A Case of Mistaken Identity II
by Rabbi Leor Sinai
Not quite. It turns out that many Jews regardless of their citizenship identify with the People of Israel/Jewish Peoplehood. For some the relationship is prompted by threats against Jews and the state of Israel generating a tremendous amount of talk-back and interest. The recent attack on Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria, the rise of anti-Semitism and terror attacks on Jews in France, the IOC’s denial of a minute of silence in memory of the murdered Israeli athletes in Munich 1972 – all of these events and others like them raise the ire of Jews worldwide from individuals to communities, from federations to governments. The same goes for all of our great accomplishments: from technological and agricultural innovations, to infrastructural advancements, political accountability, Nobel Prize Awards, and cultural and artistic acclaim. Look at the social network sphere: on on-line Jewish publications and blogs, the “good word” is spreading beyond geographic, social, and denominational lines – everyone knows, or at least they will know.
The modern State of Israel’s great failures and even greater successes moves our people worldwide to react in pride or shame, joy and sorrow. It’s our reactions that I find interesting, specifically in reaction to internal crisis as we actively seek to protect and to preserve.
What exactly are we protecting? What are we preserving? It is our existence. For most of the organized community the need to preserve our existence tops the list, funded by hundreds of millions of dollars going to innovative programs, creative outreach, annual conferences, and trips to Israel and so on. Sure conferences are fun, meaningful and important (I’ve been to many and will continue to partake in them), innovative programs raise interest and outreach is vital (an area I am all too familiar with), and a trip to Israel can inspire the masses but these are all temporary Band-Aids, remedies that miss the opportunity to heal Israel at its core. Being a member of the People of Israel/Jewish Peoplehood (whatever tag you prefer) has got to be more than bringing the unaffiliated to Israel, or for a social gathering, or thinkers and innovators for a brainstorming session; there must be a deep understanding of why we are who we are and how this all started. All of the above is part of our collective continuum bridging the past and present towards a shared future, nothing can exist on its own.
Far too many of our people have been abandoned with no one explaining who they are and what they are a part of. Our identity does not begin and end with Jewish Peoplehood, ancestors to the tribe of Judah. The essence of our identity is in Israel; not only the modern Nation-State, but Israel as a concept of a People which imparts a philosophy of how to live a positive life in and mark on the world. Tell them that we are the descendants of Jacob later to be called Isra-el and they will get it. It starts with the book of Genesis when Jacob is caught struggling with a mysterious figure: “And he said unto him: ‘What is thy name?’ And he said: ‘Jacob.’ And he said: ‘Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Isra-el; for thou hast striven with God and with men, and hast prevailed.” (Genesis 32:28-29).
I believe that this piece of information can help clear up misunderstandings and answer questions throughout one’s exploration of identity and peoplehood, two areas of great concern for us as a people. Our deep desire to persevere and live by our values is because of our ancestors’ experience and ours since then. To move forward effectively we must link the present to our past.
We believe that what makes life meaningful is the struggle, a coping with or hitmodedut, as we stand before the great force making the world go round. We do not surrender to the nature of things – of what may seem normal to others – instead we partner with this great force and swim against the tide in hopes that doing so will heal our world. We’ve been doing it throughout history, fighting for the rights of others as fervently as we fight for our own. To be a Jew is to be a descendant of Israel, of those who stand to overcome the challenge – with God and with humanity. If we want to capture the true strength, inspiration and awe of the People of Israel/Jewish Peoplehood, we have to understand that our identity runs much deeper than a Nation State, starting before exile and the advent of organized religion. We are a people all made from the same cloth, from the same desire to struggle towards a more meaningful life. That is why the terrible events in Bulgaria last week, in France over the past year, the IOC’s decision to deny a minute-long memorial service for slain Israeli athletes, and other negative happenings in our world rile us up across geographical, social and denominational lines. It is because these events rock the very core of our fiber – our centuries-old struggle to bring justice to our world, to heal our world.
But if we are to continue this global mission of healing we must heal ourselves too. There can be no mistaken identity, not for us – not for the next generation. We are of those who “… have struggled with God and with humanity and have prevailed” and now we must struggle, cope with, one another. To reach our full potential we must heal Israel; healing ourselves must top our list of priorities – if not now than when? Tikun Israel.
Rabbi Leor Sinai, born and raised in the Big Apple now lives in Israel. Tikun Israel is his primary focus.