I'm Not A Self-Hating Jew;
I'm Just A Jew Who Hates Other Jews
Actually, I don't really hate Jews. What I hate is the pressure, both overt and covert, to conform to the collective norms of the particular tribe one is born into. It wouldn't matter if I had been born black, asian, latino, irish, italian, catholic, mormon, hindu, or whatever. Invariably, my cultural heritage would include a whole bunch of fuckheads telling me what I should believe, and how I should think and act as a member of the tribe, and that is completely unacceptable.
When I was a kid,
my parents were born-again Jews. They both grew up with a total
absence of Jewish religious observance. In fact, my mother's family
put up a Christmas tree in december, and her father masqueraded
as Santa. As young adults in search of identity, my parents reconnected
with their jewishness and, luckily for me, they embraced Reconstructionism,
the most liberal and open-minded sect of Judaism. I can't even
begin to imagine how much more my childhood would have sucked
if they had become orthodox.
My newly hebraicized parents, in their zeal for judaeification, sent me to the Solomon Schecter Jewish Day School, a progressive, experimental, private school styled after the popular Montessori schools; except the Montessori people knew what they were doing, and the Schecter people, while undoubtedly well-intentioned, had their heads wedged firmly up their asses.
The Schecter School was built on the concept of the "open classroom." No desks, no assigned seats, and ultimately, no discipline. The children were free to move around the classroom as they pleased, and while this is a lovely idea in theory, in practice it led to chaos. The children were expected to discipline themselves, but seven, eight and nine year old children are, for the most part, unable to do this. And when the students failed to regulate their own behavior, instead of punishing them, the teachers tried to reason with them, as if they possessed the cognitive abilities of an adult.
It all sounds rather idiotic and out of touch with reality, but this was the late sixties, and such pie-eyed idealism was rampant. The Schecter Reconstructionists, in their utopian eagerness for reform, were flushing their bath-water babies down the toilet.
I was an exuberant
and outspoken child, a bit disruptive at times perhaps, but no
more so than any other little kid with my energy level would have
been, given the total lack of structure and clearly-defined rules
in the classroom. I was an independent thinker with a natural
love of learning, but I fiercely resisted giving my full attention
to anything that I wasn't truly interested in. The Schecter teachers
didn't know what to do with me. Their confusing mixed message
was: think for yourself and be self-directed and self-motivated,
but then study and pay attention to the things that we tell you
are important. It was fascism disguised as socialism. I was stubborn
and rebellious in protecting my intellectual autonomy, and, as
you may have guessed, the Schecter administration had a real problem
I remember the principal, a laid-back, middle-aged man with a jew-fro, turtleneck and pipe, kind of a Jewish Hugh Hefner, trying to have a serious discussion with me about my so-called behavior problems. His mouth was moving, but the words his lips were forming may as well have been the bleating trumpet noises which represented the voices of the disembodied adults in the Peanuts cartoons, because my eight-year-old brain had no idea what they meant. Why did these people insist on treating us like grownups?
Their total lack of understanding of the developmental stages of childhood was further evidenced by their insistence that students who failed at self-discipline be taken to see psychotherapists. Apparently, this was demanded of quite a few of my classmates and their families. I was one of those children, and I was dutifully taken to a child psychologist by my trusting parents. I was, of course, clueless as to why I was there and what we were supposed to be accomplishing. The psychologist was a cheerful young woman who took me across the street to buy comic books and chatted amiably with me like a doting aunt or an older big sister. The most I can say about my time with her is that no harm was done, and that I was left with the idea that psychology was not a particularly unpleasant thing.
In retrospect, the whole "your child needs a psychologist" schtick reveals just how unwilling Schecter was to take any responsibility for their own flaws. Instead of admitting that their experiment in education wasn't working, the Schecter staff blamed the students. It was like the Soviets declaring people insane if they didn't agree with the official communist ideology.
The Solomon Schecter school was run by Jews. They were supposedly my people, and I was led to believe that because of this, they would support me. But the underlying message that I got from them was that I was a monkey wrench thrown into their tribal machinery. I was a bad monkey. And they never really spelled out how to be a good monkey. I was simultaneously rewarded and punished for being independent.
In all fairness, I should say that the Schecterites were a particular kind of Jew; a splinter tribe or sub-tribe if you will. They were New World Jews, drunk on the power and freedom of 1960s America, liberated from the oppressive restraints of anti-semitism and their own ponderous and burdensome religion; wild-eyed idealists who wanted to overturn everything and create a brave new world. What they didn't understand is that you can ignore the laws of the torah and the talmud with relative impunity, but not the laws of nature. You cannot fuck with the developing nervous systems of young children without consequences, and fuck with us is exactly what they did.
