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Alana Elias Kornfeld, an assistant editor at Beliefnet.com, details a Polish man’s journey from being a neo-Nazi skinhead to his current life as an ultra-Orthodox Jew living in Warsaw. The amazing thing about it though, is how little distance lies between the two points in that journey.
No, I don’t think that being an ultra-Orthodox Jew and a skinhead are the same thing, but the “juice” of being one or the other, the attraction to that kind of intensity and total way of being, the energy of giving one’s self over to a cause or belief, may be. Even the 32 year old subject of the interview, who chooses to remain anonymous, recognizes that. He says: “I’m a very weird man and there is no medium for me. I’m an extreme man.”
He remarks that his journey has taken him “360 degrees”. In other words, like all 360 degree journeys, you arrive back where you began. If his had been a journey to some diametrically opposed position, then it would have taken him 180 degrees, not 360. Whether consciously or not, this anonymous Pole also demonstrates that at some point, all totalitarian ways of being, are in some way the same.
Imagine if the most extreme representatives of any cause appreciated that which they shared with those they most opposed. Imagine if hard core conservatives and hard core liberals, be it in politics or religion, could understand that the nature of hard core anything is fundamentally similar – that it’s never about the rightness of the cause, when we are that absolute in our views, but the buzz of absolutism that fires us up.
I love this article, not because it’s a “man bites dog” story that surprises, but because it’s just the opposite. It makes us realize that the shift this new Jew has experienced is really quite typical, a story of bouncing from one extremist view to another – a story of redeeming one’s self from a fanatical position by adopting a new fanaticism.
I do hope that this guy one day discovers that those aren’t his only choices. And that has nothing to do with wanting him to loose his long beard or black hat. It has to do with hoping that if chooses to wear them, it will be because he loves wearing them and not because he thinks that everything else is fake or wrong.