Monday, November 15, 2010

Finally! A label that I can live with!

I have spent the last several years fighting any and all attempts to “label” me – primarily the attempts that I make myself.

I mean – of course there are some descriptions that fit, no matter how much I try to remain “unlabelable” (not a real word? Too bad – deal with it – it is now!).

Yes, I am Jewish.

Yes, I am an American-born Israeli citizen.

Yes, I am a religiously observant person (whatever the hell that means) who believes in God.

Yes, I am even a Zionist (although there are as many different understandings as to what that word means as there are Zionists).

And of course, I’m a father, a husband, a member of my community, etc...

There are also descriptions about me that fit which aren’t “labels” per se – I work in the tourism industry, I’m a music lover music (primarily although not exclusively blues and classic rock), I’m a sports fan, I love to laugh and I can find humor in almost anything (emphasis on the “almost”).

All of these fit, they even “define” me, to a point, but they don’t necessarily “label” me (I’m not yet sure what the difference is between “defining” and “labeling” or if there even is a difference. Hopefully as I write this blog it will become clearer to me).

And the truth of the matter is that I pride myself in my lack of “labels”. I love that people can’t quite pin down if I am “right-wing” or “left-wing”, or “centrist”. I love that I don’t really fit any of the classic “movements” in Judaism – I am not your typical “Orthodox” Jew, yet while my personal beliefs are closer to the what is generally considered as “Orthodox” than any of the other options, I also understand and respect the other movements, and several of my beliefs are in line with them as well.

This was especially problematic during the 11 years that I lived in Jerusalem, and played a very significant role in the fact that we moved to the bedroom community of Modi’in (midway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv) 7 and a half years ago.

Jerusalem – for all of her history, for all of her beauty, for all of her political importance today – is for me, without a doubt, also the city with the highest level of tension that I have ever seen or experienced. And I don’t mean between Jews and Arabs (although, of course that is also a source of major tension in the city).

The real tension that I always felt was both political and religious. And it was primarily among the Jewish residents of the city.

It seems to me that there exists a natural tendency among people to label in order to know how to relate to one another. While I believe that this is true in general, it seems to be even more so among Israelis, and within Israel, even more extreme in Jerusalem. It’s as though if people don’t know how to label you, then they don’t know how to relate to you.

God Forbid they should relate to you as an individual! No sir – if you don’t fit into one of the pre-determined sets of people, then you are an outsider.

I’ll give you (what I think is) a good example.

Religiously, I personally don’t agree with a lot of what either Conservative and Reform Judaism believes, and am not comfortable praying in a synagogue where the practice has been shaped by those beliefs.

I understand the beliefs, and I respect them. I just don’t agree with them.

For me, the solution is very simple. I prefer not to pray in a Conservative or Reform synagogue.

I love the fact that these synagogues exist, because I know how many people do agree with the ideology and principles and are comfortable praying in these venues. I would love to see a thousand of these synagogues in Israel (they are still extremely rare) and I would love to see them all filled to overflow.

I simply prefer not to pray in them myself.

Pretty basic, no? Straight-forward, logical, reasonable, respectful and respectable.

Or so one would think.

In Jerusalem – much more so than any other place I know, I found myself caught in the proverbial middle with this approach.

Many of my “Orthodox” friends were very wary of me, because I supported the “heretical” and downright "wrong" existence of non-Orthodox Judaism.

At the same time, many of my Conservative and Reform friends were wary of me, because I didn’t want to pray with them in their synagogue.

In a word - OY!!!!!

And as bad as the religious tension can (and often does) become, politically it’s worse. Much, much worse.

Everybody knows without a doubt that their understanding of the Jewish-Arab/Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the absolutely correct understanding, and of course, by extension, their solution to the conflict is the only "right" solution. The only soltion with any chance to ultimately bring peace.

If you don’t agree with their solution, then you are clearly part of the problem. You are the personification and the embodiment of the obstacle to peace.

(By the way - I have found what I see as this arrogance and certainty of "getting it" to be as wide spread among right-wingers as it is among left-wingers)

But poor l’il ol’ Asher – I don’t really fall into any particular political camp.

For one thing, I see far too many people who will label themselves first, and then use that label to define their “political” views. You’ve probably met some of these folks. They’re the ones who tell you that “Well, I’m left-wing / right-wing, so that means that I believe {fill in the blank} about the peace process, and {fill in the blank} about the settlements, {fill in the blank} about …” and on and on...

Seriously – would it be oh-so-terrible, if these people looked at each individual issue on its own merits and came to a conclusion based on the factors specific to that issue?

Here I am, not really fitting any of the labels, and even, in a lot of ways, I seem to break a lot of stereotypes that exist (and are all too often validated) for the labels that people “like” me supposedly fit – American-born, religiously observant, etc.

So I’ve finally found a label that I can live with, and that I think is a pretty fitting one for me. Of course, I had to go outside of the standard labels to find this label, but – a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, ya know…?

From this point on, I label myself a Monotype.

According to Dictionary.com, a monotype is a) the only print made from a metal or glass plate….(blah blah blah) – it doesn’t really matter at the moment; b) the method of producing such a print (also doesn’t really matter right now).

But there is third definition which does matter.

A Monotype is (in biology) “the only type of its group, as a single species constituting a genus”.

I like that. A lot. And I truly hope that this definition fits me as well (as long as I refrain from my natural desire to add a “i” to the word genus when I define myself).

Even before I found the biology-related meaning of the word on Dictionary.com, I sort of came up with it independently on my own this morning. Since I’ve decided that I see myself as bucking the standard stereotypes, then I must be the opposite of a stereotype – and the opposite would be a Monotype. And that’s me. The only me there is.

To quote the brilliant lads from Monty Python – “Yes! We’re all individuals! (I’m not…)

I have my set of views – political, religious, social, etc. And I am confident and strong in these views, believing that they really do work for me.

The obvious ramification of the emphasis on “for me” is that I make no assumptions that my views, my ideas, my opinions, approaches and world/life philosophies are right for anybody else. They are mine. You are welcome to agree with them and share them –you are also welcome to disagree with them and reject them.

But they do represent my personal approach to life.

I hope to use this new blog – Musings of a Monotype to explore how I am able to apply this personal approach to life – in all of its aspects – religious, political, social, whatever – to my reality. To see if I am able to stay consistent within my own world-view in raising my children, relating to my family and friends, and living my day-to-day life in what is arguably the craziest country in the world.

I have no idea where this journey will take me, but you are more than welcome to join me in finding out.

1 comment:

  1. maybe try "postdenominational"?

    ReplyDelete