Counting to Ten

I recently agreed to review a new book by Thomas Block, titled Shalom/Salaam: A Story of Mystical Fraternity.   When the publisher excitedly pressed the book into my hands, I simply couldn’t refuse. Knowing the limitations of my organizational skills, I requested a deadline and was given six weeks.  Now, sitting at my desk, I am faced with the daunting task of reading the book and writing the review.  My mind wanders while I procrastinate: When did I become a girl who can’t say no?

The truth is that I think I may be turning into a softy. Not just a bleeding-heart liberal; but a softhearted, peace-loving, idealistic, naive sap.  At first I considered not writing these words and posting them publicly, because I fear that they evoke a caricature rather than a clear picture of my character.  But as fall breezes give way to winter winds, I am warmed by the thought of revealing myself.  I have been waiting– counting to ten– deciding whether to share these thoughts since September.
In early September 2001, I was happily living in the moment.  I was pregnant with my third child, and although I was still nursing the wounds inflicted by the 2000 Electoral College, I was guardedly optimistic about the future.  Now I am warily living for the future, dreaming of where I will be in September 2011.  I hope to be praying at an interfaith gathering to honor the memories of those who perished on 9/11.  Not because I am a sap who believes that all God’s children must live together in peace.  Rather, because I am a person of faith — faith in God and faith in humanity– who believes that we must learn to heal our broken selves by working together to live in peace.
I used to discuss these ideas with some of my Jewish friends, but I find that we are no longer united by shared beliefs.  For too many months I have heard the now-familiar refrain, “Where are the moderate Muslims? Why don’t they speak out about the extremists?” But I have barely heard a word about the rising Islamophobia in western countries or about the self-inflicted damage to our own ideals and principles.  When we allow our anxiety to fester and we nurture our grievances against an entire people because of the actions of a few, we hurt ourselves in ways that we rarely acknowledge.
And so I find myself compelled to ask, Where are the moderate Jews, whose grandparents fled countries in Eastern Europe, Russia and the Ukraine to escape rampant Judeophobia, and who arrived in this land of freedom only to be humiliated and censured by their German-American brethren who did not wish to be associated with immigrants? Do we no longer share the collective memory of being reviled that ought to inoculate us against revulsion and pronounced hatred of “the other?” Or do we believe that we have arrived in our safe haven where, no longer defined as “the other,” we are free to despise others?
As I count the remaining months on my fingers from now until September, I see my hands stretch open wide.  I hold them, palms facing upward and fingers splayed, ready to receive God’s forgiveness.  I imagine that God’s loving hands will protect us from ourselves.
I count to ten again and open the book, supporting it with my widespread fingers. The time for procrastination is at an end as I begin reading, careful to keep my mind open wide like my hands. And I pray that God will protect my soft heart.

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