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Earl Hartman

2nd son of Blanche Hartman and Lou Hartman whose offspring are in chronological order: Joe, Earl, Trudy, Mitsi

interviewed by DC
Tassajara July 13, 2005

Essay on Kyudo Training by Earl Hartman (the way of the bow)

Seishinkan Kyudojo - Earl's school for Kyudo in Oakland, CA

***

I have this argument with my mother all the time, you know. The Zen Center is full of idols. ... you are bowing down to idols, you are cleaning idols, you are dressing idols, you are venerating idols, you’ve got idols in the room – there are idols up the yin yang.

DC – I’m just doing a little oral history stuff on your family because you’re all so interesting and I had a nice interview, like I said, with your father and mother. Is there anything in particular you have to say before I ask you something in particular?
EH: About what?
DC: Anything in your past – with your parents – Zen Center – Suzuki – any of it?
EH: I don’t know – I mean, you know, [laughter] I don’t mean to sound blasé, but I mean they’ve been doing this for so long that it’s just what they do, you know, so… Yeah, I don’t think about it that much anymore.
I mean, I’m sorry that I didn’t get to meet Suzuki Roshi before he died.
DC: Ah huh – well, how old were you when he died? He died in ’71.
EH: Yeah, let me think – so I was 20, I guess. I was born in 1952, so…
DC: Yeah –
EH: So I was 19.
DC: Where were you?
EH: I was here. He died in 1971?
DC: Yeah
EH: Okay – I was here – I mean, as I remember, my parents started doing zazen when I was 17, as I recall; which  means that would have been 1969 – so that was like, what, 2 years before he passed away? So, it’s not like – and they said what a great guy he was and everything like that and so I thought it would be nice to meet him and then he died and I was sorry I didn’t meet him but that’s really pretty much the extent of it.
DC: Yeah, So you were 17 when they started sitting and in ’69 you lived in Berkeley and so, where are you in the hierarchy of the 4 kids?
EH: Oh, I’m second.
DC: Who’s first?
EH: My brother, Joe – who is two years older than I am; he lives in L.A.
DC: What do you remember? Do you remember them getting into Zen?
EH: Yeah, yeah  – I mean they took one of the back rooms and make it into a zendo and, you know, I remember my father sitting there looking at the wall and I was like, “what the hell is he doing that for?”
[laughter]
I don’t know, as I – I don’t remember if I was aware of this at the time or if I was told this later and then it made sense to me, but I think I had a sense that they were having trouble in their marriage and they had apparently tried all kinds of therapy – Rolf therapy and primal scream therapy and all kinds of stuff and, as I understand it – based upon what my father told me later, is that they got involved in zazen primarily as a form of therapy and what my father told me was that he had been told by a therapist he had been seeing at the time said that he had heard about all these different kinds – I think – as I recall, the therapist said, you know – there are kinds of meditation that might be beneficial and that they’d heard – that there was this Zen meditation, but that that was the most difficult kind and so my father immediately decided that’s what he was going to do.
DC: [laughing]
EH: Precisely because it was the most difficult kind – in other words, by telling him that, it was like a challenge.
DC: Yeah
EH: So, they got involved in it as a form of therapy, I believe that they saw as a way to save their marriage, which was in danger. Well, one thing led to another and now they are actually Buddhists, which is not the same thing as just being meditators.
DC: Yeah – I went to his 90th birthday at Zen Center on Page Street. Mitzi was there.
Did it have a disruptive effect on your family at all?
EH: It seemed odd – but, you know, I was ready –
DC: You were like a senior in High School?
EH: I was out of High School. Oh, you mean when they started?
DC: Yeah
EH: No – I don’t recall it being particularly disruptive.
DC: I think Mitzi did.
EH: Well, Mitzi… well, I’ll let her tell her own story – but I think it probably was – looking at it from the outside, I get the impression that for her it was a disaster.
DC: Yeah – she has made hints at that. Do you think she has more to say about it?
