Saturday, September 5, 2009

"Israelites" in Brooklyn





I was coming home from shul this afternoon with my sons. There is one corner near my home that has become a sort of open air market for everything from t shirts to soda and bootleg movies. Often a group calling themselves "Israelites" sets up a sound system and starts haranguing passers by about how African Americans are the true Jews. Their usual attire is a cross between a priest's vestments and a costume for a high school play. Any time they see a Jew in a yarmulka or wearing a prayer shawl, they immediately launch into a rant against "the white man's religion" and "fake Jews". A former coworker of mine who is a white woman married to a dark skinned Hispanic passed by these people with her husband and listened to him being berated over a loudspeaker for betraying his race. My daughters heard an angry diatribe about how white Jewish women would one day be their *****es.

Unfortunately, New York state's legal eagles have extended free speech protection to the verbal abuse of pedestrians over loudspeakers. The only law that is occasionally enforced regarding these individuals concerns noise.

It is impossible to listen to the Israelites without thinking of the "Christian Identity" Aryan style spinoff from Christianity. The two seem to be spiritual twins. Both groups are dependent upon the existence of a racial enemy to have any sense of help. In the case of the Israelites, to whom I have regular (unwanted) exposure, there is no focus on being a good person or strengthening the family and community. If there were no Jews or white people for the Israelites to hate, they would be at a loss to define themselves.

The image of this group of hate contorted men remained in my mind's eye on the way home. There is a lesson to be learned in everything we see, even if it is only by negative example.

I started questioning myself as I thought of the passing encounter. Do I define myself by my hatred? I don't tell racist jokes. But do I gossip for a sense of superiority? What about office politicss? There are times to hate. There is a time to take up arms. But does that define who I am or what I believe in. What are my core beliefs? How do I fight for what I believe in? Do I respect the humanity of my adversary.

The men who were preaching hate on a hot Saturday afternoon were middle aged. They probably had children. What do they teach at their dinner table? Is it anything like what they say on the street?

I have no illusions of winning these hate filled individuals over. I could see them putting down the megaphone and taking up the rifle. But I feel a deep and saddened sense of pity when I see these people. I sense a cavernous spiritual emptiness at the core of their being. I have met a couple of Israelites who turned away from this hate cult to real Jewish faith. It it is that which I wish for these empty men in purple costumes. The best way to eliminate enemies is to turn them into friends. I hope that when the Israelites get to the end of their dead end spiritual road that they turn around and look for something real. Sphere: Related Content

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