I'm Jon Spira-Savett, rabbi at Temple Beth Abraham in Nashua, New Hampshire. This website and blog is a resource for Jewish learning and Jewish action. It is a way to share my thoughts beyond my classes and weekly Divrei Torah. You'll find blog posts, standing resource pages with links and things to read, and podcasts as well.
Before year 1 of the course, Leslie thought this book would pair well with my Michael Walzer, “connected critic” idea, since Lame Deer was a Native American, an outside observer. I was skeptical but now I’m glad we did it. It got me to thinking about what a “connected critic” does with criticism from the outside or from a group who you would think couldn’t possibly be made integrated into the main American narrative, the way I can. I’m a member of a group persecuted in other lands throughout history and intermittently discriminated against here, but clearly eligible to be an American partner. Much different from a Native American living here.
It’s easy for a connected critic to romanticize a Native American critic – to fantasize about being able to say things one can say without the responsibility of being part of the group. It’s easy to nod at Lame Deer’s anti-Horatio Alger diagnosis of our materialism, our destructive individualism, our superficial approach to learning, which is packaged in this particular book with a smile. But I realize as I write this that I’ve been constructing my own account of a Native American critic, to serve my own critical posture. To make it easier to defend myself to the critics-of-my-criticism by pointing to my own connection. At the same time, reading a Native American critic forces me to take responsibility for my involvement – I don’t have the right to hurl at others or deflect from myself critiques that I am implicated in.
I experienced something really thought-provoking a few months ago, at a community rally called in response to some local hate activities. The first people invited to the stage were Native Americans, and I expected to hear about ethnic cleansing and genocide, and a reminder not to forget about that part of the American story while standing up for Latinos, African-Americans, and Jews. But the representatives welcomed us and blessed us, and invited us to live well and peacefully and with integrity on this land, in the name of the people who were once entrusted with it and the spirits who are still present. It was incredibly gracious, it wasn’t at all cramped, and it did not force any of us to renounce our Americanness, our white-ness for those of us who are white, or our hope. I am still sitting with this.