Friday, August 24, 2012

The Light's Out in this City

Today while skimming Facebook I found the following meme linked by FreedomWorks:
The metaphor, made popular by President Reagan at the 1976 Republican National Convention, was pulled by the former leader of the free world from a sermon made by Puritan Governor John Winthrop, who quoted the following verses from the New Testament book of Matthew:
"You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house."
A powerful teaching, Conservatives have run with Reagan's quoted message, turning it into the mantra for American perfection and a clarion call to voters every four years since 1980.  I am not one of them.

The easy cop-out for most Reagan-quoters at this point is to bring up the ancient question of "dual loyalty" implying that I, as a Jew, somehow feel a conflicted loyalty between America and Israel.  As with any stereotype, the assumption of conflicted allegiance is just plain wrong.  But, the fact that I am Jewish informs my reasoning as to why the "Shining city upon a hill" metaphor is as abused as it is used in the political right wing.

How so, you ask?  Let's start with the source.  Most Jews have the chutzpa to admit that Jesus was, indeed, a Jewish guy.  (An Israeli living in Roman-occupied territory if you'd like to get political.)  So, being a Jewish guy, he spoke like a Jew to other Jews (all called "Jew" and "Jews" from the territorial name "Yehudah" Romanized down to "Judah"..."Ju"..."Jew"...a-ha!), Matthew 5:14-16 being no exception.  The "light of the world" metaphor in verse 14 comes from Isaiah 49:6, "...I will make you a light of nations, so that My salvation shall be until the end of the earth."  Moving onto the mountain metaphor, Jesus could be referencing the patriarch Abraham who infamously chose the challenge of the mountainous path (as opposed to his cousin, Lot, who chose the valley) only to be tested with the potential sacrifice of his son, Isaac, on Mount Moriah - contended by some to be the ancient location of what would become Jerusalem, the Biblical "shining city on a hill".

In the context of Matthew, Jesus was instructing his audience of Jews on the mountain to do exactly what Jews since Abraham have been doing: To lead by example.  To rise above the horrific behavior of the world around them and set an example, illustrating that people can "turn the other cheek" (to quote from the same passage) care for one another and live in peace. 

2,000 years later, more than a few world leaders have abused this Jewish teaching for their own personal benefit - and I fear that is what is happening again.  While I can't define Reagan's intentions behind the quoting of this verse in the context of American identity (and don't seek to accuse him of nefarious purposes) I can clearly see the arrogant nature behind the metaphor's current use, and it saddens me.  My Jewish soul tells me that words meant to harken an ancient, definitive calling to selfless service were not meant to be used in an expression of arrogance or pride.  Which is exactly what this metaphor has become in the minds and voices of too many Americans, disenchanted with the disenfranchised attitude of the Left.

The idea behind being a "shining city on a hill" is to stand as an example to others, of service and sacrifice; of hard work and sincere effort; of a desire to provide a helping hand; of the willingness to be the bigger person for the sake of the common good.  Too little of that is talked about in the pomp and circumstance of political power.  Because of that, the true message of being a "shining city on a hill" has given way to the idea of a super-nationalism that has America being fashioned as a great and singular world power that should be idolized (not learned from) and even worshipped as the "greatest nation on the earth."

Isaiah 49:6 begins with the word "I".  This is HaShem (God) talking to Israel: "I will make you a light."  The lesson in being a light - having the willingness to stand alone in order to set an example - is that standing alone does not necessitate the pompous attitude of superiority as much as it demands the attitude of a servant devoted to a higher calling.  The time for American imperialism is over; if conservatives want America to anywhere near represent a "shining city on a hill" they need to shelve their pride and focus on re-making America into what it once was: a nation of freedom-lovers who valued humility more than glib remarks and cheap political gain.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Comparatively Speaking...

You've heard all about it.  It's all over the usual lefty outlets, both Jewish and non: Mitt Romney hates kibbutzim.

While the Forward reported it as "Mitt Slams the Kibbutz", the LA Times elected to go for a softer headline ("Contrasting joy of individual action, Romney finds ... the kibbutz?") only to open their critique by asserting that Republicans hate collectives and Mitt Romney stupidly elected to reference a collective form of living located in the world's foremost political hotbed.  Because, as we all know, Romney's out to pick on those Israeli Jews -- usually demonized by the same left-wing media that seems to now suddenly feel bad for them, because "the enemy of my enemy is my friend"...right?  Wait a second...

What Romney actually said was, America is not a collective where we all work in a kibbutz or we’re all in some little entity, instead it’s individuals pursuing their dreams and building successful enterprises which employ others and they become inspired as they see what has happened in the place they work and go off and start their own enterprises..."

And he's right.  America isn't a kibbutz or a collective of any kind.  So... where's the insult in this?

And therein lies the rub.  The same leftists who don't want to be compared to anyone, who constantly argue for equality in all forms, are also the same folks who consistently look at the world through a comparative lens.  Go figure: Marx's entire theory is based on the idea that one group somehow has it better than another.  In this case, Leftists clamoring for an argument in an election season accuse Mitt Romney of asserting that Americans have it better because they are free to do as they please, instead of being beholden to the needs and desires of the larger group.  In the left-wing mindset, this comparison has a default meaning: When an individual's desires take priority over those of the community, the individual is just some sick, sad, corrupt bastard looking to profit off the suffering of others.

I guess that's why all those illegals are flooding across our borders year after year; so they can be used and abused by evil individualists.  All those legal immigrants who work and save for years to bring their families to America for better educational and employment opportunities are just slaves to the individualist machine.  They'd be so much better off living in countries where they're judged by their economic class, race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation.  

Wait a second.  I thought only "rugged individualists" (as the LA Times likes to call them) are the ones judging folks by all those superficial criteria.  That's what the Leftists say, comparatively speaking.

Romney didn't insult Israel or kibbutzim.  Romney stated what was a fact about America that has increasingly been reduced to a political platform.  Why?  Because American culture has allowed the Left to usurp the conversation with these ridiculous and dangerous comparative notions that are completely irrelevant to the American way of life.  

Interestingly, I have yet to read a critique of Romney's so-called "gaffe" that dares to mention the article recently published in The Guardian regarding the comeback of Israeli kibbutz life.  The report that has been all the rage in the Jewish Left's social media sphere declares that, "After decades of declining numbers, bankruptcies and privatisation, Israel's kibbutz movement is undergoing a remarkable revival, with rising numbers wanting to join the unique form of collective living."  Continue reading and you'll find out that the living isn't as "collective" as it used to be:
Most kibbutzim have implemented reforms to become commercially viable and stem decline. Liberalisation – including permitting differential incomes and home ownership – has increased their attractiveness to newcomers reluctant to commit to pure communal principles.

Only about 60 of Israel's 275 kibbutzim still operate a completely collective model, in which all members are paid the same regardless of their allotted job. Most of the rest have introduced wage differentials for people employed by the kibbutz – but, more importantly, many members now work outside the kibbutz and contribute a proportion of their salaries to the collective.

Other measures have included selling kibbutz businesses, charging for meals and services, and recruiting agricultural labourers from south-east Asia. The changes, necessary for survival, have been painful, particularly for a generation of kibbutz pioneers wedded to a socialist-Zionist dream.

Pardon me while I play the part of Jewish commentator stepping outside the box: Mitt, what can the American government learn from the correlation being made between commercially viable economic reforms and increased participation in kibbutz life?

Then again, I suppose that's a comparison the Left doesn't really care to make.