A Jew is a constituent of the longest-running, most confounding, hardest to categorize, most widely-scattered, historically hunted and murdered, nomadic, demographically-challenged, resilient, despised, and admired faith community without a firmly-set liturgy in history.
A Jew is a person who identifies with his or her ‘peoplehood’ more through ethnicity than liturgical agreement.
A Jew is a nationality without a nation who therefore is sincerely and deeply hyper-patriotic to the nation in which he/she resides; a Jew is a religious organism who would not necessarily recognize what another Jew is doing theologically in another nation because Judaism is actually a cultural gestalt more than anything else.
A Jew is more or less a descendant of the Hebrews who were enslaved in Egypt—“the Dusty Ones,” as so poignantly phrased by Thomas Cahill in his book, The Gifts of the Jews. Our story is of wandering, of a complicated and eternal relationship with that little arid strip of “promised land” known successively as Canaan, Judea, and Israel.
Hardly any Jew, whether living in Seattle, Montreal, Lyon, Bogota, or Athens, even one with no connection to a synagogue, lacks an emotional kinship to “Zion”—the rhapsodic name for Jerusalem, the capital of Judea set high up on the Judean mountain by King David more than 3,000 years ago, centuries before Jesus, Mohammed, and others who came along to interpret what the Jews had written, prayed, and danced.
A Jew is a person who identifies with his or her ‘peoplehood’ more through ethnicity than liturgical agreement. Often, a Jew, especially a Jew living in North America, doesn’t even realize this. This is why it is so hard for him or her to explain the community to a well-meaning non-Jewish friend or lover: the result is some nervous laughter about “a good bagel” or “my grandmother” and then some sprinkled-with-guilt but genuinely felt discourse to the following effect: “Look, I hated Hebrew School, and don’t remember anything they drilled me with. But I just feel this connection and I definitely want my kids to be Jewish, whatever that means.”
A Jew is a person whose world population figures were reduced by 34% in the course of six unspeakable, genocidal European years, 1939-1945, as a result of the basically unchecked German “Final Solution of the Jewish Question.” The loss to future living generations is incalculable. The impact upon the global Jewish body-psyche, in spite of all the museums, the rituals, the survivor testimonials, the mind-bending success (and the attendant effect on its own behavior and policies) of the State of Israel is something that is far from clear.
In the end, a Jew is not, ultimately, someone whose thesis is about rejecting Jesus, or defying convention, or making money, or any of the other tawdry generalizations that have, for centuries, slurred Jewish obsession with education, social justice, and the spirit, if not the letter of the Hebrew Scripture (for the vast majority of Jews who are not Orthodox, fundamentalist, or radicals).
A Jew is the Ethiopian-born soldier serving at the Lebanese border for the Israel Defense Forces. She is the blue-eyed, raven haired, edgy author-commentator on the American social scene. He is the one of the last rabbis teaching Psalms among the few thousand extant Jews in Poland. He is the legendary Hollywood director chronicling the Holocaust and then bursting forth with some renegade Jurassic dinosaur eggs.
She is the tired old teacher in the Bronx who remembers when kids used to have to add and subtract in their heads. He is the silver-haired pensioner from Buenos Aires I once met who couldn’t go to university in Argentina because of his creed but will never, ever forget the greatest honor of his life—being one of the glass-casket bearers for his beloved Eva Peron.
A Jew is a survivor. A Jew is someone who celebrates the Creation beginning in hours with Rosh Hashanah.
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