By Doni Joszef
A puzzle looks very different in its final form than it does in the box. The finished product portrays a unified, holistic, cohesive design. The fragmented pieces, on the other hand, appear confusing, conflicting, and helplessly unrelated to one another.
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Much has been said in recent years about the growing phenomenon of bullying. But the trend is hardly limited to the social sphere; it exists on a societal level, as well.
Jews have been proverbial bully victims of practically every place we’ve touched. Historically, we tend to invoke a sense of envy and/or disgust in our surroundings.
Is it because we call ourselves “chosen”? Is it because we’re not the most stylish tribe on the planet? Is it because we make (and sometimes take) money? Is it some pathological case of national narcissism which perpetuates its own self-fulfilling prophecy from generation to generation?
But what is clear is that—like the bully victim—we begin to internalize the role, as chronic feelings of inferiority and victimization are pretty much all we’ve been conditioned for. Marching and campaigning for so-called Jewish pride is, more often than not, a weak attempt at compensating for deeper feelings of Jewish shame.
Media efforts have exacerbated this ailment, propagating the sense that religion, in general, and Orthodox Judaism, in particular, is a comical attachment to archaic times, at best, or a corrupt force of hypocrisy, at worst. The headlines usually thrive on exposing such shadows for the delight of public consumption, coining clever plays on titles to add humor to humiliation.
The tragic and misguided result is that we begin to question our own values, rather than the soundness of those who misrepresent them. We become apologetic Jews rather than example-setting Jews. We see our national narrative as a sort of expired anachronism; Fiddler on the Roof 3.0, as it were.
Whether we know it or not, we subconsciously (and often consciously) blindly buy what we see on our screens, on front-page news articles, and on the projections we subconsciously transfer to the eyes of our beholders as we walk through airports, shopping malls, and subway stations. We assume people dislike us because we carry a complex of inferiority, instilled and impressed into our collective psyches over centuries of rather rough-around-the-edges reception. And, like the bully victim, we perpetuate this self-perception beyond its appropriate atmosphere.
Inferiority is a complex complex, indeed.
“Get over it,” you say? If only it were so simple.
To do so, we may start by asking: Who are we when we’re not being persecuted or victimized? Do we have an identity beyond the societal scapegoat or bully victim? What is our mission, what are we trying to achieve on a collective level, and what’s stopping us from getting there?
The problem right now is that we resemble a classroom in chaos, each member yelling and shouting to shut the others up. The yelling is great for releasing steam and wasting class time, but it does nothing to answer the question being posed on the blackboard.
The Jewish question—the puzzle we’re trying to piece together—has surfaced and resurfaced in recent decades, with a range of attempts at providing some semblance of an answer. But a comprehensive, cohesive, holistic response seems far from sight. Fragmentation and internal discord erupt, serving to distract us (or, perhaps, defend us) from facing this existential examination. We remain geographically, politically, and ideologically scattered, and so our identity remains shattered.
Indeed, it’s hard to see the puzzle when its pieces seem so distant and detached from one another. Perhaps the time has come to look at the box, to recall the bigger picture, to regain perspective of our greater whole rather than finger-pointing and segregating into isolated parts. v
Doni Joszef, LMSW, is in private practice working with individuals, families, and groups in Lawrence. Available by appointment. Call 516-316-2247 or e‑mail DJoszef@gmail.com to schedule a consultation.