A Yiddish Poet’s Response to Trump, Netanyahu, and Treating People like Animals
“And if human beings are only wild animals, may I be able to turn them toward mildness and humility.”
On May 21, the White House issued an abominable document defining people as animals. In recent weeks, the Israeli government has killed dozens of protesters and injured many more, all from a distance, hiding behind the idea that they were “Hamas members” (and thus not humans deserving of life) as justification. Atrocities continue around the world, Venezuelans eat from the trash amid crisis, far too many homeless people line our streets amid an affordable housing crisis, and our own children are shot and killed in school.
So, we do see humanity behaving toward each other in an animal-like way. But rather than blaming others as BEING “animals,” we should be focused on the fact that we are treating far too many people LIKE animals. That is where our governments, our religions, our communities should focus — how do we treat others with humanity?
Can we stop all bad behavior by MS-13 or Hamas? No. But we can control and direct our own toward humanity, toward respect, toward peace.
In the margins of the Lev Shalem Siddur, there is a poem by the Yiddish poet Abraham Reisen (Avrom Reyzen) that had the line above. This should be the response to Trump and Netanyahu, and their efforts to dehumanize. This should be our policy and approach. Nothing more, nothing less.
Maybe even the idea that Reisen references, that people can be like wild animals, is offensive to some; I think our own actions, rather than those of others, show it to be so. It’s time to heed Reisen’s words and reorient our words, our own actions, and our policies.
Here is the whole poem:
Teach me, Lord, teach me
how to deal with people
to show them how
to convert the evil within the good.
And if human beings are
may I be able to turn them
toward mildness and
At the circus, I saw
a man tame a tiger,
defang a snake;
would You make me so
Bless me with patience,
make me strong as steel.
that i might demonstrate to humanity
the same such wonders.