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The Hindu Jewish Dialogue [Part 3/4]

Jewish Text Part 3, ENDS

3.  The Hindu-Jewish dialogue is also about our experiences of
oppression and intolerance, as my Thai Buddhist monk friend and
I understood viscerally at the Vatican's museum.  We Hindus,
Buddhists and Jews can better understand our own
history--especially the less savory aspects of intolerance at
the hands of powerful religions--by comparing notes with one

4.  The Hindu-Jewish dialogue is also about preserving culture
in the face of diasporization and modernization.

Diaspora, or exile, was the issue which compelled the Dalai Lama
to invite Jewish scholars to his palace for the historic
Tibetan-Jewish dialogue in 1990.  In fact, Jews have been
exemplars in the minds of the Tibetan people ever since their
forced exile in 1959.  Soon after they established themselves in
temporary quarters in India, they commemorated the 2,100th
anniversary of the independent Tibetan state by publishing
Jamyang Norbu's pamphlet, "An Outline of the History of Israel."
Norbu, the militant president of the Tibetan Youth Congress,
wrote that "[W]e need to derive a source of inspiration from a
people whose determination and hard work achieved their
long-awaited goal.  .  .  Israel, whose people had struggled for
2,000 years under many difficulties and hardships to get their
land and freedom back." (Norbu, 1973:1.  My translation)

Today we see two kinds of diaspora: the forced exile of the
Tibetans, Vietnamese and Cambodians, and the voluntary exile of
American Hindus.  We Jews experienced the first variety until
1948, but since the establishment of Israel, galut has become
our home voluntarily.  Our struggles over nearly two thousand
years may inspire Tibetans and Vietnamese, but many American
Hindus rightly or wrongly see American Jews as role models for
their  gentle exile in America: we are taken as fully
participating in American life while simultaneously maintaining
religio-cultural traditions.  Our Hebrew day schools,
federations, newspapers, self-defense organizations such as the
ADL, youth summer camps, and lobbying organizations for both
domestic and international issues are serving as models for
other minority peoples who fear assimilation and the loss of
traditions.  Just this past summer, two Tibetan educators were
sent by the Dalai Lama to observe Jewish summer camps, with the
goal of adapting this institution to the situation of Tibetans
in India.  (Blustain, 1992:5)

For many newly-diasporized peoples--such as Tibetans and
Indochinese-Americans--diasporization and modernization are
simultaneous.  In some senses, the two phenomena are
interrelated.  Diasporization shatters the premodern sense of a
nation as a confluence of land-people-language-religion.  If one
is landless, then the fusion of these four separable factors
unravels.  Similarly, the essence of modernization is pluralism
wherein one's sacred canopy is seen as a human cultural product
rather than sacred, eternal meanings.  Diasporization confronts
one with the other, with a pluralism of meanings.  So does
modernization, and in this sense the two phenomena are related.
Jews are seen as the first diasporized and the first modernized
people, even if in our case the former preceded the latter by
1600 years.  Peoples who are just now become diasporized and/or
modernized tend to look to Jews for guidance.

5.  The Hindu-Jewish dialogue in America has concerns specific
to life as a minority religious culture in this country.  For
example, both ethnic groups have a vested interest in
maintaining a strong public education system.  The secular
character of public institutions, especially schools, is a
concern to both groups.  Both communities can and do strive
against discrimination in housing, the work place and in
schools, as well against the threat of violence from the
resurgent Klan and other Nazi-like organizations.  Parents in
both communities fear unscrupulous missionaries.  For both,
calls for the "Christianization of America" are viewed with
alarm.  Finally, both American Hindus and Jews have deep ties to
their countries of origin, and both groups would like the
American government to reflect their sentiments in "special
relationships" with India and Israel.  Therefore, there are many
avenues for cooperation in the political arena.

6.  The Hindu-Jewish dialogue is itself multicultural; that is,
there are and have been Hindu-Jewish dialogues in America, in
India, and elsewhere.  The Hindu-Jewish dialogue in India may
well take forms different from that in the United States.  What
Paul Younger wrote of Christian experience in India is also true
of Jewish experience: "Christianity and Hinduism have co-existed
in South India now for almost two millennia.  In the lives of
families, villages and the region as a whole this co-existence
has often involved very close mutual awareness and as a result
an extensive borrowing of religious practices, symbols and
values." (Younger, 1989:191) The long and happy Jewish diaspora
among Hindus ought to be recalled as a background for the
contemporary dialogue.  (See Katz and Goldberg, 1993)

The long overdue establishment of ambassadorial relations
between India and Israel, so enthusiastically welcomed by Hindus
as well as Jews, is another, contemporary aspect of Hindu-Jewish
dialogue.  When coupled with the Hindu-Jewish dialogue in
America and recalling the long, happy and continuing encounter
in India, this new, diplomatic relationship between our two
homelands may bring about a flowering of cooperation in culture,
commerce and technology and international cooperation.

7.  It should be recognized that what we have been calling
"Hindu-Jewish" dialogue is both Hindu-Jewish and Hindu-Judaic;
or perhaps Hindu-Judaic and Indian-Jewish.  The point is that it
involves both religion and ethnicity (the latter a distinctly
American formulation).  While any one given dialogue session
might emphasize one aspect, we need to be clear about which
aspect we are discussing.

8.  Finally, I offer an admonition as to what Hindu-Jewish
dialogue is not.  First and foremost, it is not a monologue
among Jews; both parties must be present.  This may be obvious,
but this basic principle of dialogue is often the casualty of
convenience and ignorance.  A negative example of this type of
ersatz-dialogue is Catholic theologian Hans Kung's recent book,
Christianity and the World Religions: Paths of Dialogue with
Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, which claims to be "the
transcript of an actual dialogue that took place in the summer
semester of 1982 at the University of Tubingen." (Kung,
1986:xiv) In Kung's book one finds no Muslims, Hindus or
Buddhists, but only three (Christian) scholars who speak for the
"other" half of the world.  I wish this were purely a Christian
problem, but it is not.  I was asked recently to review a book
manuscript on Hindu-Jewish dialogue for an academic publisher, a
collection of essays by Jewish writers.  And there are similar
cases of a synagogue or a Hillel which wants to sponsor a
"Buddhist-Jewish" dialogue between a rabbi and a Jew who
practices meditation!  As a prerequisite to our participation in
Hindu-Jewish dialogue, perhaps we need to remind ourselves that
dialogues must involve real people, not our imagination and
surely not our projections.  We must realize that the issue of
Jews who practice Buddhist meditation or Hindu yoga is an
internal Jewish issue, not to be confused with the Hindu-Jewish

9.  Finally, I would urge that Hindu-Jewish dialogue not be an
addendum to Hindu-Christian dialogue.  Again, this should be
obvious, but the unfortunate fact is that all too often Jews
become no more than interlopers in these dialogues, due to our
own laziness and lack of sincere interest.  I would go so far as
to urge Jews to avoid active participation in Hindu-Christian
dialogues (although we may benefit from listening in).  This
point is imperative, because what most Hindus know of Judaism
was learned from Christian missionaries, for whom Judaism is no
more than a step on the path toward Christianity.  We must
insist on our unique identity in our relations which Hindus, and
our identity as Jews is threatened by being subsumed into the
missionaries' "Judaeo-Christian" fiction.  Perhaps we need to
reclaim that unique identity for ourselves first.  

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