When the "WTC Mosque" protests began, my thoroughly American side came out. First Amendment freedom of religion? Natch. Melting pot? Sure...give me your huddled masses. And when the "let's burn the Quran" crowd came out, I was disgusted, although for once glad it wasn't a Texan making news for intolerance.
Throughout America's history, we've had this push-me/pull-you attitude toward religion and diversity. All of us learn in elementary school that those who settled the U.S. did so partly to escape religious persecution. But it didn't take long for certain Christian sects to be persecuted. The Puritans, after all, for anyone who's ever read The Scarlet Letter, weren't known for tolerance, and visitors to Williamsburg are told that church attendance was mandatory during the colonial period.
Being a Jew in the U.S. today, while certainly better than in the past, remains a difficult proposition. Ours is the only religious country among educated, wealthy nations. All around me I hear about Christianity Under Attack, the War on Christmas, and that the Founding Fathers were misunderstood. Earlier this year the Texas Board of Education grudgingly decided to add Thomas Jefferson back into its list of important thinkers after first removing him for not being sufficiently Christian - that whole separation of church and state thing.
That's the one side of it. The other is that everyone assumes if you are Jewish, you must be pro-Israel...if you are Jewish, you used Blacks "like stepstools to zoom up throughout American society" and "exploited the black civil rights movement" for your own benefit. I can't tell you how embarrassed I was when Jewish Bubbies and Zadies in Florida were shown to be as bigoted as any Texas redneck during the 2008 presidential campaign. I cringe whenever I remember this one old woman who thought Michelle Obama had a horse face and an old coot obsessed over the size of Michelle Obama's backside because, you know, All Blacks Have Junk in Their Trunks.
Let's go back to the pro-Israel assumption. It is quite possible to be Jewish while at the same time not agreeing with Israeli policy regarding settlements and the larger Palestinian question. On the other hand, it's hard to forget the Arab armies that tried to invade Israel upon its creation, during the Six-Day and Yom Kippur Wars, all wars of aggression against Israel simply for existing.
Which brings up Arabs and Islam, and Islam and the Jews. It's true that Mohammed, who initially didn't focus negatively on the Jews, eventually changed his mind when the local tribes didn't convert to Islam, resulting in the slaughter of three Jewish tribes. But he wasn't particularly thrilled with proselytizing Christians either. In fact, it could be said that the current anti-semitism among Arabs actually grew out of proselytizing Christians, but not those of the 7th century. Instead, Europeans who came to the Middle East in the 19th Century brought their own, home-grown anti-semitism with them.
All of which is an interesting historical tidbit, but not my point...sorry. The fact of the matter is that among Muslims in the Middle East, anti-semitism is de rigueur. So how do I mentally compute my American need for acceptance of Islam when as a Jew I am fearful of the growing anti-semitism throughout the world today?
When I was in high school, I went to Israel on vacation, and one day went sight-seeing with a wonderful old man whose grown son worked for my father in the U.S. The man had survived the Holocaust and now owned orange orchards in Israel. He was a lovely old man, and his son, raised in Israel but educated in the U.S. where he still lives, is the biggest mensch I've ever known. He handles my mom's finances and is a genuinely kind, gentle, and nice man who actually finished first.
He came to visit my mom when I was in California in July, and he spoke about a cruise from which he and his family had just returned. Their very small ship had docked in Turkey and Spain, among other ports, and while he loved Turkey, he was very concerned about what he viewed as growing Islamist influence. Then he went on, shocking me as he spoke about the "loss" of Europe to Islam and his concern about the rise of Islam in the U.S.
Jews are known as being Deep Thinkers. We may have big noses and bad hair, but along with the pretty eyes come some great intellects. Me, though...all I get when I try and resolve these conflicting thoughts is a headache.