By Jim Shipley
Shipley Speaks 

We are all tribal


March 30, 2018

Our Torah tells us of a man named Abram who probably lived in what is now Iran. He was head of a small “Clan”—also identified as a “Tribe.” The Tribe consisted of a group of loosely connected family members: sons, daughters (of which Abram had none of either at the time), cousins, etc.

Our Torah tells us that one day he decided to move the Tribe from the pleasant and fruitful land in which they dwelled to a barren strip of sand over a thousand miles almost due east. But, our Torah tells us God came to Abram in a dream and told him to go and that Abram and his Tribe could have that land.

It was a time when a Tribe had familial relations, a strong leader and perhaps some advisers—all members of the Tribe. As the Tribe grew, some of them left for other places. Today, that’s a lot more common. However, this Tribe survives to this day and we, as Jews, are its members.

For centuries, people of a given heritage, a distinct persona, kept together out of a sense of loyalty and common beliefs. It worked as a means of survival in a world without civilization, limited communication.

In a Tribe, there was the comfort of people who look like you, think like you, act like you and have the same beliefs. It allowed its members to have an inner peace knowing that those with whom they interacted on a regular basis were like themselves.

Times change. As the world grew more civilized and diversified, as travel and communication became easier, there was no longer a need for tribalism as a means for survival.

A certain orthodoxy prevails. In Arab cultures the symbolism of the Tribe is as active as it was centuries ago. An old Arab saying is: “Me against my brother; my brother and I against my cousin; me, my brother and my cousin against you.” Well, this worked fine when the Tribes needed these things to survive.

This is an interactive world. It was so before the Internet and supersonic jets and all forms of instant communication. My father was raised at the beginning of the last century. He had to fight his way to school from his Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn through the Italian neighborhood and the African-American neighborhood.

When Jewish families moved for most of the 20th century, they looked for a Jewish neighborhood with a few shuls within a short distance—maybe a Kosher butcher you could drive to, even in some cases, a Country Club.

That custom is disappearing. With the changes in society, with our instant communications, with intermarriage and many other diverse reasons, the Tribal society should be pretty much dead.

Except it’s not.

We have elected a president who, in his campaign tapped into the strong Tribal feelings still felt in our country. His campaign proved that those ancient feelings are amazingly close to the surface. In a broad sense it means that whatever happens in the world, as long as it is not an imminent threat to the United States, we should not be concerned about it. That we take care of our own.

Fine. Until it comes time to define “our own.” As Jews we have certain internal differences, of course. There’s Orthodox and Conservative and Reform and Reconstructionist and Hasidism and splits in each of those. BUT: We are all still Jews. There are white Jews and black Jews, brown Jews and multi-colored Jews. There are even Jews who, God forbid, do not believe in the State of Israel.

In the case of the philosophy behind the Trump campaign—it was to single out the “Other” as an enemy and our need to take “America First.” Jews are often accused of “Double Loyalty”—indicating that Jews tend to show loyalty to America and Israel. On its face this might sound dicey. But as Jews, we do in our “kishkas” feel an empathy and a love for the ancient homeland where the Third Jewish Commonwealth is about to celebrate its 70th birthday.

I never met an American Jew who did not love this nation. I admit I have met a few who disapprove of the way Israel is being governed. My answer to them has always been if you feel that strongly about it, move there, pay taxes there and vote.

Of course many Jews voted for President Trump because they believed that the country was on the wrong track and wanted to see a change. They got it. The danger lies again in the “Us versus You” mentality. It is at the core of Tribal.

When the Tribes of the Native Americans made peace with each other, it wasn’t that they were abandoning their own Tribal ways. It was that they felt as they all were Native Americans they should respect their differences as well as love their oneness.

As Jews we have disagreements. It is built into our DNA. As Jews when we travel and meet another Jew, we always feel like “Mishpucha.” We still, from time to time, talk about each other as “Members of the Tribe.” Disagreements among family, Tribe and others are bound to occur. To remember that we are members of the same Tribe is always important.


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