Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Belonging to both Jewish and Quaker Communities and what happens if Obama wins

"I was raised Jewish," she said. "I have never stopped being a Jew. That is my community. That is my culture. But my religion is Quakerism." ……The New York Times, May 2, 2008

I am a Quaker of a religious background in the United Church of Christ. I have no qualms with people of a Jewish background who have also become Quakers, and who choose to retain aspects of their Jewish culture to mix with their newfound Quaker culture. Who would argue with a Quaker for having Seder on Passover?

Although, since I changed my Faith, I haven’t found it necessary to stand up and confess my sins in public in unison, as was done when I was in the UCC Faith. But, I like to sing hymns and hear a well done sermon now and again. So, I guess I still have part of my UCC culture with me. I wouldn't deign to serve on the Trustees or Lay Ministry Committee of a UCC Church just to convince myself I haven't betrayed my Communion, and the folks I went to church with at age 12.

There is however, a delineation when the quoted one at the top of this page, so clearly has trouble truly ‘belonging’ to one community or another. By her quote, she is either straddling both, or denying the Quaker community, which must be easier than betraying the Jewish community from whence she came. The New York Times quote above is duplicitous. The statement about her singular Jewish community when she is unmistakably a member of the Quaker community is either self-deception or a sad, politically-driven pretense. It makes her at best, unwittingly untrue to herself - or maybe still someone who might be yet working toward full convincement as a Quaker and full integration in the Quaker community. At worst it makes her an inauthentic, insecure, self-betraying gamer who wants to have her cake and eat it too. She is a widely recognized Friends minister. Period. Friends don’t push anyone to become a member. Many times new attenders take as much time, usually years, before they become ‘convinced’ and take up full roles in Quaker Society, as has this quoted Jewish person.

She is also, co-incidentally a member of what have been called the ‘Aquarian’ generation, similar to the ‘Boomers’. Aquarians were described as being economically entitled (to use other people’s money) and politically righteous after the shape-shift in moral authority which occurred in the late 1960s.

See: Some words of Advice to Friends under 50

A clarification for my previous essay – “The Quaker Culture, the Quaker Community and the Quaker Faith” is needed based on some valuable reader feedback. We might also see a very interesting parallel as a valuable lesson in the racial ‘belonging’ in the person of Barack Obama. Instead of the scientifically false concept of ‘race’, let’s substitute ‘community’ with ‘race’ - related to the above mentioned delineation.

Shelby Steele, in his latest book A Bound Man - Why we are excited about Obama and why he can’t win describes the black political pressure Obama endured and once capitulated to, in his own self-betrayal, as a person of mixed community. Like Obama, Steele’s mother was white-skinned, and father was black-skinned.

An interesting concept is that Steele, also an Aquarian, came of age in the late 1960’s and describes his own experience, on page 30:

“Clearly I did not believe in ‘blackness’. I thought it was little more than a style of clenched fists, Afros, and right-on phrases. It sought redemption in what had been a mark of shame, but it had no relationship to accomplishment [of Martin Luther King, Jr. and civil rights of the early 1960s]. Yet to reject it, implied collaboration with white supremacy [the moral authority before civil rights], the most disgraceful sort of Uncle Tomism. To avoid this horror, the second option was simply to pretend, to go along with blackness despite my true feelings.”

Could this paragraph, if some of the words transposed, describe what our Jewish Friend was trying to say in “That is my community”?

Steele goes on:

“In East St. Louis (where he grew up), I was still too much in need of authenticity to risk the first option. So I became immersed in an irony: I would pursue authenticity through pretense. I would go along with a ‘blackness’ I did not really believe in so as to gain the acceptance I could claim as authenticity. I did not consciously do this, but this is what I did.

And in fact, my mixed-race background was only an additional pressure toward this kind of duplicity. All blacks of my generation came under pressure to join the new militant identity. And many became immersed in the same irony – going along with an unexamined ‘blackness’ simply to belong. Whenever collective identities become self-conscious, sharply defined, and highly politicized, people begin to survive them through duplicity. Still, for the mixed-race black, both the need to belong and the inability to believe are likely to be more pronounced. Racial ‘authenticity’ will require even more duplicity and pretense.”

