Commentary | Shame and confrontation

I’m Jewish. That might be why I minor in Jewish Studies – it helps me make sense of myself. I’m never going to be not Jewish. That’s not to say I won’t change, or that my Jewishness defines me absolutely. But it does inform myself, how I view others, and in turn, how others view me.

This semester I’m taking a class on modern liberal Jewish thought – reading the works of Mordechai Kaplan, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Arthur Green. It’s a small class I look forward to, one I often participate in and think about outside of school.

On Wednesday, November 3 at 12:30 p.m., the Jewish Studies Student Association and the Birthright Alumni program hosted a free pizza lunch with three Israeli soldiers in the Jewish Studies building. I know this because my Jewish Studies class was at the same time, in the same building, in an adjoining room.

The soldiers, as far as I know, were there to meet students in Montreal and share their experiences in the Israel Defense Forces. Their invitation was not an endorsement, their presence not a conspiracy. Quite a few students showed, and it took longer than usual to settle into the class discussion as people filed through the hall outside.

Then, a knock at the door. There are protesters outside, we were told. Of course. Why did I not consider that this would happen? I turned around to look out the window as a group of students was forming in front of the steps of the Jewish Studies building. Immediately I felt involved – placed against my will in this awkward and frustrating scenario.

I scanned the faces in the crowd to see if I recognized anyone. I knew some of them: three from my Arabic class, one a TA from a political science class I took. For some reason, out of some irrational sense of shame or fear, I hoped they wouldn’t see me. My professor, who is chair of Jewish Studies, seemed quite distressed, but we managed to work our way into the discussion.

Then the chants began – protestations against, as I heard it, Israeli apartheid. And this just as Rachel Adler’s Jewish feminism was starting to make sense. My professor went outside to try to quell the chanting while my classmates and I just sat inside, confused and clumsy and maybe angry, making jokes to hide our indignity. We were involved, although I doubt they knew it outside.

I began to think they were protesting me, though I knew they weren’t. I’m torn – because I’m Jewish and because I don’t want that to matter. But it does.

I don’t like to talk about Israel or Palestine because I can only deal with so much cliché, so much posturing. This is so hard for me to write because I don’t want to become what I hate. That’s the main reason I try not to talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: because it makes me angry, everything about it: the injustice, the sides, the intransigence, the blood. And I don’t want to be an angry person.

But at the same time, I do. Because I’m Jewish and my class was interrupted for the wrong reason and because I missed free pizza and because I’m tired. Because I felt ashamed when that was probably the opposite of how I should have felt.

By the end of class, the protest had lost momentum. I packed up my bag, put on my coat and walked outside. No one said anything to me. I said nothing back.


Matthew Kassel is a U3 Political Science student. Write him at matthew.kassel@mail.mcgill.ca.


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