I AM A JEW. I’m out of practice, in that I haven’t been to shabbat services in many suns. It is more accurate to say that I’m Jew-ish. I was also simultaneously brought up in another faith tradition, Unitarian Universalism. As far as ethnicity and identity go, Judaism, being the parent of Christianity, is much more well known than UU’s. Jews are 1.5% of the US population; UU’s are far fewer. I’m also an atheist, or if you can’t handle that, an agnostic (which I wrote about here). But I’m also a bicyclist. And we are legion, but still a minority compared to car drivers.
After the heinous hate crime that murdered 11 Jews at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Saturday, October 27, I realized two things. First, writing a blog about biking seemed, well, frivolous. It many ways, it is. But also, I noticed that there are parallels between Jews and bicyclists. Both groups are minorities. Both are hated irrationally. Both are targetted victims of violence. Vehicular violence isn’t as “sexy” (newsworthy) as gun violence, but it’s still violence that ruins and destroys lives. This post explores the intersections (pun intended) of this topic.
Now, I’m definitely NOT saying that the intentional slaughter by assault rifle and handguns of people peaceably worshipping on a weekend is the same as car drivers accidentally killing cyclists. There aren’t that many people seeking out riders on bikes, although it happens. The man who plowed into a bunch of people on bikes in New York last year about this time is one example. There is a concerted, focused, sustained and well-sponsored campaign to kill Jews in many countries.
But what I am saying is that I nearly get knocked off my bike, hurt, maimed or killed by bad drivers on a near-daily basis. And this is much more likely how I’ll die, because I do it so much. I don’t walk around with a big Star of David on my clothes. (Although that time may be approaching when Tinyhands Orangehead and his merry band of xenophobic, neo-Nazi, white supremacist hatemongers brings back that horrible fashion accessory.) But I am an obvious and visible target while biking. (And I do have a reflective safety triangle on my backpack.) Killings of both people on bicycles and people who are Jews do happen in the US and around the world. And both are simply dead wrong, (pardon the phrase).
Being in the minority in both transportation and religious heritage may be two wildly different experiences, but anyone who has ever been slighted for their beliefs, appearance, color, creed, sex, gender, orientation, age, weight, income level etc. knows of what I speak. It’s a horrible feeling to be targetted. Whether the weapons are verbal insults and ostracization in person or on social media, fists, knives, guns or cars, the result of hurts can be lethal or if survived, leave lasting scars on the psyche, body, or both. If you’re reading this and you don’t know what I’m talking about, congratulations! You are either not a native English speaker, you’re a person of privilege, or you’re clueless about how the world works. It’s high school. Still. The jocks and cheerleaders are the bullies in charge and Jews and bicyclists are the bullied (though I’d say that actually, we are the real cool kids).
Can’t We All Just Get Along?
Rodney King of the LA riots asked, “Can’t we all just get along?” Well, the fact is that most of us, most of the time, do. “Haters gonna hate — Shake it off!” Taylor Swift sang. How to reach and disarm them, both in their hearts and minds but in fact? Well, tougher sensible gun laws that require screenings and mental health checks. Restoring funding and treatment and elimination of the stigma that surrounds mental health. Social media companies running algorithms and actually enforcing their terms of service for when hateful things get posted without checks. Free speech is legal, hate speech is not. Just maybe we all need to start paying attention to the people around us. Say hello to a stranger. A neighbor you’ve never met. I don’t have all the answers, but I do have a question: When will we all start caring enough to make a difference? It’s not just voting. It’s every day actions, large and small.
My point is that hate has to stop, but it probably won’t. Humans who lack the skills to be empathetic, to listen, to tolerate, to celebrate differences are the ones the rest of us who care about our fellow humans, animals and environment need to be figuring out how to deal with. The small minority of sociopaths and idiots are ruining the world for the rest of us who can and want to just get along, go to our jobs, have some fun, worship one’s higher power whether that’s a Zoroastrian, Hindu, B’aha’i, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Native American, animist, voodoo, et al., see a movie or ride a bike.
