Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Question of the Week

The question of the week, from Christians, Jews, and those who subscribe to no faith tradition, has been, "Why are you a Jew?"  There are several ways to understand this, and it's been put in several different forms, with nuances that tell me there's more to the question than just those 5 words.

Why are you a Jew (why did you convert?)?  Why are you (still) a Jew (given all the mess in the Middle East)?  Why are you a Jew (how can you be when Israel does such awful things?)?  Why are you a Jew (because it must be so embarrassing when international opinion is against you)? I've discovered some amazing things about friends in the past couple of weeks - I have discovered that some truly want to understand what's really going on between Israel and Palestine before coming down on one side or the other.  I love and respect those people with all my heart.  I have also discovered that some people, who I thought were friends and who I thought were reasonable, are in fact more enchanted by their own rhetoric, even when that means demeaning me on a personal level because I disagree with their position.

So, why am I a Jew?  I mean, what sensible woman, who is not converting for marriage, would choose to be a part of a people around whom so very many rumours abound?  There's the worldwide Jewish conspiracy, for one - we control banking, and Hollywood, and I believe, the diamond business.  Never mind how Jews got into those fields - let's talk about the issue of CONTROLLING them.  If I'm part of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy (WWJC), then where's MY share, darn it?!  I mean, I rent, I don't own.  Don't have a car.  Don't earn bags of money.  Don't go to Florida regularly (I have been ONCE - before I was a Jew!).  Don't go to Israel regularly (see "don't earn bags of money"), though I'd love to go again (I have been ONCE - whoops - before I was a Jew!).  Why choose to be part of a people who are reviled, misunderstood, and treated with a pretty solid amount of distrust?

The answer in its smallest particle is that being Jewish is my heart.  It just is.  

The longer answer, however, might come from someone else.  Take a look at this:

I am a Jew because I believe that the Jew is a necessity to the world.  I am a Jew because I recognize the role of my nation to be that of the servant of God in ministering to mankind's greatest wants.  I am a Jew because I understand and acknowledge that my people has no other logical reason for its existence on the stage of history in the face of tempests, changing scenes, "wars, alarums, and excursions," - in the face of all ethnological law and historic experience, except as that conservative principle without which progress becomes unreal and evanescent and civilization unstable.

Speak to [the Jew], and he will say he has traveled far, he has endured many a storm, has undergone much ill-treatment, has been hurled in the dust ten thousand times.  As him why he has suffered to much, and with a ring of pride in his voice, he will say because he is a Jew - the Jew of history, the centuried pilgrim of the ages, the Jew, as his prophet pictured he would be, "despised and rejected of en, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief," "esteemed stricken, smitten, and afflicted" by peoples whose transgression of all laws of justice wounded him, whose iniquitous persecutions bruised him, who thought that by his sufferings, his stripes, they were healed.  As him why he was a Jew, to suffer to in the past.  His eyes will light up with the deathless fire of Faith as pointing to his scroll, he will say: "This is why I am, why I was, and why I will be, a Jew."

You ask me why I am a Jew?  I reply by asking you but one question.  Is the world to-day contented, happy, truthful, honorable?  It is not.  Therefore, I am a Jew.  And I remain one to try and make it so.

You can likely tell by the language of the text above that it wasn't written yesterday.  In fact, it was written by a man named Pereira Mendes, a Sephardic Jew, an English educator and rabbi.  He didn't even live to be 70 - he was 66 when he died in 1893.  This article was written in 1887 and published in The National Review.  One hundred and twenty-two years ago.  What has changed since then?  Well, the murder of 6 million Jews in the space of just a couple of short years hadn't happened - and probably wasn't even imagined by most people.  So little has changed, it seems.

Mendes also wrote, ..."I exist to achieve Universal Peace, Universal Brotherhood, Universal Happiness... How shall I accomplish this?  By means of this scroll.  It teaches purity of personal life, purity of social life, a simple religious life of being at One, an At-one-ment with God.  We believe in the religion of deed, - 'to learn to do well, seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.'  We do not say we alone hold the keys of Heaven, or that you must believe as we do to be saved.  The righteous of all have a portion in the world to come; all the sheep need not enter the pasture by the same gate."

Why am I a Jew?  I couldn't be anything else!

1 comment:

Jen said...

Many people who convert do not do it for the right reasons. Choosing Judaism should be done because you identify with it's people, it's plight and it's philosophy. I am one of those people, who while I am married to a Jewish man, would have done so without being in my current relationship. I believe in What Judaism practices, which unlike most religions, is not just something they preach. Every culture has it's beliefs, but I feel none suit me as this one does. Respect life, love, the planet, death and everything that is a part of the earth. Do not take what you have for granted, and share with others. Do onto others as you would have them do to you.
It wasn't about what others see you doing, it was deeper then that my relationship between me and G-D, and everything he gave me.
I couldn't pictuire a place that I belong more then this.