“When you look in the mirror, who do you see?…Someone who is your gender, age, skin color…[W]ho do you think you are? [S]omeone who lives where you live, does what you do for a living,…ascribes to one religion or another (or none), has a particular cultural background and who identifies with certain values and the people…who share them. These…characteristics give you a sense of yourself…of who you are and who you are like, [and are] critical for your safety and survival. [They] tell you who is in your tribe and who isn’t…who is on your side and who isn’t…and who is a likely friend and who is a possible foe.” ~ David Ropeik
Today, I was shocked and horrified to learn that the Jewish Community Center in Tucson has received bomb threats during the past 24 hours.
This news brought back a memory of when a similar threat was made 15 years earlier. At the time, my reaction surprised me.
As a 47-year resident of Tucson, I have often been a member of “The J.”
I’ve worked out in the gym, participated in the “silver sneakers” program, done yoga and watched little boys my grandson’s age play basketball in the gymnasium.
I even modeled for a beloved artist who was a watercolor instructor there.
I guess you could say I loved The J. I felt at home there and identified with its “Jewishness.”
That was until the day of the bomb threat, 15 years earlier.
On that day, we weren’t allowed to enter the building until it was cleared. This was the day I stopped feeling at home at The J.
Seeing police and police tape surrounding the building scared me, and the tribal instincts I didn’t even know I had immediately kicked in.
I’m not Jewish, I thought. They were Jewish. Nobody wanted to bomb me. I could leave The J and not feel like any of my people were in danger.
All I had to do was go home where I would be safe.
I actually felt relieved.
How could I feel this way? I was a good person. I didn’t hate Jews. What was going on?
“[A] sense of tribal identity and belonging is absolutely vital to the safety of social animals like us, creatures who have evolved to depend on our group—our tribe—for our well-being and protection. It’s central to how safe, or unsafe, we feel. When we’re scared, we band together in the tribes we most closely identify with, and far more readily treat anyone else as the enemy.” ~ David Ropeik
Today, I have a greater understanding that my reactions back then were instinctual and came from my animal self, not from my rational, thinking, or loving self.
Today, I understand that I am not “anti-Semitic” in the way that anti-Semitism is usually shown.
Today I understand, I am merely human.
In fact, over time, I have come to understand where my fear is coming from and recognize its basic legitimacy.
When I allow myself to realize that emotions almost always trump reason—and there is no more powerful emotion than fear—I am able to respond rationally and with focus.
When I accept that my tribal instincts are natural and that all people have them, I can strive to overcome them, expand my view of myself, and identify with the larger, general tribe of humans in the world—a tribe which includes everyone.
This is why, when I read the Arizona Daily Star and saw that The J had received bomb threats, I no longer felt like they—those Jews—were under attack, but instead, I felt like we—we Jews—were under attack.
“I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, heal’d by the same means, warm’d and cool’d by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?” ~ William Shakespeare
Author: Carmelene Siani
Image: Flickr/Adam Jones
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock