Confessions of a Self-Hating Jew

At the Montreal World Film Festival, I had the opportunity to watch Phillip B. Roth’s new film: Confessions of a Self-Hating Jew. The description of the film says:

“CONFESSIONS OF A SELF-HATING JEW examines how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict affects the lives of American Jews from the perspective of a gay Naked Yoga teacher.”

confessions of a self hating jew

The director was at the screening and fielded questions from the audience after the film.  The film opens with the filmmaker holding a banner with the Star of David and the number 6,000,000 in the middle of a banner with flames around it. He ends the film abruptly, with the same slide but this time he is seen ripping apart the same banner of the 6,000,000 in the middle, the flames and the Star of David around it, and the screen abruptly fades to black and lights are up. Needless to say, it is controversial and shocks the viewers. I was especially taken aback since this appears to give fodder to Holocaust deniers.

The filmmaker tells the audience that he stopped considering his Jewish heritage after his bar mitzva, at the age of 13. He continued to be a supporter of Israel until he gradually realized that some people do not agree with the traditional Jewish narrative about Israel. He first realized this by seeing Vanessa Redgrave at the Academy awards expressing support for the Palestinian cause.

He became curious about his parents support for Israel. In his film, he interviews his father, mother and grandmother, in their home, as they explain that, yes, they do support Israel and do not understand why he does not, even though they may not follow all of the Jewish rules: His grandmother is seen cooking bacon for breakfast.

Also featured in the film are: Charles Small, a scholar of anti-semitism; Phyllis Chessler, the feminist, who has written, “The New Anti-Semitism: The Current Crisis and What We Must Do About It“; an orthodox Jewish couple identified as “liberals” who oppose “Zionism”; Hannah Arendt, a German/American Jewish philosopher, with a problematic connection to Jews and Israel; as well as a representative of the Neturai Karta, a tiny minority of Jews, a virulently anti-Israel Hassidic group that lives in Jerusalem and opposes the creation of the Sate of Israel on religious grounds because “It i only the Jewish Messiah who can create a Jewish State. The Neturai Karta are so extreme that they are often seen joining Palestinian anti-Israeli demonstrations – (I have noticed that there is always a small group of them protesting at the Israeli Indepence Day celebrations here in Montreal, and they are often seen supporting the Ayatolla Khomeini of Iran who has repeatedly threatened to “wipe Israel off the map”.

To the filmmakers’ credit he also has slides showing the history of wars attacking Israel in the Middle East and their outcomes. In between, we are treated endlessly to the same video clips of him in the nude, instructing his naked Yoga class participants, seeing him exchanging identities with a non-Jewish Gay man, and being chased by a Hassid with side-curls. In other words, he covers the waterfront of criticism of Israel and some idiosyncratic ideas of anti-semitism. Is this tongue-in-cheek? What does he want to say?

confessions of a self hating jew

I, myself, was very confused as to the filmmakers’ point of view. The reason, I think, is that this film can be seen as a Rorschach test of peoples’ attitudes towards Jews and towards Israel. This was exposed during the question and answer period. In the sparsely populated theater, approximately four people voiced questions or comments about the film. The comments seemed to me to represent many varying responses to Jews and Israel that are floating around in the universe, only one of which I thought represented a solid understanding of either Israel or Jews.

1. The first person commented that he actually liked Roth’s Mother, Father and Grandmother. I did too because they were plain speaking older Americans expressing their feelings about Israel based on their experience of being Jews in America – Americans who had lived through the periods before and during the second World War and the fragile Jewish American world that existed before the establishment of the State of Israel, and who appreciate the value of the power of the State of Israel as a defense against the very real dangers of anti-semitism worldwide.

2. The second person said, “I am glad that you pointed out that Jews don’t all share the same ideas re: Israel.” This person identifies with the Jewish filmmaker who he perceives as identifying with those Jews and non-Jews who criticize and distance themselves from Israel in the diaspora, those who choose not to see the veiled antisemitism embodied in the virulent anti-Israel, leftist kabal, so aptly chronicled by Phyllis Chessler. They wear the the hat of “Jewish intellectuals critical of Israel” and thereby siding with non-Jewish leftist criticism of Israel which actually turns out to mostly quite unhinged. It was Robert Wistrich, the scholar of antisemitism who pointed out that Nazi intellectuals were among the greatest supporters of Nazi ideology in Germany.

3. Then there was another person, who saw himself as one of the critics of Israel and commended the filmmaker..

4. And one student who asked about the Neturai Karta. I guess, he was genuinely struggling to understand the various points of view.

