History of Jews in Westerly

Congregation Sharah Zedek > History of Jews in Westerly


*Village of the Soul: The Life of a Jewish Community* 

By Brad Benson

To a great extent, each one of us is the product of the sum of our various experiences. This is only natural; as we face new experiences, we need to fall back on memories we have of similar incidents that could help guide us toward successful responses to new problems. If we learn properly, we take the lessons of all of our past experiences into each new encounter. In this way, we attempt to navigate our way through life’s obstacles. However, this process can be easily distorted. Such distortion occurs when a person judges someone he meets not as an individual but only as a member of a group. People certainly do have experiences as part of groups and different groups do have their own histories, but no individual’s identity can rightly reduced to his incidental group membership. From such judgments spring prejudice, bigotry, and other historical 3 hatreds. People can only avoid perpetuating such ills by ensuring that they do not confuse a person with a paradigm. The best way to avoid this temptation is through self-education about the histories of different groups, as well as by the cultivation of a sense of empathy for the experiences of individuals.

The experiences of groups can be said to constitute genres of experience. Such genres intertwine with the experiences of group members in ways unique to each individual and evince themselves in almost every form of human endeavor. To take a simple example; motherhood is an experiential genre in that billions of women have been mothers, and they all have certain experiences in common, such as the act of childbirth and the raising of children. However, no one mother faces exactly the same challenges in exactly the same way that any other mother does. Two mothers can compare notes, but each of them will interpret those notes according to what she has learned and experienced in her own life. Similarly, a person’s livelihood can fit the same pattern. Any farmer, physician, or janitor has concerns that he would be likely to have in common with all others in his vocation. However, each individual farmer, physician, or janitor faces challenges unique to their own unique circumstances. This idea of the experiential genre repeats itself in ways both large and small throughout people’s lives. However, some genres of experience are innate and immutable. Unlike such aspects of life as a career, which one can choose, immutable genres shadow lives from cradle to grave. Probably the most influential of those permanent, unselected genres is that of race and ethnicity. One cannot change the place where one was born, or the color of one’s skin. However, “race” as it is generally defined in our society, is actually a false 4 genre; it has no intrinsic societal meaning other than as a method for dividing and persecuting people. Anyone with two brain cells to rub together ought to be able to realize this fact. Unfortunately, we have to deal in our society with the fact that this truth has historically been brutally ignored.