The Schecters, with all their aquarian age ideals, still demanded conformity, but conformity to a nebulous and ill-defined set of standards. It was like saying, "You must follow the rules, but we're not going to tell you what they are. We'll give you some clues, but the clues will be in code. And if you fail to guess what the rules are, you'll be punished." Children, especially children like I had been, need structure and boundaries, and the Schecter staff failed miserably at providing these.
At the end of the
third grade, I was summoned to the principal's office where a
meeting was being held to decide what should be done about The
David Problem. The room was full of very somber adults with their
we-mean-business faces on. They spoke to me about my behavior
but, as always, the words were fashioned for an adult mind and
sailed right over my nine-year-old head. I remember being given
some kind of ultimatum, but not understanding what my choices
were. I felt like I had been captured by Chinese soldiers who
were demanding that I speak to them in Chinese or be shot. I left
the office angry and confused. I felt guilty and ashamed without
knowing what I was supposed to have done wrong.
Some time later, I was informed that I would not be returning to Solomon Schecter Jewish Day School. They were kicking me out.
It was a rejection which ensured that I would never again feel or display the slightest shred of loyalty to the Jewish tribe.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not prejudiced against Jews. But I don't belong to them either. I belong to the human tribe now--the tribe of planet Earth. I take people on an individual basis. I don't care what your ancestors did. And it irritates the shit out of me when people assume I support Israel. Israel has no more importance or significance to me than any other country in the world.
So, yeah--I was deeply
wounded by my exile from Judea, but any small desire I may have
had to make aliyah was completely extinguished by what happened
I was enrolled in the local public elementary school, which was a nightmare of shallow suburban ignorance, but at least there were clearly defined rules and limits, and I never once was considered a behavior problem.
My parents, in their near-hysterical insistence on family immersion in the Jewish experience, decided that I would attend hebrew school at Gratz College two afternoons a week for two hours, on top of the six hours I spent in confinement at the public school prison. Foolishly, I expected, if not to be welcomed with open arms, to at least be able to relax and let down my guard with my fellow Jews in a way that I couldn't at the elementary school. Wrong! The kids at Gratz, and the teachers as well, were ten times as abusive and rejecting as anyone in my new non-Jewish public school environment. They were vicious, nasty, spiteful, snobbish, cliquish, boorish, and completely focused on surface appearances and material possessions. In short, a bunch of thoroughly repugnant bungholes. They made a good case for anti-semitism. I was ostracized for no other reason that I could see except that I was the new kid. They couldn't even come up with a plausible excuse to dump on me. It was like, "Ha ha--he's got ears" or "Look--he's wearing pants--loser!"
And I couldn't enjoy my mid-afternoon break because this ugly little rat-faced kid, who was always grinning like he had just eaten a giant turd, would chase me around the lounge area when we were supposed to be having snacks. I don't know what would have happened if I had simply stopped running from him. I guess he would have tried to beat me up. I'll never know because he always chased and I always ran.
What a bunch of retards. And these were supposed to be my people? My parents, to their credit, took me out of Gratz when they saw how miserable I was, but the damage was beyond repair.
The idea that other Jews would welcome and accept me because I, too, was Jewish was revealed as the sham that it was, and I would never again identify with anything Jewish, unless it deeply resonated with who I was as an individual. My parents had found a sense of who they were by adopting a tribal identity--defining themselves as part of a clan. I would discover who I was by going inside myself and seeing what was actually there that was uniquely mine.
And so, my break with the Jewish tribe was complete, and my mistrust of granfalloons was cemented in place.
The granfalloon, a concept invented by novelist Kurt Vonnegut, is a group of people who feel or express kinship with one another based on superficial similarities such as being from the same city or having the same color hair. And, as I learned, the granfalloon can be a dangerous entity.
Perhaps there is something about the safety of the herd that sometimes allows for the most reprehensible behavior in people. You know you can get away with all kinds of shit when you've got your posse to back you up. The social contract of the tribe guarantees protection for allegiance, so it's my country, love it or leave it. If people were judged on individual merit, rather than the company they keep, we might have a lot less turd-flinging in the world. And if the gaggling together of Jews in a group brings out the worst in Jewish stereotypes, then I want nothing to do with it.