EH: Yeah, yeah – that is up to her, not me – but looking at it from the outside, I would think that my parents got involved in their problems when Mitzi really needed them and I think that, you know, she felt emotionally abandoned – was my guess – but that is all purely speculation. We don’t talk about this sort of thing very much.
DC: uh hmm
Do you remember – like, one thing I think about your parents - let’s see now, if you were 17, you were born in ’52 – so, you know, even with me, I mean one thing I think about your parents is like I think about our mother in World War II making gun sights.
EH: Yeah, she was like 16 I think or something.
DC: Wow – and losing her job to men when the war was over when she came back.
EH: Oh really? I don’t remember that.
DC: Yeah, that’s just stuff… and then with your father, I think of being a left-winger in the House on American Activities.
EH: That was the defining event of his life.
DC: … and did that effect you?
EH: Well, I remember when I was – this was all going down when I was about 5 or 6, as I recall – and I remember realizing that something was happening and that there was the possibility that he might go to jail – being very afraid of that and then he didn’t go to jail – and so, since that was the only life I knew, I had no idea that what happened after that would be considered abnormal – I mean, you know, this was our life, right?
DC: Yea – right.
EH: I mean, I didn’t know that it was good or bad or indifferent – I had no consciousness that I was poor or deprived or anything like that at all. I never had to worry about whether or not I was going to have food. I never worried about whether my parents were going to abandon me. I didn’t feel unloved. I mean – that was life as we knew it – it was just completely normal.
He was a writer. And that’s okay – I guessed that’s what dads did. But I do remember knowing at the time that our family was somewhat out of the ordinary simply because my father had a reputation as a communist and a lot of people never let me forget it; and when I was in school I was considered, you know – I mean the Communist Manifesto when I was 12 years old, so a lot of people thought I was a “red.” So I always felt – definitely felt on the outside. I mean I wasn’t a ______10:00; I wasn’t a “jock” – I wasn’t one of the popular kids, you know. I was kind of a weirdo, I guess. But I got involved in the Society for Creative Anachronism, which was – you know – do you know the group?
DC: Yeah – remind me of that.
EH: You know, some medieval recreationists’ organization – they build their own armour and weapons and beat each other up. That’s what I did all through high school.
DC: That is really neat.
EH: So I had a lot of friends who were not high school students. This group was full of geeks – of all kinds of software people, science fiction writers and fans – all kinds of strange people, you know, so I sort of revelled in the strangeness. But did that have anything to do with the fact that my parents were involved in Zen, I have no idea at all.  I guess, you know, I knew that we were unconventional in some way – but I don’t remember feeling particularly pressed about it – but I could have submerged all that – who knows, you know?
DC: Yeah. Do you remember any other events in your childhood or anything else – anything from back then with your parents that stood out?
EH: Having to do with Zen?
DC: Oh no – anything.
EH: Well, I don’t know – there were any number of events. We went on family trips – I remember taking the ferry boat from Richmond to Marin before the bridge was built.
DC: When was the bridge built?
EH: Some time after I was conscious [laughter] because I remember going on the ferry – I remember riding the train across the Bay Bridge – the lower deck of the Bay Bridge was for the electric trains. That was very shortly after I was about 6 years old.
DC: I didn’t know that.
EH: Yeah – and the Key system trains was a great system. It stopped like a half a block from our house and you could go all the way into the City on it.
DC: So they had a mass transit train?
EH: Yeah they did and the whole system was bought out by a consortium of auto companies and petroleum companies and regular companies who wanted to replace the whole system with gasoline buses, which they did and it just destroyed it.
We used to go camping a lot and visit my grandparents back east a lot – you know, just regular childhood memories.
DC: So, what do you do?
EH: I’m a technical writer. I’m a _____ 13:19 writer interpreter.
DC: In – you know – there are – Blanche is the Jewish member of the family and Lou is not, right?
EH: umm hmmm  
DC: Which, you know, you could just as easily guess it was opposite.
EH: Well, dad’s been mistaken for a Jew – I remember.
DC: And I think – you know there is just an unbelievably high percentage of Buddhist teachers in America – a huge
EH: Jewish Zen Buddhists?
