“Why is the world silent while Christians are being slaughtered in the Middle East and Africa?” asks Ronald S. Lauder. The World Jewish Congress president frames the question in a larger paint-by-numbers argument defending Israel’s assault on Gaza and criticizing the moral instincts of “beautiful celebrities,” reporters, and the U.N. who have not responded adequately to the brutality of Boko Haram and ISIS.
An argument like Lauder's is liable to predictable demands for greater American military involvement in the region. But the silence he names is real.
In August 1994, I was an introspective, brainy 16-year-old, fresh from a summer in Israel with a busload of other 16-year-olds. On my last morning in Jerusalem, I had watched the sun rise: cool breezes over ancient golden stones. I heard church bells ring and the Muslim call to prayer, whispering my own Hebrew dreams into fuzzy pink air. As a Jewish teen who went (reluctantly) to Israel for the Roman ruins but stayed for the prayers, when we chanted under desert stars I was suspended somewhere in between Reform Jewish teenagerhood and a future as a religious studies professor—plus my always evolving, complex relationship with Jewish adulthood.
This was when I first encountered Rodger Kamenetz’s The Jew in the Lotus: A Poet’s Rediscovery of Jewish Identity in Buddhist India.