O.K., so crowds make me nervous. I am keenly aware that a group of celebrants can turn into an angry mob and trample you to death without warning. Be it mecca or mondiale, the crowd has its own spirit that devours individualism.
Thing is, I am paradoxically drawn to them. Don't we all, in our heart of hearts, crave a collective catharsis? Hands across America, raves, papal masses...group mourning?
It is the stuff of goosebumps and shivers.
But my education from the earliest age involved learning about church-inspired pogroms in Eastern Europe and the inconceivable acts of the holocaust.
Naturally, that education made me a bit fearful when it comes to mobs. But is it horribly perverse to link parades to genocide?
The Jewish education I received as a child makes me mad in retrospect. Hell, I know more names of concentration camps of the Holocaust than I knew the names of Jewish scholars. And when you are told that your only legacy as a people is a long, long (I mean LONG) history of victimization, it is not exactly a joyful thing. My friends and I at Hebrew U would complain about it feeling like an invisible, heavy hump on your back. And it pisses me off. I could go on about the impressive intellectual legacy of talmudic scholars and Jewish thinkers, but thing is, I really can't. Cuz I was hardly taught it. I know they exist, and all, but for some reason, my hebrew school teachers thought it more fit to teach us about Mengele than Maimonedes.
So back to mobs. There is this program called March of the Living where Jewish kids go to Eastern Europe and visit concentration camps and get saturated with stories of babies used as target practice, and skin used as lampshades, and humans used as sadistic lab experiments. And just when you are about to have a nervous breakdown out of despair, they take you to Israel, where you dance the hora and kiss the ground that finally your people are "free".
And you know what? I saw those kids when I lived in Jerusalem, and those mobs of sobbing children made me nervous. They have no critical awareness at that moment in their lives. Their individualism and critical thought have been consumed by collective sentiment.
I have only ever bitched about this to Jewish friends because we share an understanding that while Israel does not have a monopoly on righteousness, we are really glad it exists. We can spend hours criticizing Israeli policy and trying to untangle all the different voices and opinions of that region in our minds.
So yeah, mobs have a way of stripping away all that great, brainy, independent thought. And while the parade or the audience, or the crowd might never mutate into the violent force I am afraid of, I think they will always make me anxious.