DC: Yeah – a lot of women – and there’s a lot of Jews and
Blanche is both those – I mean it is a revolution in Buddhism, right? And there’s two types –for the purposes of this, there are two types of Jewish Buddhist teachers – there are the ones that incorporate Judaism or work with Judaism in some way and there are those that don’t and I think Blanche is one who doesn’t.
EH: She is Jewish in name only.
DC: And Norman Ficsher is one who does.
EH: Well, yeah, yeah.
DC: He’s tight with Rabbi Lew. What do you think about all that?
EH: Well, to give you the strict Orthodox Jewish perspective…
DC: You are an Orthodox Jew?
EH: Yeah.
DC: Alright.
EH: I have an Orthodox lifestyle, I suppose – but my background is such that it’s hard for me to call myself really Orthodox. For instance, if I was really Orthodox, I’d never set foot in this place. I couldn’t eat the food, even though it’s vegetarian, it’s no strictly Kosher. Men and women bathe together –
DC: Well, on the men’s side at night.
EH: There are women around here who are modestly dressed – I couldn’t go to the Narrows because there are naked women down there.
DC: Yeah.
EH: The – this would be not a place where most strictly Orthodox Jews would ever come to.
DC: Yeah
EH: And like I said – I’m not that strict.
DC: Yeah, yeah.
EH: But from a religious perspective, the traditional interpretation of Jewish law renders it absolutely forbidden for a Jew to have any involvement in any kind of non-Jewish religion. It’s strictly forbidden – that’s all there is to it. It’s like eating a pork chop on Yom Kippur – it is not acceptable – not acceptable.
DC: So the – somebody like Rabbi Lew?
EH: Well, my guess is, without knowing who this man is, my guess is that he perhaps was a Jew who grew up having some kind of Jewish identity, self-alienated from the religion, went to look for another religion, found that in some way it didn’t really satisfy him, and then decided to go back to his roots – but without – being unable to reject, totally, his religious experience in Buddhism, and therefore tried to incorporate some of the non-doctrinal prophesies of Buddhism into Jewish context.
Okay, it’s sort of like this - Jews live in Hungary – Hungarian food is all fried in lard and, like all the meat dishes are finished with sour cream. So, right? You can’t eat any of that stuff. But if you are a Jew in Hungary, you are going to say, “Okay, instead of using lard, we’ll use Schmaltz and instead of ___ ?? 17:16, we just leave out the sour cream at the end. So that’s our version of chicken paprikash. We just don’t put sour cream in it and we use schmaltz instead of lard – it makes it kosher. So if you can take the practice of meditation – whatever that is – and remove the idols, and remove the specific Buddhist elements of it, then – theoretically – you could make it kosher.
DC: And that’s very much what a lot of Catholics have done in practicing –
==
EH: Because I have this argument with my mother all the time, you know. The Zen Center is full of idols. I mean, you know – because like Mamish ?? [sounds like “avotazera”] as we say - it’s like a hundred – a thousand percent idol worship – absolutely no way around – you cannot get around it – you are bowing down to idols, you are cleaning idols, you are dressing idols, you are venerating idols, you’ve got idols in the room – there are idols up the yin yang.
DC: And you know the true religious – the two major religions that absolutely don’t have idols are –
EH: Right – Judaism and Islam.
DC: Right.
EH: I’m quite aware of that. I mean, from a religious perspective, Judaism considered Islam a much purer monarchism than Christianity. Christianity is very problematic – especially Catholicism.   
DC: Yeah, sure.
EH: The tri-part deity and all of these statues. So, I have this argument with my mother, you know – I say, “You know – what is the deal with these idols?” and she says, “Oh, they don’t exist – they don’t mean anything.” So I say, “Why are they there then? If they don’t mean anything, what are you bowing down to them for?” “Oh – they are just symbolic of, you know, states of consciousness and, you know, a way of focusing your mind” and yada yada yada… and I’m saying, “Mom, you are bowing down to an idol!”
[laughing and laughter]
EH: “Oh it’s not really there – it doesn’t mean anything” blah blah blah … and from a Jew’s perspective, it’s just nonsense.