How to understand this mishmash of a film and the title: “Confessions of a Self Hating Jew?” The phrase “self-hating Jew” has been fashionably used to characterize Jews who side with the critics of Israel. Most people don’t realize that “self hatred” is one of the defense mechanisms of the Ego, coined by Sigmund Freud in his book, “The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense”. The core of “self hatred”, he claims is the Ego’s identification with the aggressor” in order to avoid  feelings of humiliation and distress that are attendant in the aggression. Roth, the filmmaker, explained to me when I approached him after the film, that by tearing up the banner of the six million, he is expressing his idea that in America today, he has matured to understand that he no longer has to fear prejudice for  being gay, for being Jewish, and he now feels “free to be a Gay Jew teaching Yoga in the nude and free to criticize Israel since he no longer fears the “bogeyman of anti-semitism.” Unlike his parents, he feels free in his identity as an American Jewish gay naked Yoga teacher. Of course, the reality of a defense mechanism is that by definition it remains unconscious: In order for it to function as a defense, the ego must remain blissfully unaware of its functioning.

Alan Dershowitz Delegitimization of Israel: Video in Four Parts

Alan Dershowitz, Yale graduate, Harvard law professor, who considers himself a dyed in the wool liberal, spoke about the current dynamics of de-legitimization of Israel in Europe, the US, and on college campuses  at the Shaar Hashomayim, (Montreal 9/15/2011) – Defending Israel from a Liberal perspective.The full lecture which included a dialogue between Allan Dershowitz and Irwin Cotler, the Liberal MP, former Canadian justice minister, law professor and human rights activist discussing the current state of affairs in Israel and the Middle East is captured below in four parts.

Part two of the talk reviews Dershowitz’ experiences in Europe, where he is blackballed by universities from speaking and has had to suffer the accusations that “Israel is worse than the Nazis!!!!”. The inroads that Arab Islamists and Palestinians have made towards delegitimizing Israel are truly shocking as per Dershowitz’ experiences in Europe.

(Parts 3 and 4) a discussion between Allan Dershowitz and Irwin Kotler is also worth watching as it shares the experiences of two individuals, both law professors, one a former Canadian minister of justice and a current member of the Canadian parliament, who have confronted these issues over many years.

 

Rosh Hashanah 2012/5773

 

Rosh HashanaOne of the names for the Jewish new Year, is the “birthday of the world”. It is two days that Jews choose to celebrate, every year, by collectively attending synagogue services and having festive meals, starting with apples dipped in honey to symbolize hope for a sweet new year.

As we look around the world, this Rosh Hashana 5773/2012, the Middle East is in turmoil. Riots in Libya, Egypt, Sudan, and the burning of the American flag have replaced the deadly assaults in Syria on the front pages of our newspapers. Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon program and continuing its genocidal threats against Israel, although its real target is the World, and the end goal is Arab/Muslim Hegemony.

Africa is in turmoil. Asia has its share of dictatorships and oppressed peoples. The United States is poised for an election in the midst of an economic crisis that affects all of us.

And yet Jews all over the world are getting ready to celebrate the Jewish New Year, the Holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the 5773th year in the Jewish calender.

A birthday is the birthing anew of our world. Everything seems possible at the beginning of the year. The Torah portions that we read highlight these ideas.

On the first day of Rosh Hashana, we read about Sarah, the wife of Abraham being told she will have a child at the age of 100. Genesis 21:1–34; And the next day we read about G-d asking Abraham to sacrifice his only son. Genesis 22:1–24

In the additional readings, (the Haftorot) for the two days, we learn on the first day (Samuel 1:1-2:10) about Hanna, who was barren, praying so hard for a son that the priest, Eli thinks she is drunk, and the birth of Samuel. (Reminding us of the long and event filled life of the Prophet Samuel, recounted in the two prophetic books, Samuel I, and Samuel II.) On the second day we read the words of  (Jeremiah, 31:1) prophesying about G-d’s eternal love for His people and His promised ingathering of the exiles, bringing all Jews back to Israel – the promised land.

Life is fragile and, as adults, we all know that we are never completely in charge of our fates. On Rosh Hashanah, during synagogue services, Jews meditate on this fact, by sharing the liturgy of this day, some in grand operatic style, and some with muted prayer. We all pray, that G-d in partnership with man, will bring us safely to the best options through the coming year. We pray to be blessed with life, health, abundance and happiness, all the while recognizing the fragility of life, and the joy of having one more day to fulfill our hopes and dreams.

This is aptly recognized by Rabbi Steinmetz in his brief Rosh Hashanah talk: Life has no “Easy Button.”

Shana Tova. Here is praying for a fruitful year of wisdom, good health, and abundance for all of us.

Abigail Hirsch