Friday, December 21, 2012

The God of Particle Board

There are many ways to take Judaism, demean it, make it tawdry, take its high flown and majestic ideas about the messiah, the upper and lower worlds, humans created in the image of God, loving your neighbor as yourself, and sideline them all for the goal of constructing concrete structures on a barren hill in Judea, or setting up trailers along a stretch of barren gravel and rock.

The diminution of Judaism is the subject of The Hilltops, a short documentary by Igal Hecht.  Hecht is a careful filmmaker; he wants people to tell their own stories without his framing the questions or answers in some meta-narrative that either condemns or honors them.   

Yet it is hard not to feel when watching The Hilltops that the illegal settlers in the West Bank are not only breaking Israeli law and departing from the prime tenants of classical Zionism, but also reducing Judaism to a construction project.  The dream of Greater Israel and its Judaism has become about plywood, sheet-rock, cinder-block and utility poles.

Of course, Judaism posits a love of Zion as one of its central, driving impulses.  But to place it as the jewel in the crown is the reduce so much else that gives the religion it richness.  

What is left are dusty people in slovenly clothes, heavily armed, constructing shitty buildings, abusing Palestinians, all in the divine mission of redeeming the land.  Their singular purpose reduces them to Jewish zombies, so fixated on their God sanctioned goal that they forget, or ignore, or berate that fact that other Jews have vital interests, not only in peace, but in the future of a grand, beautiful religion --- a spiritual tradition that is on  par with all the great traditions of the world.  Not a religion about territory lost or gained, but about hearts turned toward God.

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