DC: Yeah.
EH: It’s like, “Hello? Table! table! [striking the table] You tell me this table’s not there. I want you to put your fist through it if it’s not there! It’s bullshit, I’m sorry – that is bullshit. So my only point is that Buddhism, as a religion, posits that there is no God. There is no deity as it’s understood in the Jewish sense.
DC: Uh hmm
EH: Everything in Judaism – strictly from a religious – if I’m speaking as an Orthodox person here – is based on the belief that God does exist. So if you have a religion that says God does not exist, it is totally incompatible with a religion that says God does exist.
DC: Well, it depends what you mean by God – like if you go way back, there was a time at which you could not say Yahweh.
EH: I’m sure you still shouldn’t.
DC: Right.
EH: I mean –
DC: And, it seems to me, why could you not say it? Because it’s beyond any concept.
EH: No – it’s blasphemy, that’s why. Nobody really knows how to say that name – except the high priest and he gets to say it once a year and nobody else knows it and nobody else is supposed to say it. That’s not my point. My point is – is that regardless of how you conceive of the deity, whether you believe that the deity is unknowable or not, from a theological perspective, Judaism is based on the idea that God exists.
DC: Uh mmm
EH: God created the Universe. God created the world; God created Jews from Egypt; God sent the 10 plagues; God gave the law at Mt. Sinai – these are all things that Orthodox people believe actually happened. So, from that perspective – since Orthodox Judaism believes that all Jews should be properly observant, one of the things that you cannot do is indulge in the practice of any other religion other than Judaism.
DC: How old does Orthodox Judaism think the world is?
EH: Umm – about 6,000 years. However, there is a great debate among the sages as to exactly what constitutes a year. But – look at it this way – there are probably people that you can call Jewish Fundamentalists that believe that actually those are actually 6000 actual years. But, the sun wasn’t created until the 3rd day, so how do you measure a year? How would you measure a day? You can’t measure it. So there is a lot of what some people would consider to be innovated interpretations that would be able to show that there really isn’t any contradiction between the Biblical account and modern science – but that’s not my point – my point is that - you know all these Jews who practice Buddhism. My personal belief and experiences that a lot of people – like my mother – who is really, utterly ignorant, of Judaism, she comes from an extremely assimilated reformed background – and, consequently, you can’t say that she turned her back on her Jewish-ness because she didn’t know much of anything about it to begin with, to turn her back on, right?
DC: Was there any Judaism in your upbringing?
EH: Ah – yeah – you know, we went to some Seders sometimes, you know, with family and friends. We lit the Hanukah menorah when I was a kid – that kind of thing. I didn’t know anything about though. I mean, I knew I was Jewish, but it’s like I knew I had blue eyes – it was just a fact – but it didn’t have any particular meaning. But it didn’t mean anything.
DC: So how did you get involved with it?
EH: Well, that’s a long story and it’s really not relevant to this.
DC: Okay.
EH: So, this is about my parents – not me.
DC: Yeah. Was it you who went to Japan?
EH: Yeah. I lived there for 11 years.
DC: Ah – I didn’t realize you were there for 11 years.
EH: Yeah. How long were you there?
DC: Four years.
EH: What’s the matter with you? [laughter and laughing] How could you stand it? Are you crazy?
DC: Were you in Tokyo?
EH: I was in Tokyo for 7 years and in Kanazawa for 3 ½ years.
DC: Well, that’s where D.T. Suzuki was from.
EH: I don’t know but, yes, Daisetsu Suzuki is from Kanazawa.
DC: I think it might be where Kobun was from.
EH: Do you know him?
DC: Yeah –
EH: I don’t know – I don’t think I’ve ever met the man.
DC: Oh – well, he died – he drowned.
EH: What?
DC: Yeah – a couple of years ago. Maybe 3 years ago – yeah, it was very sad. With his daughter at a Zen retreat in the Alps near Luzern. Very tragic.
EH: But that’s another story. My 11 years in Japan is another story.
DC: Well, briefly – how did you get there?