The illusion is that such people are less encumbered by the black identity than others. And this may be true for those mixed-race blacks who choose to distance themselves from the black identity. But for those who don’t, this identity is more encumbering than for other blacks because it forces the personality to accommodate more blatant contradictions – acceptance of the racial categories in identity politics, for example, when one is in fact of two races. For the mixed-race black, today’s highly politicized black identity is reachable only through a degree of self-betrayal.”

Read the above book excerpt again. If we wonder about our Jewish Quaker Friend, quoted in the New York Times, replace the word ‘black’ with ‘Jewish’, and replace 'race' with 'community'. Will this exercise help us discern if all the tribes of this world have a chance at unity if Obama wins the presidential election?

In Friendship,


At 5/07/2008 5:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey - I appreciate your taking the time to comment on this non-issue. Just to let you know that there is not much similarity in a bi-racial person trying to find his/her identity and a Quaker of Jewish background. Jewish Quakers are not struggling with identity.
The Jewish community is unique in many ways. Being born a Jew or brought up as a Jew keeps you part of the Jewish community. It's not like being part of a religious community. It's more like being Irish Catholic in Brooklyn vs. being Greek Orthodox in Queens. You can leave the church, but you're always part of that community. So - let's say that person becomes a Quaker. That's a spiritual calling. The world of FGC or FUM can enhance that calling and can create a new community for that person. It is a community based on spirit and action, but it doesn't replace the worldwide community of your childhood and your family. It's not just music and food, but it's the history of the struggles and the emotions that are unique to your original community. Before WWII many American Jews denied their community and said they were only Americans. Their synagogues were built in the models of Protestant churches and they copied their American neighbors in every way (why do you think Chanukah is such a big commercial holiday?). It didn't work -- the world stood by while the Germans murdered with impunity. Yes, I know, Quakers did try to help. I am talking about the world in general, including many American governmental officials and also the movie industry, which portrayed Nazis as kookie bad guys until Chaplin's film finally broke that trend.
Anyway, getting back to the larger issue, Israel's creation (when Palestine was divided into Israel and the Arab state of Jordan) was
hailed by many as a place to which Jews could run and be safe. No matter how you feel about what is going on in the Middle East now, Jews as a community needed (and still need) to feel safe. Quakerism is a way to make the world better and a path to come to God, but Jewish Quakers will always be part of the worldwide Jewish community. Those Jewish Friends who have become Christians also remain part of the Jewish community. Glenn, it's NOT an important issue, and talking about it will never change anything. We have to look forward and create a culture of peace, but we must respect the diversity of all Friends and respect their connections to their other communities.
Hope this helps you understand. You are a good person, very smart and very techno-savvy, and you have the heart of a good Friend!

At 5/08/2008 1:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous said it very well. Jews can add another identity on top of their Jewishness, but we can never stop being Jews. Perhaps it comes from millenia as a persecuted minority, with the Holocaust still within memory, but to deny our roots is to deny the lives of our loved ones and ancestors -- can't be done. I left the Jewish religion because it did not satisfy my spiritual hunger, and because its fundamental writings (but not its elaboration of those scriptures) portray a God who is petty, unjust, vindictive, and cruel. I cringe at the seder when we read of God slaughtering countless innocents to free His chosen people. Yet I have difficulty saying "I am a Christian," although I know that it is true, and my bones will rest in a Jewish cemetery next to the bones of my fiercely Jewish wife. My cultural heritage lies in the Jewish community, and my spiritual home is in the Quaker community. (And that's before we even begin to consider our national identity as Americans!)

At 5/08/2008 2:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

These are two very good comments. As for the original writer, it is unusual for a Quaker to show so little understanding and compassion for people who have different challenges from his own. I hope he learns from these two responses to his hostile article.

That comment about the rabbis having changed the character of the Biblical God is good too. The religion of the ancient Israelites gave rise to both Christianity and rabbinic Judaism and both are still developing, or one would hope so. The re-interpretation of spilling the drops of wine at a seder as representing shedding tears for the Egyptians is an example. The rabbis said long ago in one of their elaborations on a Biblical story (called midrash)that when the angels sang a song of triumph at the 'miracle at the Sea of Reeds' God said to them - 'My children are drowning in the sea, and YOU would SING!?'
Annette, Australia.


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