For me, my spiritual experiences come from going on a nice bike ride out in Mother Nature. Or listening to music, usually classical or jazz. Writing in my journal, my book in progress, or this blog. Doing my daily yoga. But there are plenty of times in my day when I am not at peace. We are each and everyone of us fighting a battle that others don’t see. Well, what if we let them, just a little? And were willing to be vulnerable and risk finding out what others are going through? Would that reduce the hatred and shootings at schools and temples and churces and movie theaters and war zones? Maybe, maybe not. Worth a try.
“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
–Mohandas K. Gandhi
Let My People Go…. and Ride a Bike
I’m not naive. The sociopaths simply don’t care. And some people are raised to hate Jews (or bicyclists). Yet the current US government is encouraging them by scapegoating minorities. It’s the classic distract, divide and conquer strategy. But we have to fight back, non-violently. Organize. Educate. Mobilize against the real opponents of progress, like a system that disenfranchises people of color, the poor, women, transgender men and women, gays and lesbians, immigrants, so-called minority religions, and many more subgroups that are often victimized, even in America. We can be better. We must be better. How, I don’t exactly know. I’m just a dude.
I think a key part of healing and bridging divides is that we have to work on having compassion for ourselves first and foremost. And then extend that outward. I have tried over the last 10 months of writing this blog regularly to encompass my health, fitness and life struggles in that vein. I’m trying to make better choices. I often fail. But we don’t live in a vacuum. Relationships are key to the human experience. Sometimes, we need help, or we need to help others.
Recently, I wrote a letter to a former friend who had contacted me after disappearing from my life, quite hurtfully. A fellow Jew, actually. This person wrote back apologetically, humbly, and wanted time to work on themself, and was honest about having been arrogant, and wasn’t sure they could be deserving of my friendship. I don’t fully trust them either. They will have to earn my respect. Perhaps they will come back into my life, perhaps not. But at least I was willing to lay down my armor for a moment to connect with them, to try to understand.
Today I was working the polls again. In some ways it’s a tedious and boring job. But in other ways, it’s a beautiful experience of the huge diversity of people in America that are exercising their right to have a say in their government. It’s something many people take for granted. Some of the people reading this blog may be in places where they don’t have the same luxury, or even right. Anyway, sometimes it happens that there’s a pause while a glitch is worked out. During one of these breaks, the topic of Judaism came up, and for some reason a person said, “Oh, you’re a Jew.” And then, apologetically he said, “Sorry, I didn’t mean that in a bad way.” I just looked at the guy and blinked. Maybe Ron White is right and you can’t fix stupid.
Live and Let Live
“Jew” is not a bad word. The contributions of Jews around the world would take a book or many books, to capture. How about just one example, like Albert Einstein? Being Jewish is one part of my identity that I’m proud of, even if I don’t usually broadcast it or wear my Hebraic ancestry on my sleeve saying “Hey, look at me! I’m one of the chosen people!” I don’t buy into the other self-victimizing script either, “Oy, my people have suffered so much, life is so unfair, we are always victims and we’re powerless!” And after having endured the insults of being a young boy forced to sing about Jesus in school musicals, or hear the bad names Jews get called, listening to stupid stereotypes all my life like “You’re Jewish, so you should have money or know how to get a good deal, right?” or any number of other pejorative comments — even from friends, who are just ignorant. That’s not to mention infuriating lies that the Holocaust didn’t happen.
Bicyclist isn’t a bad word, either. I’m just a person trying to get somewhere without a car (the latter of which is not a god-given or Constutional right, by the way). I’m reducing traffic and pollution, getting exercise and usually having a blast at the same time. I challenge anyone who thinks Jew or bicylist are bad words to “Come at me, bro.” We’ll have a nice chat, perhaps a vigorous debate, or go for a fun bike ride. How about we go to a delicatessen and eat some tasty lox and scrambled eggs (but no bagels for me).
Or how about you try out being in another very integral part of my identity? You try biking 14,000 miles in three years as I have in my clip-in Pearl Izumi mountain bike shoes (second pair) and let me know how much your view of driving a car versus riding a bike changes?
Shalom, salaam, peace, paz and paix. Be good to each other.
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