EH: I wanted to do Kendo – I had been doing Kendo since I was 17; I wanted to get good at it, so I went to Japan and I practiced with riot squad police for about a year and a half - like the SWAT teams.
DC: No kidding.
EH: For like a year and a half, I trained about 3 hours of kendo in the morning and about 3 or 4 hours of kyudo, Japanese archery, in the afternoon.
DC: Kobun was into Kyudo.
EJ: I did that for about a year and a half and I came back here and got married, had a couple of kids – didn’t think anything was interesting –went back to Japan with my wife and kids – uhm – you know, continued practicing kyudo and then I went to Tokyo; went to college and learned how to really speak, read and write Japanese – started working as a translator; got a job at an American company and came back in 1985 and I’ve been here ever since.
DC: Oh – did you become Orthodox after you came back?
EH: It was kind of gradual process, you know? It sort of started when I was there.
DC: I’d be happy to hear anything you had to say, but –
EH: We all end up somewhere. But that’s not relevant to my Zen – my parents and Zen and everything.
DC: You know, to me – anything that’s interesting is –
EH: Well, you know, we can be here for weeks, you know…
DC: Yeah – so, yeah, I mean, what you’ve had to say now is very good. [laughter] Is there anything else you think is relevant?
EH: To my parents as Buddhists?
DC: Or…
EH: Yeah – my father seemed to have, you know, had problems all his life about like deciding who he was and whether his life had any value and – you know – he seemed to have really wrestled with demons and, you know, his major project is his own mind. It always has been. I think that he feels very bad about the burden he placed on the family by sticking up for the Bill of Rights. You know, he actually was a communist. And I think he was very bitterly disappointed when he realized that communism – at least how it is practiced in the places that actually call themselves Communist – is basically just a huge piece of shit.
DC: Oh.
EH: You know, and I think that he is very bitter when he looks back and realizes that he sacrificed his career, his physical wellbeing, his ability to support his family – for a principle – part of which, I’m not talking about the Bill of Rights in here, but I’m talking about why he got into that position to begin with, because he was a communist. I mean he actually was a communist. And I think that he really believed in it – that this would help America become a better country, etc. and then he realized that communism wasn’t what he thought it was and it wasn’t going to be what he thought it was going to do – and then he realized he essentially sacrificed his life for it – but I think it really was a great and bitter blow and it pains me to see it, but at the same time – I don’t know anybody – other than my father – who sacrificed that much for a principle. I don’t know anybody – I don’t think I could do it. I don’t think my wife would let me do it, you know. I don’t think I’d have the courage to stand up and tell the government to fuck off like he did – you know, Good Lord!
DC: He lost his job as a radio announcer because of Joe McCarthy and HUAC. What do you think of the present government?
EH: Ahh Jesus.. (laughter) Uhmmm… You know, it’s all a piece of shit – the Democratic Party is now stuffed to the gills with anti-Semites so I can’t really feel comfortable voting for them and I hate everything Bush stands for, so..
DC: When you say “anti-Semites” do you mean anti-Zionists?
EH: No, I mean anti-Semites.
DC: Like who?
EH: The MoveOn.org people – you know, those people? First of all, I believe that people who use – most people use anti-Zionism as a cover for anti-Semitism – you just have to scratch the service – uhm, and it also saying “We’d love you Jews if you just didn’t believe that you had to have your own country where you could defend yourself, like other people. If you could just be satisfied living as a protected minority in other people’s countries, like you always have been, then we’d be perfectly willing to be happy and be friends with you – but since you stick up for your rights and you want to defend yourselves when people try to kill you, we really don’t like you.”
DC: Yeah, well.
EH: That’s another long story – but uhm – you know…
DC: Yeah.
EH: Most people who say that anti-Zionists are not anti-Semites are liars. Like I say, some of my best friends are blacks, but man – those Black Panthers – I hate those people.
