Hard to kill positive faith

January 12, 2001

THIS column comes to you today from nowhere. Out of an empty mind. Not polished, shaped or balanced elegantly on the point of a finely honed argument.

So what’s new? What’s new is I don’t usually do it this way.

Usually I get an idea of what I want to write, and I hunt down as many news cuttings on the Internet as I can find, and I read them and mark them in fluorescent pen and read them again.

Then I go out with my dogs and I try all the different opening paragraphs I can imagine, and sometimes I dictate half a column in my head before I realise it’s all wrong, and sometimes I dictate a whole column and then get home without it, and my column is lying forgotten in a field somewhere and I have to start over.

Maybe you wouldn’t always know that from reading it. Maybe it would appear more polished and coherent if I just sat down and wrote.

Film director Michael Winner, who writes a notoriously scathing column for a Sunday tabloid, boasts that his pieces are never premeditated. They simply come from the heart.

This week I want to discuss something which is almost too hard to talk about: how Jews all over the world often give way to the temptation to look down on each other for being Jewish in a slightly different way.

There is a snobbery which any Jew would deny sharing, though all of us see it in others. There is the faint disdain felt by Jews born in Israel for those born elsewhere, and the equal disdain of emigrants to Israel for the Jews who have lived all their lives there.

Certain nationalities, such as the Yeminis and the Ethiopians, have long been regarded by some other Jews as inferior.

There is snobbery that builds walls on the edges of religious divides, so that the Orthodox feel they are better than the Reform, the Ashkenazi better than the Sephardi, the Mizrachi better than the Agudat Israel.

I could go on but I won’t, because I am writing from the heart and not the thesaurus here.

This is such a sensitive subject that I do not believe I could approach it any other way.

I have plunged in, like a January bather into an icy river, and now that I’m splashing about I shall try to make a few waves.

Judaism has survived because it is a story often told and long remembered.

An oral tradition that became the first and greatest book, it has snaked through human history like a thread through a tapestry.

It can be seen everywhere, at the centre of the picture and around the borders, in isolated glimpses and in elaborate patterns.

Unlike Christianity and Islam, which began as solid cores which spread by evangelism, missions and crusades, Jewishness is borne in family ties and friendships.

The knock at the door on a Tuesday evening, which so many friends tell me they faintly dread, always heralds the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Elim Pentecostals.

Never the synagogue. That is as it should be, I would hate to belong to a religious tradition which sought out the weak and the wavering, to encourage a faith upon them.

But there is a world of difference between a self-contained community and a divided community.

The divisions are best illustrated by an extreme example.

Consider the example, and then see whether it applies closer to home.

In Mexico, where I lived luxuriously during the mid-70s, in a poor country which I shall always associate with outrageous wealth, the descendants of Jews who fled the Spanish Inquisition are seeking to return to the mainstream of their faith.

And it seems they are often not welcome. In Puebla, a rural state east of Mexico City, live families whose religion has evolved from 16th Century Judaism.

At least 300 families are believed to have sailed to Mexico, then a savage wilderness, to escape a vicious Christianity which pursued them across the Atlantic.

When the Inquisition reached Central America in 1648, the Jews removed themselves to the mountains.

In this isolation, their faith survived in mutated forms.

The Inquisition persisted for almost two centuries, but real positive faith dies harder than hate and by 1820 the persecution was gone . . . and the religion was still there.

I find this story inspiring. The more recent Jewish emigrants to Mexico apparently do not.

Snobbery keeps Mexico’s indigenous Jews at bay when they seek to join the newer arrivals.

As a result, many say that they feel closer to Israel than to their Mexican neighbours.

Some Zionists might praise this situation, but to me there is great sadness in any community where some families feel thousands of miles distant from others.

Luckily some mainstream Mexican Jews accept the historical Jews gladly.

An 85-year-old Conservative rabbi called Samuel Lerer has inducted 3,000 people into the mainstream: ‘‘When you see someone who prays with heart and soul,’’ he says, ‘‘can you not accept them as Jews?’’

His words come from the heart. They are without thought or polish.

And they express in a single breath the sentiment which I have been labouring the length of this column to convey.

I’m glad they came when they did. I’ve run out of space. Next week I’ll think before I start tapping the keyboard.

I only hope I’ll still be able to write the things we don’t dare say.

Read Uri Geller’s stunning online novel, Nobody’s Child, at www.uristory.com
Uri Geller’s ParaScience Pack is published by Van Der Meer at £30. To hear an inspirational message from Uri, call 0906 601 0171. Call costs 60p per minute.
Visit him at www.uri-geller.com and e-mail him at urigeller@compuserve.com

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