by David Kobrin
Special to the Sounder
I write as a Jew who lives on Orcas Island. I write as a man, in his late 70s, an American, born in the United States. I write as someone who has lived all my life in our country, the United States of America. I write now in reaction to the terrorist attack on Jews in a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I write out of fear, and from the need to be heard.
I am a man who wears a yarmulke (a traditional Jewish head covering, or skull cap). I wear it because I want to; I wear it because this is the United States. Our Constitution guarantees freedom for each of us to worship as we believe, without interference from others, so long as our practices do not infringe on the rights of others. Yet now there are activists — including those willing to kill — who believe conspiracy theories about Jews and “international” Judaism that are patently false, canards from 75 (and 150 and more) years ago that have been disproved again and again.
Wearing my yarmulke, am I now a target — a living announcement: Here’s an old Jew if you want to take him?
I feel a higher level of fear and anxiety. Even more, I feel sad and startled. Sad for those murdered because of their faith. Jews in Pittsburgh now hold hands with too long a line: of blacks shot, lynched and abused; of immigrants separated from their children; of uninvolved civilians killed in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine and Israel.
Most often Jewish men who wear a yarmulke throughout the day are highly observant (even fundamentalist) in their practice. That’s not me. My Judaism is focussed less on ritual observance and more on the ethical teachings in the Torah (the Old Testament) that can give meaning to my life here, today, on this island.
Judaism often teaches how to live Jewishly by example. For instance, do not put a stumbling block in front of a blind man. Do not curse the deaf behind their back. Treat “aliens” in your land as you treat citizens, for you too were once aliens in a strange land. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Other teachings ask us to expand the teachings beyond their agrarian setting. Leave the corner of your “field” unharvested so that your crop is available for the poor to gather. Farmers may harvest their crop only once each season; whatever is missed, or ripens after the harvest, is left for those in need to “glean.” Pay the worker immediately after the work is finished, for that is his livelihood (his “coat”).
These teachings are held in common by all major religions. Christianity and Islam sanctify them with different stories, images and languages. The underlying guidelines are essentially the same.
I am a Jewish old man who wishes to wear a yarmulke. I am a Jewish old man who wants to keep trying, until my death, to live ethically as I understand those teachings, despite my continual failings. I am an American who lives on Orcas Island.
David Kobrin lives in Eastsound.