On Loving the Stranger

The Torah calls on Jews specifically to welcome – precisely, to “love” – converts to Judaism. It’s forbidden to disclose a Jew’s status as a convert; it’s forbidden to say that they are somehow “unreal” Jews, that their Judaism is lesser. Because conversion is such a deliberately difficult process, and because the Jewish community is so tight-knit, this is necessary and has likely been necessary for thousands of years. It’s difficult to be a convert in the Jewish community; it’s a mitzvah to make it easier.

Ivanka Trump is a problem.

I’ve been struggling with this since – god, since the beginning of 5776 already: how do I, as a Jew, as a Jewish Democrat, as a Reform Jew, talk about this Orthodox Jewish convert who has sold us out to her father’s anti-Semitic friends? How do I talk about the woman who took time and energy to kosher her misogynist serial sexual assaulter father for voters who didn’t want to think of themselves as woman-haters? How do I talk about this Barbie doll of a wife and daughter – Barbie, too, was Jewish – this gorgeous, successful, dead-eyed paragon of Aryan genetics? How do I take a deep breath, deliberately relax, and make myself stop wanting to call her a shiksa?

I don’t, generally, use that word. Not that I’m a particularly clean-mouthed person – but I don’t like using gendered insults at all, and I like to save the word goy for when I really need to be angry, as opposed to using it as a general descriptor. But Christ almighty, I want to call Ivanka a shiksa; I want to dig up Yiddish insults for Gentiles that I’ve never heard before and launch them at her; I want to spit out blondeblue-eyedskinny-nosed as if they’re derogatory, as if it could possibly hurt her to hear them.

Hell, I’m blonde and blue-eyed.

As I typed that last sentence, he took the oath and became president.

There are neo-Nazis inside the gates, now. She opened the doors for them. She let them into the halls of power. She did it knowingly, deliberately, with full awareness of what they are and what they want to do to our people, what they have done to our people, what they will do to our people.

Eli, Eli, my God and God of my ancestors who I do not believe exists, I want to welcome the convert, but I struggle. I struggle with this law, and I struggle with my people, and I struggle with the object of my faith, Eli, the object of my love and worship and hate and meditation, the object which created me in its image; I struggle with America, God. I struggle with my country, my only and best-loved country, the country in which I do not belong.

I hoped that, in writing this, I would arrive at some answer for myself – something neat and clear-cut, some excuse to call Ivanka a goy or some moment of peace, some moment of revelation, which would make me stop wanting to do it. I should have guessed that it’s in the nature of neither Judaism nor America to make the world less complicated.

In this week’s Torah portion, the Egyptians enslave the Israelites. Our sons are killed in the cradle, our work is made difficult for the sake of cruelty alone, we are hurt, we are in pain; later on, God “remembers” us, but in order to remember us, surely, he must have forgotten us in the first place. L’dor vador.

We are required to love the stranger in our midst for this reason: because we were strangers in the land of Egypt.

“Were” is a funny way to put it, sometimes.


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