I have been sharing student blogs for several years, and post the ones that students vote as the best of their peers. But I was touched by several of the final blogs this semester from my course, National Agenda, As We Stand | Divided. These thoughtful and personal perspectives give me hope that we can all learn to see the humanity in others. Part 1 comes from University of Delaware Political Science Senior, Lauren Goldenberg. I will be publishing several more before the end of the year.
A Jewish Perspective on “Us vs. Them”
My name is Lauren Goldenberg, and I am Jewish, if you couldn’t tell that already from my last name. I am proud to be Jewish, and am fortunate to not remember a time growing up when I was directly ostracized for my religion. Unfortunately, that is beginning to change.
Right now, this country is divided more than ever, but, on a greater scale, the world is more divided than ever, with religious divides seemingly at the forefront. About two months ago, a gunman entered a Texas church and killed dozens of people. Just one month ago, 300 people were killed in a mosque in Egypt. And, two weeks ago, The New York Times just published an article that anti-Semitism was up 10% in Australia, of all places. As a young Jewish woman, this scares me.
There is a concept I have thought a lot about lately, and that is the notion of “us versus them.” For me, my Jewish community is my “us,” and it scares me that someone who simply is not part of that has enough reason to want to hurt someone inside of that circle. In Charlottesville this past fall, Nazi flags were being swung not just freely, but with pride. “Kill the Jews” was a rhetoric used in Germany in 1945, and if you would have told me a year ago I would read articles with this title from Virginia, I would have strongly doubted that proposition. Instead, here we are, but the real question for me is, where will we go?
There has been the attack on the church, and an attack in a mosque. There is an old saying that bad things always happen in threes, and I wish I did not live every day with the fear that there will be a bombing in a synagogue. In the New York Times article about Australia, we learn Rabbi Shmueli Feldman was having a small party in his home, when a group of teenagers drove by his house, and threw religious slurs around like a baseball. The police did nothing.
I understand that just because religious-based attacks have happened twice recently, it does not necessarily mean that I should worry every day about the safety of my group, of my “us,” but unfortunately, I do. It comes from having learned more about why people so viciously oppose groups of which they are not part, or with whom they do not identify. A group attachment gives a stronger feeling of belonging, and therefore a great sense of loyalty. Feelings then matriculate, to the point where a group is unbreakable, and anyone on the outside of it is simply wrong: wrong in their actions, wrong in their views, wrong in assuming they have greater obstacles to face than anyone else. Sometimes, even the very sense of self is taken away, and a group mentality is developed. This creates the “us,” and adversely, this creates the “them.”
Those not part of a certain religious sect might not understand differences nor traditions, but it takes a very strong-willed group, and a very strong formed mentality, to actively seek out the harm of a group of which one is simply not part. I can only speak for my experiences as a Jewish woman, like Muslim journalist Asma Kahlid, whom I was lucky enough to meet, said about herself, and not being able to speak for all Muslims. Asma works for NPR and covered the Trump election. She was asked repeatedly how Muslims felt about a certain subject or policy. Asma said that she simply could only address how she felt about it, not a religion as a whole. To address how all Muslims felt would simply be impossible.
This is where I truly hope we are going. I hope we, as a world, are going to be able to find a time to come together and understand that one, or two, or even a small amount of individuals that are part of a “them” does not mean the entirely of “them” is innately bad. People choose to do “good” over “bad” every single day, and I believe this is the important part to understand.
This is how I am choosing to view the current world. I am fortunate to have knowledge of Jonathan Haidt’s moral foundations, and I believe it is my responsibility to correct myself should I feel maliciously towards a group of individuals about whom I know nothing. I am choosing to hope that the people in Charlottesville are not all bad, just swept up in a moment. I am choosing to believe that those people are all protest, instead of action. I am choosing to try and understand, rather than to ostracize. I am choosing to hope that the world realizes that hurting each other due to simple differences will never solve the problems that we, as innate, similar humans, deserve to solve. I am choosing to wear my Jewish star necklace from my grandmother with pride, just as I hope people that love their church will hold their crosses, and Muslim’s will value their Quran, and we can all pray and exist together.
Lauren Goldenberg is a Senior at the University of Delaware majoring in Political Science.