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The Lost Tribe

By DANIEL GREENE SMITH

(Column, "Notes From The Blunt Edge" 1993)

In 1976, on the eve of Yom Kippur , I moved my bed in front of the window and watched the gray clouds role across the black backdrop. The Rabbi had told me on the night of Yom Kippur God opened up the sky and took the sins of the world into heaven. I lay awake and watched the darkness waiting for a seam to appear .

The morning light woke me, and my spirits fell. Iíd missed it.

When my mother heard why I was so upset that day, She smiled and said that next year I could watch again, and maybe I wouldnít sleep through it.

But the next year I did not move my bed in front of the window, my eyes did not search the heavens for a crack, a fissure of divine light. That year between eleven and twelve forever altered my view of god - of the world - of myself. What was that powerful?

It was an unlikely thing. It was a mundane thing. It was Kurt Firnhaber, my fourteen year old next door neighbor.

Kurt Firnhaber informed me that the Jews were chosen, but now the Protestants (which he was) were the only ones going to heaven. The Jews had let God down, "Blown our shot" as he put it. Now I was going to hell and they were going to heaven. I went home, contemplated eternity in hell, and cried.

Since 1976 Iíve been told I was on my way to hell a number of times. Last year one of the carpenterís I worked with was Born Again, After hearing once again where I was going when I died, I said to him. " Jesus was a Jewish Carpenter. Iím a Jewish Carpenter. I KNOW Iím going to heaven if the Union has anything to say about it. " Luckily he laughed. But these religious wars never cease. Yesterday I saw a Rastafarian wearing a huge Star of David. They too now assert that they are "The Lost Tribe of Israel" , and in my American Literature class I learn that the Puritanís thought they were "Godís Elect" too.

Whether they were or werenít, whether I am or the Rastafarians are, whether the Firnhaberís were or werenít, I donít know. I have no claim as to who is preferred by God and who isnít. I would never condescend to tell anyone that they were of werenít "The Lost Tribe." I do however long for a religious group to say "Weíre perpetually average and sinful, and absolutely sure that weíre not Godís Elect, and weíre very proud of it,!" Their slogan could be like the old 7-up commercial, except they'd be referring to god's preference rather than to caffeine when they say . "Never had it, Never will. "

Whether or not it is a trait of Godís to choose one group of people over another, it is clearly a human trait that we want to be chosen, To be better than.... Equal but more than equal, and there enters a paradox. God is all loving, but he loves some more than others. Our laws tell us that we are the same, our religions tell us that weíre not, or that we are, but that God prefers some of us to others. We love a hierarchy.... "The Chosen", " The Elect." The Protestants, The Catholics, The Christians, The Rastafarianís The American Express Gold Card, The Deans List, The Mortar Board, Suma Cum Laude, A Merecedes Benz....."Iím Chosen. " Chosen to go to Heaven or Harvard Law School, Chosen to make more money or more love.... because Iím smarter - because I look like - because my last name is..... I am chosen more than you, by American Express, by the opposite sex, by Hillary and Bill Clinton. by the Democratic Party, and yes, by god, By God himself!

We are jealous children fighting over the love of a whimsical parent, except we are these children in adulthood, and we have much bigger sticks and stones. We fight wars, force epithets , reject the validity of entire classes of people. Whether it is an argument over godís love or over tax bracket, the name of the game is hierarchy, and we play it too well.

We all recognize the fight for the top rung, and have varying degrees of disgust and sadness at our own rapaciousness, but there is a fight for the bottom rungs also. Hierarchy, so long the means of oppression, sadly becomes a tool of the oppressed. Last week I heard people arguing over who suffers worse, Jewish Woman or Hispanic Men? Is suffering defined by the color of the skin on which those scars are scribed and not the depth of the wound? Are we so small hearted that we would look at the color or gender of the human first, and the need second? I ask what color or gender is pain.

Youíd think that those who had been the victims of hierarchy wouldn't calss the people around them, but on the legacy goes. "So and so canít join this organization because heís not a woman, or because sheís not black , or because heís not Jewish...." If someone wants to join an organization. itís probably because they care about the issues at stake. Apparently having compassion isnít enough, you have to have "Black" compassion, or "female " compassion or "Jewish" compassion. Not only does pain have a color and gender, but apparently compassion does also. Separatism defeats itís own goals, rather than empower and increase awareness, it alienates and therefore disempowers.

Itís strange because some of the most loving people in my life, arenít Jewish, arenít White, and have never been Carpenterís. If we compare histories they are nothing like me, yet they are the most sensitive to my needs. Compassion or Ďlove Ď is a thing which transcends hierarchies, You donít have to be a "member " to get it, or to give it.

I think about how god sees us sometimes, all 6 billion of us. I imagine a field of corn all of us, trying to grow towards the sun, some taller, some shorter, all in the dirt, and all alive for only one season. I don't see any "us" or "them" in the corn field.

I remember the hot tears of eleven years old, I remember their frailty, I remember the belief that I was a member of The Lost Tribe rolling down my face and darkening small spots in my jeans.

The Lost Tribe was forsaken but also chosen. What we have chosen is hierarchy in favor of each other. If we cannot be as aware of what is equal about as about what is different than we shall remain the Lost Tribe that is truly lost, the unchosen. Unchosen by each other. Forsaken by ourselves.