Now and then, I get into conversations with people who, learning that I’m Jewish, go into a whole fandango about how all religions are the same anyway, same God, same set of ethics, golden rule, etc. Actually, we say the much more serious version of the Do Unto Others, which is that we should not do unto others that which we would not have them do unto us. Why does all that same-same get me tired? I guess that, beyond its being an annoying cliché, it’s dismissive. It reminds me of the dimwitted passage in Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice:” Hath not a Jew eyes? Shylock, ketzeleh — everything hath eyes except clams and oysters, they don’t need eyes because they depend on their hearing.
Since the Jews were exiled in 1290 and not allowed back into Britain until long after Shakespeare’s death, it is possible that he never saw a Jew, eyes or no eyes. Sometimes that reduction is an attempt at tolerance, a well-meaning attempt to include me, but it has the opposite effect. If all religions are basically the same, why am I not a Christian? a Moslem? There are more of them than there are of us, and not joining seems like simple stubbornness — I’d have to do so little to become completely assimilated, homogenous, and we could end the silly conflicts about days off from work and sports events calculations. We could stop the annoying problem of the existence of Israel and rid ourselves forever of the memories of the Holocaust. The steps are so little.
What is there in this set of beliefs we have and practice, some of us barely, that hangs us in there in thousand-year bunches? Belief? Yes and no. Ethnic identity? Yes and no. Philosophy? Yes and no. What does it for me is best said in a single, modest sentence in the prayer after the reading of the Haftorah, excised sometimes for the sake of brevity: Rachem al tzion ki he bet Chayenu. Asking God, Have compassion on Zion because it is the house of our lives. Note the lack of any claim to being better, getting anyone to heaven, or ending the highly touted epidemic of obesity.
We are a stubborn people — Scripture says so and ages and sages have had no reason to contradict the assessment. We have done great things, besides supporting all the Chinese restaurants in the United States.
While I’m tallying up favorite lines, here’s one. May the Lord bless you and keep you. I know that as a Re-constructionist, I’m not supposed to say Lord, but I’ve eaten nothing in quite a while and maybe it’s low blood sugar. Growing up, I walked past that wish without a thought about what it meant. But now I’m keeping people. Pat died, and Dolores and Sandy and James and Harry, and I’m keeping them, and their days of youth. My aunts and uncles and parents and grandparents are gone, and I alone keep them. Pat was my friend for sixty years and there is no one left who remembers her as young and funny, and no one remembers me as a baby, a kid, a young girl. May we be blessed and kept. It takes a force beyond time to do that. I can say the Lord does that. Chalk it up to low blood sugar.