DC: Ah ha
EH: You know, are you joking with me? You know, Jews get to define who we are and what our rights are. Zionism, basically, is a big thumb in the eye for all the people who go around, you know, standing around when the Jews get killed and then saying how sorry they were afterwards that they didn’t do anything. That was Rwanda. You know, and Bill Clinton and that suck-ass apology he made. It’s all bullshit. Anyway, talk is cheap – he could have done something – he let it all happen and then he apologizes afterwards because he didn’t have the balls to do anything.  The same thing with Bosnia – fuck the U.S. for standing around apologizing for the fact that they let all those people get killed in Srebrenica. They have no right to say a word, you know. So when some Englishman or Frenchman or German has the balls to get up and say and tell the Israeli government that they don’t have the right to shoot a terrorist unless he trying to set off a bomb that blows up and kills somebody, you can just kiss my ass.
DC: It seems to me with what little I know that the Japanese did more to help Jews .. than Americans did.
EH: Sure they did – sure they did.
DC: Well, maybe I’d better go back into the dish shack
EH: But, anyway, having Zen parents is weird and interesting. You know, the funniest thing is when people come up to me and say, “Are you a Hartman? Are you related to Blanche?” – “Yeah, she’s my mother.” “You’re Blanche Hartman’s son?!” “That’s so wonderful – she’s my dharma teacher!” “My mom?!” “What are you talking about? It is hilarious, you know – I mean because she’s my mom, right?
DC: Yeah.
EH: You know, like I teach traditional Japanese archery – so I’m called sensei by a lot of people.
DC: Ah – oh you’re teaching it now?
EH: Yeah, I’m a registered, licensed instructor.
DC: Wow.
EH: I have an instructor’s license. It’s like not just like I have a rank and I’m teaching a few people – my name and CV and my picture are in the big book back at the headquarters in Tokyo – and I’m a registered instructor. But as far as my wife is concerned, I’m just her husband. [laughing] Do you know what I mean? You know, I’m not old sensei.
DC: How old are your kids?
EH: My older boys are 30 and my younger one is 19. Married 30 years.
DC: Pretty good.
EH: She’s a dedicated, stand-up lady.
EH: It’s probably interesting in a weird way, seeing my mother be such a big shot in this organization – you know, it’s kind of funny. But anyway, as far as all these Jews being bald, I think – there are two things: 1) It’s a religion that emphasizes compassion and you know one of the big things in Judaism is you should be compassionate towards people, so – okay, got it. My personal view is that the Jews that have become involved in this are somehow either ignorant of their Judaism – in other words they were brought up like my mother, having little or no knowledge of what being Jewish actually means, other than the fact that you can’t get into certain universities and clubs, which isn’t the case with my mother – she knew that there were some colleges she was not going to be able to get into because she was a Jew. I’ve never experienced anything like that.
DC: Sure. I remember when I was a kid, mother told me that a mother of a Jewish girl I knew had called and wanted her to help her get in a country club at Ft. Worth – and so, you know, mother said, “What do you mean?” [laughter and laughing] She didn’t realize there weren’t Jews in the club I guess. I knew because I knew the kids. But she did help and they got in. So, where I grew up, you didn’t hear…
EH: It was all very gentile.
DC: Yeah – you didn’t hear anything. When I started meeting Jews from the East Coast, that’s when I first really heard about anti-Semitism.
EH: Yeah. I mean, I’ve never experienced anti-Semitism in any real visceral way. People have made comments, you know, but I can live with that. But the point I’m trying to make is that there are Jews like my mother, who are ignorant of their religion, and then want some kind of religious practice – or they are Jews who are alienated from their religion and want some kind of religious practice. But my personal view is that deep in the guts of every Jew is a visceral suspicion and dislike of Christianity. So, becoming a Buddhist gives you the opportunity – and at the same time, a lot of Jews who have been brought up in a certain way, are actually quite ashamed of the fact that they are Jewish – deep down. They are embarrassed about it or they consider, you know, Jewish things to be kind of second rate or someone de classe. Sure, sure – I know for a fact my mother is very embarrassed about her Jewishness – at some very visceral level – I’ve felt it, I’ve felt it and I know a lot of people like that.
