“Don’t be anyone’s useful idiot,” Sam warned me. “The Jewish community loves solidarity and Palestinian advocacy loves ‘token Jews’ so they can claim nothing is problematic. Just be Yaakov.”
I took in Sam’s thought like a double shot of coffee and my mind took off. Am I a useful idiot?
I don’t have an abundance of analysis to share. There isn’t much for me to say that hasn’t already been said by the thousands of academics who have dedicated a life to the study of this war. I hope that when you look for opinions, judgements and solutions you turn to them rather than me.
My gift was a rare upbringing where I drifted from the libraries of Yeshivas to Zionist summer camps, right-wing spin offices and, having broken away, eventuating in a soup of secular and diverse uni students. The experience has forced upon me a rich culture of heritage, traditions, and ritual.
I do not want my life to tell a criticism. I only want to continue my life, exploring where I want to explore; and when I show my story to others, they will learn from the spectacle what they choose to take. Many will be keen to latch the label of ‘token Jew’ to me because of who I am. But I did not choose to be born Jewish in the sense that I have chosen to be who I am. The only two options I ever had was to either entrench myself within Jewish solidarity, or to be the token Jew outspoken from his peripheries.
My story is now pulling me toward a myriad of paths, intersecting when they least want to, twisting away when they hope to meet. One day, it may return me to the bookshelves in my home where dust has collected over the Ancient Hebrew print. Maybe it will tear me away from everything I know. I don’t know, but when I look back I hope it reveals a truism as a parable shows a moral.
Once on Simchas Torah, the Jewish festival of drunken zealotry, I was readying myself to leave the Synagogue for home. The sea of swirling black hats and knotted beards resembled a mosh pit at a Death Metal concert. Amidst the chaos, nobody noticed as an older boy gripped me round the arms and forced me into a chair. He demanded my full attention but my focus divided between the stench of whiskey on his breath and his finger wagging in my face.
“Look at me,” he said. “Two years ago, you wanted to become a big rabbi in Israel… look – look at me… you’re still in Australia… you’ve gone off the path… you don’t believe in God or anything anymore and you’re out of control. The Yaakov I knew would be embarrassed by you!
“Are you fucking happy with yourself?” He continued. “Have you taken a look at yourself? You had your Bar Mitzvah last year… you’re now a man – yes, yes, a man – and a Hasid… you are responsible for your sins… you must fly away to Israel now to learn Torah… I will organize tickets for you. Yes, I – I will organize tickets for you.”
He rambled like this for four hours. With each response I gave him, he squeezed me tighter so that I could not breathe. When I looked away, he wrestled me further into the chair. That night, I dreamed that he was ran over by a truck.
At this part of my story, I am steering my wheel. Many have fought with me over the driver’s seat and I have thrown each of them out of the window. My arms are weary and my mouth is dry. The wind whistles over my ears as the accelerator kicks the floor, and the only thing on my mind is the highway ahead.