“Yes, call me a Jew”
This new wave of anti-Semitism, delivered via bomb threats, cemetery vandalisms, swastika desecrations, and specific acts of violence, reawakens an old and bittersweet mantra in every Jewish soul: we are as vulnerable as we are enduring.
I remember: somebody once wrote me a nasty letter after something I circulated about Jews and social justice appeared in another publication. “You just wrote that because you’re a Jew,” spouted my critic. To this branding, I say, thank you! Thank you!
Thank you for attributing to me an extraordinary ethnic compliment. Call me a Jew, and I shall be satisfied and grateful. I am so proud of a lineage and a people who have survived and even transcended the greatest and most unrelenting challenges ever known to any cultural group in the history of human life.
We parented Christianity and Islam; the church and the mosque are the edifice-cousins of the synagogue. They are houses of God!
We survived Hitler, and we will survive ISIS and that crazy fellow in Iran who says we need to be eliminated from the earth. We lit the lights of Hanukkah and outshone Greek Hellenism. We wrote the texts of Rabbinic Judaism and outwitted the Roman Empire. I still find old Roman pottery as I stroll along the beaches of a free Israel; we have a defiant history and an unfettered future.
We made Judaism portable and sprung from the clutches of the Inquisition of Spain, the pogroms of Russia and Poland, the massacres of England, the genocides of Germany, France, Latvia, and the Pale.
We epitomize the ingathering of exiles. We planted the only democracy in the Middle East with the very ashes of Auschwitz and Treblinka. We sent a magic carpet to our kinfolk in Yemen, a long rescue to our noble family in Ethiopia, a caravan of relief to our brethren in the Arab lands, prayer books and matzohs to our “Refuseniks” in the former Soviet Union.
Out of proportion to our numbers, we marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., because we were the first to leave the bondage of Egypt. Our forthcoming Passover Seder remains the international meal of freedom.
On July 4, 1976, we flew the Star of David to rescue hostages in Entebbe and we now send the stars of our American Jewish youth to every university and into every corporate hall in this country. We send our bright and ambitious former debate team champions to the Congress and, this past year, watched a sanguine Jew from Vermont galvanize the race for the presidency of the United States.
Call me a Jew. I like living in a people who see wrong and try to right it, see trouble and seek to relieve it, see life and choose to live it. And all we wish to do is share these hopes with every human being on this earth–for this we were “chosen.”
We have always defeated brutality with the power of ideas. And in that three-thousand year-old love, we will again outlive the hate.