Stereotyping -- however inadvertent -- must be challenged and corrected
Professor Amy-Jill Levine and I came to know each other a few months after I became the Associate General Secretary for Interfaith Relations at the NCC. I wrote a short bulletin insert as a discussion guide to Mel Gibson's movie, "The Passion of the Christ." In writing that piece, I had not adequately nuanced a couple of sentences, and she challenged me. There was little room for nuanced writing in that very short piece, I argued. But I sought her help and she gladly did. The result was a much stronger piece, whetted through the eyes of a Jewish scholar.
Over the years, through many Jewish colleagues who have challenged and prodded me, my theological outlook has broadened and my faith has become stronger. But I am no push over. I too challenge and prod. But in doing so, I've discovered that we all grow. Interfaith dialogue is not about "tea and sympathy" any more, as Rabbi Leon Klenicki accurately observed once. Its often as sharpening as "iron sharpens iron." Over the years, I've felt that I have come to appreciate Jews and the Jewish faith more than I ever have, and have abandoned any stereotypes I may have carried.
But A-J fussed with me again! This time about the review I wrote on her book The Misundersood Jew (see below -- May 15, 2007). And I immediately saw and understood the problem.
I write this post, not only to correct it, but to highlight how vulnerable we all are to stereotypes, even if they seem slight and are often inadvertent.
The sentence in question begins the last paragraph of the post. "The Christian institutions she identifies will continue to challenge contemporary Judaism’s tendency to uncritically support policies of the State of Israel that are unjust towards Palestinians."
I wonder if my Christian friends located the problem in that sentence!
It is the phrase "contemporary Judaism's tendency." As she accurately points out that phrase assumes that all Jews tend to uncritically support policies of the State of Israel. I personally know many Jews who don't unequivocally support, and often quite vociferously condemn the unjust policies of the State of Israel. Its a no brainer -- but I didn't see it when I wrote it first, and many of you may not see it until it is pointed out.
The fact is, we are often vulnerable in this area. We not only need to be more vigilant, but also seek the help of our Jewish colleauges, even as we give them ours. The result will be stronger theologies and healthier relationships.
I am changing the first sentence of the last paragraph of the earlier post to read as follows:
"The Christian institutions she identifies will continue to challenge the tendency some Jews' and Jewish organizations have to uncritically support policies of the State of Israel that are unjust towards Palestinians."