The Sludge

I was never more hated than when I tried to be honest…. I’ve never been more loved and appreciated than when I tried to “justify” and affirm someone’s mistaken beliefs; or when I tried to give my friends the incorrect, absurd answers they wished to hear. In my presence they could talk and agree with themselves, the world was nailed down, and they loved it. They received a feeling of security. RALPH ELLISON, INVISIBLE MAN One Friday afternoon, in a carpeted alcove off the main sanctuary of my school, a Jewish school in the suburbs of Philadelphia, my class collected in a circle as we did every week. A young, liberally perfumed Israeli woman in a tight turtleneck sweater read to us from a textbook about the exodus from Egypt. I asked her why our ancestors had been enslaved to begin with, and then wondered aloud whether it was because only former slaves can appreciate freedom. I remember the feeling of the idea forming in my very young mind, and the struggle to articulate it. Clumsily, with a child’s vocabulary, I suggested to my teacher that Jewish political life began with emancipation, and that this origin ensured that gratitude to God would be the foundation of our national identity. Could that have been God’s motivation? I don’t remember her answer, only her mild bemusement, and my impression that she did not have the philosophical tools or the inclination to engage with the question. I was left to wonder on my own about the nature of slavery, the distant memories that undergird identity, and God’s will; without a teacher, without a framework. I was by myself with these questions.  Of course, we were not gathered in that schoolchildren’s circle to study philosophy. We were studying the Biblical tale not in order to theorize

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