failing endlessly

The reason I’m staunchly antizionist, among many other reasons, is that Zionism is a mere political ideology. It doesn’t define Judaism, it can never supersede our culture. 

We existed as a distinct ethnic and religious culture for a millenia before Zionism and we’ll continue to exist for millenias after. My entire identity is not bound to a single political ideology and the sinister quality of its nature is that somehow we’ve bought into the idea that that’s precisely what we need to do in order to define our Jewishness. 

Zionism is about two centuries old. We have thousands of years of experiences, philosophy, struggle, and survival that a single ideology could never seek to sum up or contain. And the fact that so many seek to distill it down to a movement that’s barely into it’s third century of existence is poison to the vastness of our people. I refuse to participate in the bottlenecking of our culture. 

The fact that there are so many of my own people who discard me from my own community daily because I argue loudly and aggressively as to the nature of Zionism is testament to its flawed design. The fact that so many young Jews in particular find themselves excluded from their synagogues, their campus Hillel’s, their own families, simply for dissenting on political ideology, that somehow to not be Zionist is to not be Jewish is the most malicious form of internalized antisemitism we have ever faced as a people. 

When I argue with a fellow Jew about their beliefs in Zionism never do I deny their Judaism, and yet I find them denying mine. Worse, I have been asked to provide “proof” of my Jewishness in such arguments. How can we as a people expect to grow and change and find our self-determination if we reduce ourselves down to paranoid followers of political ideology? 

The history of Zionism is nuanced, complicated, and based heavily as a way to overcome antisemitism of that I cannot deny, nor would I. But does it work? Has it saved us? Will it forward our liberation? We’re Jews. We must question. The fact that many of us have been silenced is the very antithesis of our way. There’s so much to the history and its far reaching effects that I won’t even attempt to parse it out in one essay on the internet. 

 But I certainly will not let you all pretend as if antizionist Jews do not exist, are not loud and vocally and fiercely proud of their Judaism. I wouldn’t let goyim pretend they own the conversation on antizionsim when such arguments were first made by Jews at the time of Zionism’s formation. So why on earth would I let my fellow Jews cover their eyes and pretend they can’t see me either? 

On Questions, Answers, and the Wabi-Sabi Universe

When I started applying for colleges, I knew I was going to have to deal with a lot of uncomfortable questions, what to major in, how I’m going to pay for this, what friends do I make, ect. But these questions, I think, are not nearly as important as questions like “What do I think about God?”, “What do I think about morality/the afterlife/religious experience?” “Why do I believe those things?”, questions that do not concern the people I interact with as much as they should.

It’s easy to take the college questions and give them a positive spin, thinking of them as an adventure rather than an crisis. I suppose one could think the same way about their spiritual journey, but for me these questions never fail to be endlessly confusing, frustratingly vague, profoundly unsatisfying to examine. What’s even more uncomfortable is realizing that you don’t identify with beliefs about the world that you used to hold dear. To look at beliefs that you’ve had for years and to say “that’s not me anymore” is in itself an accomplishment, to look for new beliefs, is a hurdle ten times as high.

This is where I was when I was applying for colleges, and to be honest I’ve never really left, even though I’ve chosen a spiritual path to follow. But given that that path is Shinto, I’ve just opened up a door with a thousand more questions. Shinto is a religion that is practiced almost exclusively in Japan, has only a small presence in the United States (a presence which, helpfully, is mostly located in Washington and Hawaii both hundreds of miles from where I live), and only has a limited amount of resources in print, along with helpful but somewhat dubious online ones. It has no scripture, no clear doctrine, and is closely tied to local Shrines and the landscape of a country which I am descended from, but have virtually no other connection to. It doesn’t mean that I can’t learn about my religion, it means that the answers to my daunting questions are very hard to find, which can be really hard sometimes.

But my experience with Shinto hasn’t been all frustration, otherwise, why would I be attempting to follow it? In my research I have uncovered a philosophy that acknowledges and even celebrates the ambiguities that have so baffled me in the past. It is a path that emphasizes awareness of one’s actions and awareness of the divine in nature, in the Gods, and in ourselves and the people we interact with every day. We call this divine energy “Dai Shizen”, or “Great Nature”, and the way we interact with it is by nature shifting, vague, and impermanent.

In Zen, there is a concept which has carried over to all aspects of Japanese life including Shinto, called wabi-sabi. It, like most Japanese philosophical concepts, is extremely hard to translate into English, but I like to think of it as a kind of “eternal impermanence”. We must acknowledge and appreciate that the world we live in is ever changing, ever shifting, and always impermanent, and although we can have religions doctrine and codes of morality, we cannot possibly think to understand everything. It is most commonly understood in Japanese art and aesthetics,particularly the tea ceremony invented by Sen no Rikyū and the simple but devastatingly beautiful haiku of  Matsuo Bashō. The roughness and irregularity of nature are celebrated in these, not honed out or proportioned away as they are in western art. They ask you to look at the cracks in a cup, the bending of a sakura branch, or the irregularity of a group of leaves strewn across a path, and see that it is beautiful. The imperfection is where the art derives it’s beauty, and likewise the universe derives its beauty from it’s imperfection and refusal to be easily understood.

Wabi-sabi asks you to look calmly and sympathetically on the intricacies and iperfections of the universe around us, and approach it with awe, reverence, and non-judgement. Spirituality in Shinto and for the Japanese in general is more of a purifying appreciation of the divine rather than a prostrating submission. Every religions path involves some sort of “surrender” or “leap of faith”, but in Shinto it’s a different kind of leap than in western paradigms of religion. It’s quiet, mysterious, and impossible to describe, and that not only doesn’t make it less hard to make, but 100 times more hard. But that, I suppose, is wabi-sabi.