Thursday, March 08, 2012

But my best friend is Jewish so it's OK that I said that.

Jacob and I have fought manymany times about some joke I made that I thought was pretty funny that turned out to be more than a little bit offensive according to most Jewish people.

Now, let's be clear, sometimes when we fight, it turns out that Jacob was being over-sensitive and my joke would be fine in all but the most conservative of gatherings.  However, often, like say 90% of the time, it turns out that I shouldn't have made the joke.  Like, really. I have made some huge mistakes.

So, I'm admitting up front that my learning curve has been and continues to be steep.  STEEP. And, like Louis C.K. says below, it can be tricky knowing what is and isn't OK.
DVD Exclusive - Louis C.K. - "Jew" Is a Funny Word
Louis C.K.ComediansStand-Up

But I have been thinking about allies lately.  Allies work to re-establish God's shalom in the world by speaking on behalf of marginalized folks because they will take relatively less social, financial and physical damage for saying the unpopular thing than the person at the receiving end of the injustice would.

I have a friend who was in a situation where no ally stood up for her.  She is amazing because she's trying to figure out how to become the ally she wished for on behalf of other young people like herself who haven't achieved her level of confidence yet.  She's letting me help her brainstorm how to do this.

While I have been thinking about allies, this article from came across my screen about Purim, which is the story of Esther, who was in a position to help the Jewish people because she was married to a non-Jew.  The rabbi writes about other ways that intermarriage might be good for the Jewish community as a people, saying, "Perhaps in all the intermarriages that are happening today, we are acquiring allies for the Jewish people. Perhaps we now have hundreds of thousands of non-Jews who are also committed to the survival of the Jewish people, its customs and teachings, and to raising Jewish children. "

Interestingly, I had just acted as an ally in a way that I would not have before Jacob started teaching me about anti-semitism and before Esther's birth caused me to start seeing the world through her eyes. I clicked through a Facebook post to an interview in the Huffington Post that was about a guy who kept his homosexuality in the closet while he worked as a high-level producer in Christian TV, which is for the most-part anti-gay.  The tone of the piece was edgy, funny and just a little bit fabulous.  Then, the interview subject signed off saying, "Transformation of any kind will only come from being in a relationship with [Jesus] - and if there is anything he wants you to change, HE will let you know. I mean, he is Jewish, remember!"

Four years ago, I would have thought nothing of that.  Today, it struck me as weird that a Jewish joke would conclude an article about homosexuality and Christianity.  It's mostly just out of place.  It also made me uncomfortable because the humor in the rest of the piece was mostly self-deprecatory jokes about gay people or conservative Christians, both of which came across fine since either the interviewer or the subject belonged to those communities in some way or another.  Since neither claimed Judaism, I realized that the joke was offensive.


The premise of the joke says that BECAUSE Jesus is Jewish THEN something is true.  If the joke said that BECAUSE someone was black, THEN something is true, we would see the racism immediately.  The only way for that logic to scan properly is if that thing is true for every person of that community to possess the characteristic and that's always a stereotype.

Whether they are negative or positive, putting stereotypes into print adds to the weight of that stereotype, which hurts members of the stereotyped group, since they don't get known as individuals, as well as keeping the stereotyper bound by his or her own ignorance.

Without debating it too much in my own head, I called out the anti-semitism in a comment on the Facebook post and a little later, I sent a message to the interviewer to open a dialogue.  He was really gracious and very willing to listen to my perspective and acknowledge my points.  As a Christian, I spoke from my safe position as family to another Christian about how he was inadvertently hurting the Jewish people.  I acted as an ally, just like the rabbi on wrote about.

As I was explaining my perspective to the author, I realized that this is a joke I have seen before.  Mainstream Christians have a funny relationship with Judaism.  Almost all of us are well past blaming the Jews for Jesus' death (because it's not true) and more and more, people are studying the historical context of our scriptures, which necessarily means studying Judaism, at least of the ancient sort.

And that's where the problem comes in.  Starting with the bumper stickers declaring that our boss is a  Jewish carpenter, Christians claim intimacy and familiarity with Judaism because our roots are there.  Unfortunately, too often we conveniently forget that in 2,000 years, Judaism has changed quite a bit from what we read about in Acts, much of it as a result of persecution by Christians.  Our knowledge of ancient Judaism does not translate automatically to knowledge of modern-day Jews.  This means that our knowledge of modern-day Jews is most often supplied by pop culture, which is still largely informed by deliberately intentional negative propaganda against Jews.  Even the humorous self-loathing of people like Woody Allen is SELF-loathing and not to be appropriated by folks outside of the tribe.  I know it sometimes doesn't seem fair that Black people get to use the n-word and white folks don't but really, do you want to use it that much?  Isn't our sense of unfairness just based in a desire not to be bound in any way?

Also, as strange as this sounds, we often forget that Jewish people don't read Old Testament scripture (also, think about the solipsism involved in that nomenclature) believing that the prophecies are referring to Jesus.  Remember the movie Clue?  When it first came out in theaters, different theaters ran different solutions to the mystery and it wasn't until it came out on VHS that people could see all three endings.

The end of the story for Jews is different than the end of the story for Christians and that changes how we interpret the beginning and middle of the story.

So, we don't realize that it is insulting to host a Passover seder and talk about how Jesus was foreshadowed as the paschal lamb, whose blood was painted over the doorframe.  It's like adding salt to the wound of 2000 years of persecution to then take one of their most  sacred celebrations and twist it to reflect our own beliefs.  Yes, the past 30 years have been a relatively safe time for Jews all over the world but 30 years isn't very long in the memory of people that are over 3,500 years old.  Judaism teaches continuity and a sense of belonging to the tribe that is not necessarily a part of Christian culture.  Our emphasis on a personal revelation of our individual relationship with God de-emphasizes our sense of belonging to community.  It's not gone - many of us are certainly aware of the Church or of being brothers and sisters in Christ - but trust me that it is not nearly as intense a sense of global belonging as being Jewish feels for even the most secular members of the diaspora.  These are, of course, sweeping generalizations and I recognize the irony of making them in a post that began with condemning humor based on stereotypes.  Still, the naivete I encounter of so many Christians seems to necessitate that I start with the basics.

There are very few Christians who are anti-semitic as an identity.  Please don't think that. However, even non-bigoted people make both unintentional or deliberate decisions that are reflective of larger forces that hurt folks in minority populations. (Actually, there is a whole sub-set of evangelical Christians who are dispensationalists and support Israel somewhat blindly based on their belief that Jesus won't come again to take them to Heaven while leaving the rest of us behind until the Jews are all back in Israel.  Seriously.   That's a whole different kind of objectification that's too gross to talk about in this one post.)

So, I am excited by my new-found role as a non-Jewish ally.  I don't want a world where my interfaith daughter feels like half of her people are willing to throw the other half of her people under the bus for the sake of a good joke.  I'll try to share some of these adventures as we go along.