DC: I’ve always, personally, associated being Jewish with superiority. With everything I’ve been involved with in my life, Jews have had a significant presence –  civil rights work, SDS, ACLU, humanism, the peace movement, being a Hippie, Buddhism, the Nuclear Freeze.
EH: I’m talking about Jewishness, specifically. You know, Jewishness in this country, especially secular Jewishness is basically considered, you know, to be a sub set of socialism – in The Brotherhood of Man and things like that. So, you know.
EH: One of the ways Jews – when they have tried to assimilate into gentile society, one of the ways they cope is by trying to rid gentile society of the prejudices against minority groups, of which they are members. So we feel the pain of black people or Mexicans or whatever far more than regular white people do, because deep down Jews don’t believe they are white people. White people look at Jews and think they are a kind of white person, but that’s only because most Jews in this country are from Europe. But most of the Jews in Israel are Eastern Jews – they look like Arabs.
DC: Yeah – absolutely.
EH: So, but in this country, most Jews are Ashkenazi from Europe from Europe. But most of the Jews in Israel are Sephardim or Mizrahim – they look like Arabs. So Jews here are treated and can act as, and can pass as, a certain kind of white person – but deep down they don’t feel that they are white. They don’t really – in their guts – they don’t identify with white people – they don’t identify with Gentiles, they want to be accepted, but they don’t want to become Gentiles. So there is a very definite love – hate thing going on that most people don’t think about because it’s not correct to talk about it. So, being a Buddhist gives them an opportunity to do two things: they can stay away from Jewish things – which is kind of embarrassment because it makes them stand-out as Jews, which makes them vulnerable and noticeable and a lot of people want to be chameleons and blend in, but it gives them a religious practice – but at the same time, it doesn’t force them to become Christians, because deep down in their guts this is the last thing any Jew really wants to do is actually go over to the other side completely and become a member of the people who oppressed them for 2000 years. So, my personal view is that that is why so many Jews are Buddhist.
DC: Do you think Christians have oppressed Jews a lot more than Muslims have.
EH: That is debatable. I mean there were times in Muslim society when things were pretty good – but the habit of making – making Jews wear badges of distinctive clothing was originally instituted by Muslims – not by Christians.
DC: In what year?
EH: It was very early – somewhere in the 9 or 10 hundreds in Spain. The Muslims blew hot and cold. There were sometimes – depending on how fanatical they were about being Muslim – they could either be very, very accepting or very, very oppressive and up until the First Crusade, the situation with the Jews in Europe –especially under Charlemagne, was not very bad at all. The First Crusade is basically what sent everything downhill. Between the fall of the Roman Empire and The First Crusade, things were nowhere – there weren’t any ghettos, for one thing. Jews could own land; there were Jewish members of Charlemagne’s court – probably because he was illiterate and they weren’t. So, you know, this is all a matter of which historical period you want to look at. One thing that is true is that the Muslims didn’t perpetrate the Holocaust, but I think that is partially because they were so dang disorganized, you know. Islam is based on being against infidels. It is an expansionist, violent, fanatical, oppressive religion when it comes to people who aren’t Muslims. But every religion has that in their past – Christianity had it – they’ve been shamed into getting rid of most of it because of what they’ve done. There have been, you know – they have grown out of that “let’s conquer the world and force everybody to be Christian” stage. The Jews got it beaten out of them long ago – thousands of years ago.
DC: Yeah, well there are right wingers in America now that – like Ann Coulter – who wrote it in a book saying that we should conquer the Muslim countries and convert them to Christianity.
