Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The "Everybody Hates Us" Complex

Recently, Six Months posted about how she was taught in school that all non-Jews secretly hate Jews no matter how much they pretend otherwise. She wrote:

"In school, it was drummed into our heads that 'the goyim' are only interested in hating us and killing us as quickly as possible. 'If they could get you alone for a second and weren't afraid of being arrested for it, they'd kill you without even thinking about it,' we were told. 'And don't be fooled by the 'kind' grocer in the store or the 'nice' postman who delivers your mail. They just want to get rid of you too.' Where do they get this nonsense from?"

From my understanding, her upbringing was much more Ultra-Orthodox than mine. The day school I attended was quite modern (co-ed, even in high school), I grew up going to a Young Israel, was brought up in a world where it was completely acceptable to wear pants/shorts and go mixed swimming.

That said, I was completely raised with the same idea - that ALL non-Jews secretly hated me, just because I was a Jew. That should the law change, should they be given the opportunity, they would kill me without thinking about it. This was the ideology spouted by some of my (probably Ultra-Orthodox) teachers at my very Modern Orthodox school!!!

I don't think I ever really believed this. Probably because, in some capacity, I always had non-Jewish friends or contact with non-Jewish people.

Now I understand that there's a ridiculous amount of precedent for serious anti-Semitism, serious amounts of "friendly" non-Jews turning around and hating/hurting/killing their Jewish neighbors when the times allowed for it. My grandmother was a Holocaust survivor and she had some pretty awful stories about these types of situations that were far from unique.

But it's so important not to forget that this doesn't represent ALL non-Jews. That even in the most vile of times - in Nazi Germany - not only were there non-Jews who disapproved of the Nazi agenda, but there were some who even UNNECESSARILY risked their own lives to save Jews.

How many of us would do the same in a world where another ethnic group was being persecuted? Or not just persecuted but murdered? In a world where if we tried to save members of that ethnic group, we and all our family could be killed?

The mere existence of such "righteous gentiles" stands to disprove all of these theories about non-Jews that I was taught as late as the 1990s.

Not only that, but by perpetuating these ideas from generation to generation, we exacerbate the problem. To wit: if we're scared to talk to non-Jews, we don't; thus, they come to see as "other" (in the same way that we see them); ultimately, they come to hate us (or certainly not risk their lives to save us, if such a situation comes to pass).

It's all about honest dialogue and friendship.