(RNS) — I stand with Bari Weiss, the New York Times columnist who recently resigned.
I have always liked and appreciated her writings, her spark, her voice.
I was not in “the room where it happens,” and so I cannot vouch for whether or not she received the level of abuse that she has reported.
But I stand with Weiss because I can relate to the discomfort that she has experienced. Like me, she is a centrist (though the current national situation has pushed me, and I suspect her as well, to the left). That centrist place is a precarious place to sit.
This is particularly true if you choose to write about anti-Semitism, as Weiss has done in a wonderful book. Like Deborah Lipstadt, Weiss wrote about the anti-Semitism of both the right and the left — what Lipstadt referred to as “Trumpism” and “Corbynism.”
So, what was the problem with Weiss?
Perhaps it was because her book on anti-Semitism contained several paragraphs “too many” about the anti-Semitism of the left. American Jews love to aerobically play the game of “whataboutism.” We often deny the anti-Semitism of our political allies.
Perhaps it was because Weiss had the chutzpah to actually address the notion of anti-Semitism among radical Muslims — as a not-easy-to-categorize third plank of Jew hatred, along with that of the left and right.
Perhaps it was because she had the physical and ideological dexterity to stand in the middle, and willingly undergoing neck strain by looking at both sides of the American story. In these hazardous times, we are all singing that old union hymn “Which Side Are You On?”
I stand with Weiss, in particular, because of one thing that she reported in her letter of resignation. “My own forays into Wrongthink,” she wrote, “have made me the subject of constant bullying by colleagues who disagree with my views. They have called me a Nazi and a racist; I have learned to brush off comments about how I’m ‘writing about the Jews again.’”
“Writing about the Jews again.”
I cannot imagine any other writer, of any other ethnicity, being forced to endure such a slur.
It speaks volumes: that the only ethnic issues that you can write too much about are Jewish issues.
It’s like being “too Jewish.”
No one has ever said such a thing about another religion or cultural group.
I do not agree with Weiss on everything. Neither do I agree with Peter Beinart on everything — or, lately, on many things.
But, that kind of disagreement invigorates the world of letters and thought.
Finally, what was my favorite Weiss piece of all time?
The speech that she delivered at the march against anti-Semitism in New York in January of this year.
It is so good that I have used it as a teaching tool for both teens and adults.
Indulge me as I share some of it with you.
“My name is Bari Weiss.
“I am a proud American. I am a proud New Yorker. And I am a proud Jew.
“ … I am a Jew because of the audacity and the iconoclasm of Abraham, the first Jew of all. The whole world was awash in idols and he stood alone to proclaim the truth: There is one God.
“I am a Jew because my ancestors were slaves. And I am a Jew because the story of their Exodus from Egypt, their liberation from slavery, is a story that changed human consciousness forever.
“I am a Jew because our God commands us to never oppress the stranger.
“I am Jew because Ruth, the first convert to Judaism, told her mother-in-law Naomi, ‘your people will be my people and your god will be my god,’ reminding us of the centrality of the Jewish people to Judaism.
“I am a Jew because of Queen Esther, who understood that she had attained her royal position in order to save her people from destruction.
“I am a Jew because the Maccabees were the original resistance. Because they modeled for us — and for all peoples — how to resist the temptation of self-erasure …
“ … I am a Jew because even after the heart of Judaism and Jewish sovereignty were destroyed my people refused to accept the logic of history and disappear. And I am a Jew because some of our greatest renewals took place in exile …
“I am a Jew because evil hates my people.
“I am a Jew because my people managed to turn destruction into redemption by returning to their land after 2,000 years …
“I am a Jew because the biblical words on the liberty bell — proclaim liberty throughout the land! — rang out from the righteous mouths of this country’s abolitionists as they fought for universal freedom in this New Jerusalem.
“I am a Jew because it was Emma Lazarus who etched the biblical injunction to welcome the stranger onto the consciousness of America when she wrote the words: ‘Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.’
“I am a Jew because of the martyred of Tree of Life and Chabad of Poway and Jersey City. And I am a Jew because of the courage of those who fought back in Monsey and who then, immediately after the attack, gathered together to sing. And I am Jew because my brothers and sisters in Crown Heights and Boro Park and Williamsburg who refuse to hide their Judaism.
“I am a Jew because of students across this country who refuse to be smeared and denigrated because of who they are, who are standing up against humiliation, pressure and abuse to affirm the justness of Zionism …
“I am a Jew because I refuse to stay silent in the face of injustice. I am a Jew because I have no patience for leaders who speak boldly while failing to take the actions necessary to protect our community. Or for partisan hacks that claim anti-Semitism is the exclusive domain of their political opponents. Or for leaders who believe they can fight Jew-hatred while making political alliances with anti-Semites.
“I am a Jew because I refuse to lie.
“Today, as in so many times in history, there are many forces in the world insisting that Jews must disappear or die. Some say it bluntly. Some cloak it in the language of progress …
“The Jewish people were not put on Earth to be anti-anti-Semites. We were put on Earth to be Jews.
“We are the people whose God never slumbers or sleeps, and so neither can we.
“We are the lamp-lighters.
“We are the ever-dying people that refuses to die.
“The people of Israel lives now and forever.
“Am Yisrael Chai.”
Good luck, Bari!