Due to illness and work committments I have been unable to post on my blog for some months. My apologies for this. Hopefully I will, from now on, be able to post more regularly, particularly concernng my recent trip to the West Bank.
Quite possibly the most surreal experience of my life came during my recent stay in Jerusalem when I decided to go and visit one of the Rabbis from the staunchly anti-Zionist Orthodox Jewish organization known as Neturei Karta. While I am convinced that the anti-Zionist position taken by Neturei Karta is virtually identical to the mainstream Orthodox position on Zionism some 50 to 100 years ago, I am equally convinced that nowadays their viewpoints are very much in the minority.
What is extremely disturbing, is the virulent hatred for these Rabbis that is both harboured and promoted by Zionist Jews. I would be hard pressed to remember a case where such dreadful words of hatred and violence are spoken towards a people who basically want to be left alone to live in peace with all men…, Jew, Muslim, Arab and Chrisitian.
I visited the home of Rabbi Hirsch, a Neturei Karta Rabbi, who lives in the Orthodox suburb of Jerusalem known as Mea Shearim. Walking down the main street of this suburb is something that I will never forget. Every person, except myself, was wearing the traditional black clothing that is the standard ‘unifrom’ of the Orthodox. It was like walking into a time machine, into an age and a place more foreign to me than anything I could have ever imagined. Yet at the same time I felt perfectly safe, just as safe as I felt walking through any Arab part of Jerusalem at any time of the day or night. I spoke to a number of Orthodox Jews, all of them very friendly and helpful, some even willing to talk about Zionism and Israel and a few even reminding me gently that the views held by Neturei Karta represent a tiny minority!
While I was dressed appropriatley for the occassion and obvioulsy not a western looking female, or a tourist running around taking photos, I felt that my presence in Mea Shearim was quite easily tolerated. Wandering through the tiny, dimmly light neighbourhoods trying to find Rabbi Hirsch’s home was daunting and yet fascinating.
Having finally found the Rabbis house at about 11:00pm at night, the Rabbi warmly invited me in and I sat down with him and his family and started to talk about the issue that burns in the both of us, be it for probably different reasons.
After spending about two hours talking with this Rabbi and his family, I could not help but see a man, very passionate about his convictions, but mostly concerned with finding a way to live in peace with his fellow men and women. He believes a key to this is telling the world that Zionism is not Judaism. That the current problems in the region are not the cause of relgious conflict or bigotry, be it from Christians, Jews or Muslims. As Orthodox Jews who have lived throughout the world, they are used to being surrounded by peoples of other faiths and cultures.
No, the problem, in the Rabbis opinion, and in my opinion, lay fundamentally at the feet of a type of European colonialist ideology that is known as Zionism. This is obviously not to say that no fault can be found with Palestinian Arabs in their handling of the conflict. That would be ridiculous. But the roots of the conflict and the ongoing oppression of Palestinian Arabs can be found in the Zionists states unwillingness to give up on it’s colonialist project which the Rabbi and I find to be unjust and immoral.
I discovered no words of hatred from the mouth of the Rabbi who sees that, as an Orthodox Jew living in a Zionist state, he is a Jew in exile, living within an exile. He mourns the death of every Jew and Arab in the conflict and seeks to be reconciled with all his fellow men and women. No curses were reserved for his detractors nor does he somehow wish to see a return to the days of oppression of Jews in Europe.
As the night wore on, the more I could see how much I had in common with this man’s family. The more our common humanity, desire for peace, justice and reconciliation became obvious, the more pain I felt for these people who are treated in such a vile way by other Jews. How is it that those like myself can be labelled an anti-Semite even when I have plainly stated that I firmly believe in the rights of Jews to live every and anywhere in the world they wish in peace, justice and freedom, while those who cry out for the death of Neturei Karta Rabbis claiming that Neturei Karta do all they can to ensure another Holocaust, can do so without the slightest accusation of anti-Semitism, is unfathomable to me.
My visit to Mea Shearim, and the world of the Orthodox anti-Zionist Jewish people will stay with me for ever. Their warmth and hospitality was matched only by their passion for peace and justice in the Middle East. Though as a western Chrisitan I will always have disagreements with them from a theological perspective, and I realise that many people’s visit to Mea Shearim was not so enjoyable as mine, I will always consider the Rabbis of Neturei Karta to be basically a people on a mission of peace and reconcilliation, and as such, I call them brothers and sisters in the faith.