As a writer, I find it is hard not to sound like a college professor. I can write like an academic, but I’ve always preached not to follow them. So I’ll write like me. Jewish kids these days have to deal with the fact that the “world at large” doesn’t support Israel. As Jews, they are seen as the ambassadors of Israel, and oftentimes feel that they need to be drawn in to the fray to defend the Jewish homeland. Many of them, close friends and students of mine, write pieces on social media about how they never questioned their identity or felt threatened until they came to college and experienced anti-Semitism but they are proud to be Jewish.
As a rabbi, a father, and a Jew, it makes me sad. Pride shouldn’t come just because people don’t like us. Pride and dedication to a cause that is hated or misunderstood is hardly pride. If I am something, shouldn’t I be it, embody it, love it, and learn about it before I’m hated for it? The problem is, as Ethics of the Fathers tells us, love that is dependent on something falls apart when the “something” is gone. So if a student is proud to be Jewish once they see the campus environment hates Israel, will they still be passionate once the world has quieted down? Or more realistically, once they’ve left college and no longer hear about the critiques? Where will the pride be then when they run from grad school to the office to the yoga studio?
Or even worse, let’s say the hatred never goes away. On one hand, they stay active, identifying, and “proud.” On the other hand, they have no choice because they are labeled as the ambassadors of this “immoral” country the Jews call home.
Does the average Jewish college student really consider Israel home? As I related before, I am often told by students “I’m culturally Jewish.” The implication is that the person saying that is not religious. But then, with further inspection, we find he isn’t really culturally Jewish either. Does he dress Jewish? Date Jewish? Act, eat, drink, or sleep Jewish? Does he even know that Jews have a specific way to do all of the above that we’ve been doing for thousands of years?
Hence why I’ve been hurt to the point that its almost too hard to deal with, so I write it off with my hard earned “emotional scar tissue.” Judaism has, for over 3,000 years, been a family. We’re connected by the bonds of family, to G-d and to each other. Jewish is our last name, if you will. Family isn’t a religion, a people, a culture, or a philosophy. Sure that’s part of it, but it doesn’t define it. As the great R’ Klatzko told me back when I was a college student myself, “Judaism is a relationship.” It just is.
And so unfortunately, at these late hours in human civilization, Jews are being brought back to a recognition of Judaism because the world says “you aren’t like us.” The unsuspecting Jewish college student says “I’m proud to support what you think is immoral.” But the biggest tragedy isn’t that people don’t like us, it’s that we never ask why people like us? And what are the implications of ‘coming on board’ when all I am doing is defending?
As mentioned before, the Jewish people could never leave alone, or be left alone. In the cosmic scene of humanity, the Jews have, like it or not, stood for the infinite morality that time, history, and culture can’t change. Stealing is stealing, murder is murder, kindness is kindness. We have unshakable definitions of all of the above. What’s so sad is that this last Divine attempt, if you were, to bring us back as a people to a recognition of our essential relationship with our people, is diverted into social media sound bites. What does it mean to call Israel home? Why is Israel our home? What are we doing to make it our home? Do we really want it to be our home? Or do we just want to the noise to stop, the hatred to end, the lime light to turn off so that we can go back to our lives, our degrees, our yoga, and not live with the moral weight of being an immortal people? That we have to stand up and make the world better with the actions that our Creator said would make the world better? What do we want?
Are we really proud of who we are? And if we are, shouldn’t we learn who we are so we can be more proud? Can we channel our pride not to defending who we are, because we won’t ever convince the world otherwise, but rather BE WHO WE ARE. Let’s care for the stranger, visit the sick, rejoice with the bride and groom. Maybe if we lived it more, people would look at us, and instead of accusing us of genocide and land theft, they’d say what an amazing G-d these Jews have that commands them to do such holy acts.