EH: Well, if that’s the way to get them to stop blowing us up – I think that’s maybe not such a bad idea. Of course, it is completely impossible. My only point is that I don’t believe that we are to blame for Muslim hatred of the West. The Muslims have always hated the West. They have always hated the Christians – they have always hated the non-Muslims – always – always. Their religion is an expansionist religion – just like Christianity was originally. They have had their own versions of crusades – I mean how do you think Spain became Muslim – they conquered the Christian countries there. How do you think Turkey became Turkey – the Turks are from Central Asia, they are not from Turkey – Turkey was originally Byzantine – completely Christian, completely Greek speaking – it was conquered by the Turks in the late 10 hundreds – that was the proximate cause of the First Crusade – it was not that the Europeans woke up some morning and said, “Hey – I know – with all these innocent, peace loving, cosmopolitan, enlightened brown skinned people over there – let’s just go kill them and steal their stuff!” That is not what happened at all. The Muslims are the ones that started the jihad against Christendom and Christendom responded by launching the First Crusade. It’s a very, very clear, obvious, historical development – because all of the expansion – all of the Muslim expansion is Byzantium and in Spain, was at the expense of the Christians. They conquered Christian countries and subjugated the Christian populations. So – it depends on how far you want to go back in history to see what it means about who attached whom first. You know, it just depends on where you sit. Everyone wants to draw starting lines that history starts here [indicating]. It doesn’t work that way.
DC: Yeah.
EH: The entire Islamic empire was built on armed conquest of non-Muslim people, precisely the way that Roman expanded – Rome imposed Christianity on its empire through military force. So – I’m not saying that Muslims are worse than the Christians – they’re not – but they are not – this whole revisionist thing where all of a sudden the white people in Europe decided that they wanted to shit all over the brown people in Muslim land, or whatever, is simply – I hate revisionist history. I think people simply should be honest about it. You know, Christianity saw itself as a world religion – everyone should be a Christian. Islam saw itself as a world religion – everybody should be Muslim. There is no way that two religions like that can avoid coming into conflict with one another. It’s impossible.
DC: Right – and Judaism has never been that way.
EH: No – Judaism has never believed that it had a mission to impose Judaism on the world – never. They believe that they had a mission to establish Jewish rule over a very specific geographical patch of ground – the borders of which are clearly defined in the Bible – but they never said, “We have to go to Arabia and make sure all those Arabs become Jews” – it’s not like that – the Christians and the Muslims took that idea of Judaism and simply made it a Universal – gave it a universalness – application – that the Jews never believed it had. Now, within the borders of Biblical Israel, it was definitely true that all other religions were supposed to be suppressed and eradicated – but at that time, there was no Christianity and there was no Islam – it was all Pagan idol worship. That is the kind of religion that the Bible pontificates against, because there was no Christianity here – there was no Islam at the time. From a religious point of view, Islam is a very pure monotheism. We don’t mind that Arabs are Muslims – we don’t believe that they are going to go to Hell because they are Muslim or that Christians are going to go to Hell because they are Christian – we just don’t want them to force it on us.
DC: Yeah – right – sure.
EH: So it is a little bit different.
DC: Yeah.
EH: But anyway – so all I’m saying is that I have a little bit of an idiosyncratic understanding of history and although I – although I am a registered Democrat, I don’t like the direction the party has taken, unfortunately. I don’t think there is any party for me to belong to now – not that I can be a member of in good conscious.
DC: Yeah – a lot of progressives who have forgotten that the Democrats aren’t that great, because there is so much energy focused against Bush.
EH: Yeah. Well, the problem I have with a lot of people who call themselves “progressives” are the ones who are in the one of anti-Israel agitation – where a lot of them are joining hands with violent jihadists Islamist groups, simply because they think that the reason the Islamists are attacking the West is because of something that we have done to them, which I think is utter bullshit. I don’t believe that – not for a second. Unless you consider the destruction of the Ottoman Empire in World War I – something of which we should be ashamed.
DC: Yeah – okay.
EH: So, that’s a little off the subject. I start to run at the mouth if I’m not careful.
DC: No, no that was great.

***

Richard Levine sent this in response to a query I sent him about a Hebrew or Yiddish word Earl used.

Back when this program aired (2011) Liz Horowitz contacted me suggesting I'd find it interesting because of the Catholic/Jewish business (my wife, Fran, was Catholic but converted to Judaism--with no urging at all from me). Liz didn't realize, till I told her later, that Earl Hartman makes a telephone call appearance at the end.
Go to minute "46" exactly, where Michael Krasny says "Let me bring another caller in, Earl, that's you..."
Cokie and Steve Roberts: ‘Our Haggadah’

 

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