Stanley Zarowin, formerly of Brooklyn (N.Y.) Meeting, now lives in Zionsville, Indiana, and is member of North Meadow Circle of Friends (Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting). He is a freelance journalist specializing in technology.
Stanley has published A Visit to Israel by a Quaker Jew Born in Palestine and A Frog Fable in Friends Journal.
Thank you, Free, for your contribution to the blog. It touched me profoundly.
As you know, I was born in Palestine, although the U.S. Passport Office will only allow me to list Jerusalem as my place of birth because our government does not recognize Palestine.
My American parents were nonpracticing Jews living in Jerusalem. My mother, a U.S.-trained operating-room nurse, taught those skills to nurses there. My father built and ran a small aluminum pots and pans factory. And at age 5, when my parents recognized Hitler’s immediate threat, they booked passage to America, despite the threat of Nazi U-boats, taking their two Hebrew-speaking children in tow.
Living in Palestine before Israel was created, where everyone was either a Jew, an Arab or a despised and feared English soldier or policeman, most Jewish children of my age were not particularly aware of their Jewish identity—unless their parents were religious and they joined in the rituals. In Palestine in those days many Jews, like my family, were totally indifferent to religion.
But when we arrived in a New York and settled in a poor, totally non-Jewish neighborhood, my identity suddenly was challenged when a kid called me a “dirty Jew.” Since I was very shy and didn’t speak English, I had no idea what he was saying. After my mother explained it to me, she said she saw an immediate change in me: I walked slowly but determinedly out of the apartment, found a broken broom handle in the basement, located the offensive kid and beat him mercilessly. My shyness, my mother said, disappeared overnight.
That episode started me on an early life of vicious street fighting in which I always needed to win and to hurt. By age 13, my fighting skills promoted me to a Police Department-organized boxing team. In a bout for the Bronx championship of my age group, I knocked out my opponent—a first for me. I felt both shock and despair, because I thought I had killed the boy.
As I waited in a neutral corner, a thought which felt more like an order came to me: It was a vow never to fight again. I immediately accepted the vow. And even though my opponent finally got up, I was not disappointed for making the promise. In fact, I have never had a fight in all these years.
Unlike many Jews I know, I never felt defensive about my religion. Of course, living most of my adult life in New York made that easy. But now that I live in Indiana, where I’m surrounded by right-wing Christians, and the nearest Jew may be more than 20 miles away, I still feel free to identify my religion. I suspect it was my early history of successfully defending myself which provided that feeling of safety.
I continue to labor about my Jewish identify: I am a Jew who has not had a Bar Mitzvah, never observed the holidays or even once entered a synagogue. Yet despite those omissions, I feel privileged (if that’s the right word) to be a Jew.
I confess that a small part of me feels I’ve betrayed my birth religion. But a larger part of me says it’s okay, because I find the practice of rule-based religion abhorrent. I find myself often laboring over these issues. Oddly, I heartily enjoy the never-ending internal challenging debate. Of course that’s probably a Jewish tradition, if not a genetic trait.
Another thing: When I became a Quaker some 30 years ago and read George Fox, I realized that his Christ was not the Christ Christians then were worshiping.
Instead, Fox’s Christ was that Jewish rabbi in Palestine, Yeshua, who preached love and wanted to strip Judaism of its controlling leaders. It was that radical Jew who said that if people are starving, they can go into the fields and harvest food even on the Saturday Sabbath day. I realized that Quakerism was originally conceived as an extension of Yeshua’s Jewish faith.
Of course, Quakerism has lost that to a large extent. But it satisfies me to know our original faith was the Judaism that Yeshua preached.
I must say, Free, I envy what I call your Jewish resolution: it resonates for me because I see it as a way to link Quakerism to the Judaism that Yeshua preached.
So maybe I am a practicing Jew after all. Humm.
I cherish your friendship.
Note: The image is Christ of Maryknoll, an Icon by Robert Lentz, OFM. The artist writes of it:
I have named this icon “Christ of Maryknoll” because Maryknoll and Orbis Books mean so much to me. Both endeavor to see the Christ among the least of us, and to serve the Christ that lives in the margins of this world. Maryknoll priests, brothers, sisters and lay people have been imprisoned in China and elsewhere for their work among the poor, the broken, the oppressed; Orbis has taken great risks to extend the Maryknoll vision.
I hope this icon will bring inspiration to all those who share in that vision. The icon does not make clear which side of the fence Christ is on. Is he imprisoned or are we? Through our cultural institutions and personal lives we all place barriers between ourselves and true happiness. We and our institutions also try to imprison Christ in various ways, to tame him and the dangerous memories he would bring us of our goals and ideals.
—Br. Robert Lentz, OFM, September 11, 2002
Br. Lentz used this icon for the cover of his book, Christ in the Margins, a collection of 40 icons and biographies which he published in collaboration with Edwina Gateley.
The following excerpt on the spiritual practice of reverence by Edwina Gateley was republished in Sprituality & Practice: Resources for Spiritual Journeys.
The crusaders and prophets remind us of the Christ who openly witnessed to the intrinsic divine presence within humanity and dared tell all who listened to him that they were precious in God’s eyes. The radical implication of such a message is that it recognizes and names the equality and dignity of all humanity — including the very poor, the different, and those who speak with a critical voice. This claim to equality and dignity is a threat to all forms of power, hierarchy, and status. One must unleash within oneself a powerful and prophetic spirit that dares to speak against the principalities and powers that rule over the anawim, the little ones of our world so beloved by Christ. Yet that spirit — powerful and simple — continues to be unleashed today and creates prophetic figures in our human story. It becomes more than a message. It becomes a mission. . . .
When oppression and violence threaten or destroy human dignity, those who hold all human beings precious in God’s eyes and are vulnerable to the spiritual power within them cannot stand by. They must follow the path of Jesus and other great prophets and crusaders who have gone before them. They must, and they do, dare to speak, dare to march, and dare even to die for their beliefs, because all of us — whatever our race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or background — all of us are made in the image and likeness of God.
We forget that. Getting so many knocks and bruises in the course of our lives, and suffering so many setbacks and failures, we often feel helpless and insignificant and forget that we are precious in God’s eyes. Over time, constantly exposed to escalating violence and injustice in our world, we tend to forget the powerful witness of Jesus and the centrality of human dignity that is affirmed by all the world’s major religious traditions. But much more widespread and insidious is our habit of constantly diluting our responsibility to honor and preserve human dignity in the mistaken belief that there’s not much we can do about it anyway. We are duped by oppressive forces in our society into feeling helpless. Somewhere along the line (though with a little discomfort and guilt), we tend to quietly leave behind our sisters and brothers to focus, instead, on our own survival and well-being. We forget we are called to be as gods.
—Edwina Gateley, in Christ in the Margins