A TINY, MONSTROUS FANGED HEAD – Marilyn Armstrong

Being Jewish is a religion, but for many of us, it isn’t only a religion. In fact, for a lot for us, Judaism isn’t religious at all, but rather a commitment to a lifestyle. It entails a wide range of ethical and moral beliefs.

One of the things it includes — if you are of my generation — is a lingering belief that all non-Jews are secretly your enemy, no matter what they say to your face. This remains true even when you are married to a Christian and got married in a Christian church. And your kids don’t even consider themselves Jewish. Somewhere inside, some little piece of you is screaming “Remember the Inquisition and the Holocaust.”

It’s an angry and frightened little voice, always alarmed and ready to grab the Torah (like I own a real Torah, right?) and run for the caves.

My kids don’t have this voice in their heads or this fear because I did not bathe them in the blood of our tortured ancestors or the piles of corpses from the Holocaust. I didn’t push this on them because I thought it was time to let it go and move on.

My mother was an atheist. She did not believe in God or gods. Her bonds to Judaism were entirely ethnic and tribal. So are mine … but ethnicity and a fondness for our cuisine isn’t something one can always pass along.

Regardless, Judaism is a religion. When you are ethnically Jewish but practice no aspect of the religion, what do you pass to your children other than recipes and a totally irrational fear of non-Jews.

Your ethical and moral commitments can stand on their own. They don’t need a religious attachment. They ought to be a part of the mental armament of any sane person. Religious or not, you ought to know the difference between right and wrong.

I didn’t pass this on to my kid or grandchild because I thought it was time to end the terror and move on to a different world.

These days, though, I wonder if maybe I was precipitous. Just because I thought the danger ended, it reared up its monstrous little fanged head again. And suddenly, safety is not so safe.

Maybe it’s about more than recipes for matzoh balls. Hatred appears to live a lot longer than I imagined possible.

17 thoughts on “A TINY, MONSTROUS FANGED HEAD – Marilyn Armstrong”

  1. I grew up in an area where the Jews settled after leaving their home countries for various reasons, already in the 19 century an a little before. My high school was 50% Jewish attendance. They served kosher meals for the Jewish at lunch and we had two school assemblies daily one for the Jewish faith and the other for Christians. I shared my youth with the belief and had many Jewish friends. I knew their belief was a way of life, but so was mine, so no problem, except for one thing. The Jewish school colleagues got a few more days holiday during the year.

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    1. We get a lot of holidays. I always felt a little guilty taking the time off since I wasn’t religious and didn’t do anything but stay home and read books. But not going to school was too good an opportunity to miss. When I started to work, I didn’t take any of the holidays off except Yom Kippur. Living in Israel was GREAT though. EVERYONE took EVERY holiday off. One month of fall was entirely holidays and half of April, too. Great holidays, especially when everyone is enjoying them.

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  2. IMHO and sadly I don’t think hatred can be killed. It’s immortal. As long as good men (people) do nothing..
    In this state, there is a small but thriving Jewish community, but personally I never met anyone Jewish until I married. My husband’s best friend was one. Nice fella who made an astounding goulash. It’s funny (weird, not humorous) that depending on our rearin’ and other factors when we’re learning about life, the things that impress our wee psyches. I never had any adverse thoughts nor was afraid of other cultures or religions, I simply never considered them at all (save one, and that was trauma based). Which in its own way is as irrational (and a lot more ignorant) as being fearful of non-Jews. I promise you this though, some of us Gentiles are nice folks who probably think a whole lot more like you do than not. I watched some piece of fluff movie last night, but one line in there was “We’re all connected. What one does affects the rest.” I found that very wise and surprisingly true.

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    1. My husband is a lovely gentile and so are most of my friends. That fear is something that you get from your parents and no matter how ridiculous it is, it just sits there, somewhere in your brain. It’s why it so important to NOT say the wrong stuff to your kids because kids remember everything. I was born right after WW 2 and the Holocaust was on every Jewish family’s list of fears. I know Jewish parents who were afraid to have their boys circumcised because “that’s how the Nazis found the Jewish boys.” I suspect, to a degree, all minorities harbor some kind of fear that those other people are going to do something bad to them. Not their friends or family, but the Other Ones. I tried really hard to not imbue that into my kid or granddaughter. There’s enough hate going around. We do not need any more.

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  3. …..And then there were those of us that acquired Judaism by osmosis. Since most of my friends were Jewish, I too, began to distrust anyone who was NOT Jewish. I’ve always wanted to visit Israel one day so that has pretty much been my life even to this day.., except for the holidays and hoopla, But I did get to take advantage of a couple holidays from school.., and the Jewish community was pretty much in step with a few Christian holidays as well, especially if they were involved in retail. Nowadays I just have to know I can’t order anything from B&H from Friday to Saturday midnight. Also, locally, driving is less crowded from Friday to Sat since some of my neighbors stay out of their cars for 24 hours. Lastly, being a musician, music lover and arts supporter I’m around “my people” 🙂 all the time. Life is good.

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    1. I think this is the kind of fear every minority has, that someday, somehow, the world will flip and THEY will do IT, whatever IT is. It’s not rational and it has nothing to do with your real life. Most of my friends aren’t Jewish and those that are are almost entirely atheists. But the world is a terrifying place and my mother brought me up watching endless newsreels of concentration camps. Hard to entirely lose that. It just gets stuck in your head.

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  4. It’s a long time ago to remember the Inquisition, the Holocaust – not so long ago. I think you have a good balance with this region/ethnic approach.
    Leslie

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      1. It’s important that the youth know what went on but I can understand not wanting to watch such horror because we know it did go on.
        Leslie

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      2. On the same, but opposite side I have a lovely former neighbor who is German. I offered to lend her my DVD of Schindler’s List just so she wouldn’t think all Germans were in favor of what went on during WWII. She couldn’t do it. It was just too painful for her to watch, not to mention embarrassing.

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