This is a short story about tribalism.
guess this is one of the few things that raises the hair on my
neck. It is especially something that embarasses me about having
a Jewish heritage. I would like the differences between people to
be about who they are and what they do, not based on their color,
gender, nationality. Judiasm isn't even a religion for many, but
rather a tribe. It is a means for certain people to believe that
they are chosen over others.)
when we were at Central Reform Congregation, getting ready for our
performance of the DisAbility Project, I was
having a conversation with Fran Cohen.
Fran co-founded the project with me.
She is an older woman, a little younger than my mother, with boundless
energy. An occupational therapist and gerontologist who
used to be on the faculty at the Wash U School of Medicine.
Fran is funny and brusque in a way that many people don't get
but she has done a lot of good in the world
We have worked together for ten years on the project that is very
dear to both of our hearts. We have an intimate relationship.
I had asked her to come early so I could talk to her in person
about my need to take more time of from the project
to tend to some additional personal and professional concerns.
While we were sitting in the lobby waiting to greet the school groups,
we saw the executive director of the temple, a wonderful Italian
American Catholic gentleman named John Terranova. I introduced the
of them and we chatted briefly.
When he left, Fran said, "You know. This burns me up. I
remember when Jews were not allowed in many places. Now, when
you go to places like this, a lot of times you find an Armstrong
or a Terranova running things."
I guess her implication is that a job like John's, of being
the executive director, should go to a Jew.
For years, in fact, it was held by a lovely Jewish woman at CRC named
My assumption is that CRC did a search and hired what they felt was
the best person for the job, irrespective of religion.
It is not like they are having a Catholic serve as a rabbi.
I found Fran's comment to be disconcerting. I chose not to question
her about it. She was already feeling upset about my plan
to be absent moreas well as to empowerother people
with whom I work to more actively manage the project.
I also wondered if her age and experiences—having lived through
the Holocaust and the founding of the state of Israel and having clearly
witnessed anti Semitism in St. Louis at various points—didn't
legitimately contribute to her point of view.
It is a conversation I want to revisit with her under different circumstances.
Personally, I love the fact that John is Italian American and Catholic.
A nicer man would be hard to find. He has been so generous and pleasant
inour exchanges. And it is very time consuming to deal
with us when we are trying to schedule theuse of eight spaces
for a performance that involves three schools.
I love the fact that his name, Terranova, means new earth or ground,
as translated from the Italian.
Isn't that what we need right now? New earth or ground on which
we can all stand?
about "fly" instead of "stand"?)
Reform Congregation, an open and affirming space seems to be sincerely
trying to find that new ground.
The service for Philip was a new ground, ground in both
Episcopalian and Jewish traditions as well as art. A
psalm was read. But so
was a Beatle song sung.
We are in desperate need of new or revamped traditions.
And of making a space for art in organized religion.
I understand about tribalism. I suppose the idea is that
first one must tend to their own. Especially if some
parts of the culture define you as the other.
But there is too much other-ness in the world.
I find tribalism very very distressing.
And it is distressing when someone I care deeply about
holds such a belief and makes such a comment.
Sunday, Jan 15, 2006