both the anti-establishment mood at State and the existence of the GUPS as being very much true even back when I was there 18 years ago. But the larger fight to me at least would be against the very divisionism that originally created the hatred that is causing her problems- as well as the problems for all of the Jews (and women, etc,) before her. This is not to detract from her problem or her character in any way, but what I am saying is that I see what that story represented as a symptom of a greater disease. Kill the symptom, and you may feel better, but the disease still remains.

All I am saying is that if the main focus and attention of the energies of the world were to be focused on some unified effort- some such worthy causes to my mind being ecology and overpopulation and the creation of some general state of world peace as would allow for a general elevation of man kind in general- I would think that the problems of individual ethnic and cultural groups could easily be satisfied. I mean, there is nothing more satisfying than being satisfied; enough to eat, no rockets falling from the sky, no fear of bombs going off in the market- this sort of nonsense, right?. But this never happens.

The main problem apparently, that prevents people from working on such “idealistic and utopian” concepts as these, is that people seem to demand that this sort of thinking is, in general not our way. We very much like to preach social Darwinism these days over working together. The strong survive; the weak adapt or give way- All very intelligent and intellectual stuff according to the policy makers. We are tough, tough people and we claim to like it that way. But just as it is within the walls of my current dwelling, I am not sure I can justify emotional and violent outbursts where I live. I just don’t think they make for appropriate and acceptable conditions for a living space. I think there was a time, in a smaller, less connected, less educated world, where the emotional jolt from meeting someone different from oneself was met with fear and therefore eventually hatred. We have always kept our distances and built walls between ourselves and of course the fight for food or land or slaves or gold or oil; this has always been a part of our natures, reinforced culturally as things are over the millennia as with any other aspect of humanity. But look at all of the things we know and can do now. Look at all of the genius and the new possibilities. In this current day and age with what all we have learned, I would think that simply seeing and understanding how much better it is to be at peace and simply how many possibilities life has in store for us in the best of worlds we could make should be enough to make people want it. But this simply doesn’t happen. We don’t seem to be getting any better.

So maybe what I am saying here is that we are having a problem in our thinking as a species of what exactly denotes real differences between us. OK, good question. Perhaps the answer to that argument is that the differences are, and have actually always been, a hell of a lot less than we think. There you go. Problem solved. We are all friends again.

But now that we are all together and all, I have got some bad news for you. Some very smart German scientists came up with the idea that we grow enough food in the world to feed twelve billion people. Now this fact might be greeted with some sense of relief, but it in fact does not make me happy for the simple reason that I like to eat and sometimes, I like to eat a lot. I don’t know if you knew this, but for the last 99.9772% of the time there has even been such a thing as human culture, there were only about 300,000,000 of us, about 5% of what we have now. So, if you tell me we have 40 times as much food as we need I… am… happy. But if you tell me that in terms of cultural evolution, we have in the blink of an eye and amidst all of our bickering, overgrown as well as poisoned the very garden from where we get our food and are down to a measly 200% of need, I would say we are simply not the brightest of bulbs amongst the twinkling stars in the sky. And I would be very, very unhappy and I would be very, very worried and I would want very, very much for people to really start thinking about this problem and to stop it before it goes any farther.

Perhaps we could start by simply turning down the volume just a little bit so that we might be able to hear ourselves think. That would be a good start. Of course this will not be easy to do. In fact, it might be the hardest thing anybody would ever do or have ever done. I’d just be interested to know if we were indeed strong enough to do it.

More tomorrow.