Sunday, July 31, 2011

Of Tents and Tea Parties

Today I’m feeling like I decided to remain with the tribes of Reuven, Gad and half of Menasheh on the other side of the Jordan. It’s hard to live in the Diaspora, especially in a time of great pride for all Israelis, really all Jews. More than 150,000 people took to the streets in Israel (the greatest number since the demonstrations surrounding the Sabra and Shatilla massacres in the first Lebanon War) to demand of their government the kind of society they want; I want. They were shouting, "the people demand social justice" and "we want justice, not charity." I wanted to take out my Israeli identity card and wear it on my chest. I feel like wrapping myself in the flag.
Living with a dual identity, American and Israeli, I naturally compare the two countries. In Israel, a tent revolution, how natural for a people who lived in sukkot as they traveled from slavery to freedom. In America, a tea revolution, also natural given the historical source of the name, but unfortunate in that it is far from the idealism that inspired the break from the British monarchy.
The Arab spring has reached Israel’s impermanent borders. It has penetrated the violence of the occupied territories and the injustices of the blockade of Gaza and reached the citizens in Beer Sheva, Jerusalem, Ashdod, Nazareth and especially Tel Aviv. But this is not a reaction to tyranny. Our tent revolution is a tikkun in the trajectory of the self correcting vector of Jewish existence. Judaism has always sought to better itself, and it has always been the work of mindful Jews who insist on staying loyal to our people’s pursuit of justice and human dignity.
In light of Israel’s tent revolution, the Tea Party in America looks particularly shallow and selfish. Just like many things in this “land of power and glory,” as Phil Ochs so proudly referred to it, we Americans have come to resemble the brands of our existence and not the substance within. The Tea Party is not a revolt against injustice and tyranny. It is a bastardization of a great collective memory we Americans share of a moment in time when we said no to taxation without representation, not to taxation.
In reflecting on the difference between the tent revolution in Israel and the Tea Party in America, I have come to the conclusion that language really matters and that the Hebrew word for taxation, maas, is so much more representative of what we citizens should feel as we contribute to our own societies. Maas could be translated as taxes, but it also means “dues,” and dues are part of what we owe to each other. In this sense, Jews who traditionally contributed two taxes, the universal half shekel and the tithe, understood that citizenship is a reciprocal relationship. As we learn in the Talmud (Talmud, Shevuot 39a), “All of Israel are guarantors of each other.” But in America, taxes, those dollars that go to the salaries of our armed forces, our police, our teachers, the men and women who pave our streets, the people who collect our garbage and many more, these taxes are branded as evil. When President Bush spoke his now infamous words, “read my lips, no new taxes,” he knew what he was saying. Even though he couldn’t keep his promise, he knew that he would get further appealing to the based greed of humanity rather than the civilized dignity of those who know that we are nothing without each other.
This is why I am proud today to be both Israeli and Jewish. My people, once again, are showing their collective will to create justice in the face of power. As we learn in the Sayings of the Fathers, “Who is a hero? One who conquers his instincts.” As Jews, we have defined heroism as the ability to transcend the base instincts of our nature, to be civilized, and to reciprocate with our fellow citizens. Now all I can hope for is that we can shed the light the prophet Isaiah demands of us onto the nations, so that all social movements can be tent revolutions and not loosely branded tea parties.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Tea Party members want nothing more than to be heard by an out of control government. It is about freedom from tyranny, nothing more, nothing less. As someone who is religiously Jewish and culturally American, the Tea Party movement resonates with me on numerous levels. Tea Partiers, unlike the Occupy Wall Street crowd, generally have jobs, are proud to be U.S. citizens, and leave the scene of an event looking just as clean, if not cleaner than before their arrival.
I would never bring my politics to my religion, and as a religious leader, perhaps you ought to consider following the same guidelines.