If we keep seeking to assimilate rather than to be a role model of unity, the world will once again show us our role.
Throughout history, there have been Jews who hated their own heritage. Throughout history, a notable proliferation of them portended calamity for the Jews. Will the current glut of self-hating Jews among US Jewry be an exception?
In recent years, we have seen an upsurge in the number of American Jews who, to put it candidly, would prefer that the State of Israel did not exist. Notable examples of such Jews are George Soros, who spends hundreds of millions of his own money each year to support anti-Israel organizations, and Bernie Sanders, who in 1985 invited fellow (Jewish) Israel basher, Noam Chomsky, to give a town hall speech, and did not protest when Chomsky nonchalantly stated that Israel “doesn’t want a political settlement” in the Middle-East, served as a “surrogate” murderer for the US, and carried out mass killings “in Africa, Asia, and primarily Latin America.” More recently, Sanders claimed that Israel killed “over 10,000 innocent people” in the latest Gaza conflict. Even the Hamas’ highest casualty assessments are a quarter of that number.
However, while the two just mentioned are among the most dogged Jewish anti-Israel activists, they are no longer the exception. In fact, they have become the norm. True, not all American Jews actively support the BDS movement the way organizations such as Jews for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace do, nor engage in signing petitions calling for a boycott of Israel or help to organize BDS summer camps. Yet, shunning Israel has already become the norm, primarily among liberal and progressive Jews. A research released by the Jewish People Policy Institute, titled “Delegitimization: Attitudes toward Israel and the Jewish People,” concluded that Jewish Democrats are showing “eroding and declining support” for Israel.
We Have Been There Before
Jewish self-loathing is not a new phenomenon. Tiberius Julius Alexander, commander of the Roman armies that conquered Jerusalem and exiled its people, was an Alexandrian Jew who denounced his religion. His own father had donated the gold and silver for the Temple gates, which Alexander shattered. In fact, by the time Tiberius Alexander stormed Jerusalem, he had already become notorious, having obliterated his own native community of Alexandria, causing “the whole district [to be] deluged with blood as 50,000 corpses were heaped up,” according to Jewish–Roman historian Titus Flavius Josephus.
After centuries of oppression, the exiled Jews thought they had finally found a home in 15th century Spain. Historian Norman Roth writes that the Jews “nurtured a unique bond with their Spaniard hosts.” In Jews, Visigoths, and Muslims in Medieval Spain, Roth writes, “So unusual was the nature of that relationship [between Jews and Christians] that a special term is used in Spanish for it … convivencia [friendly coexistence].” Expert on Sephardic history, Jane S. Gerber, add that in fact, Jews considered Spain “a second Jerusalem.”
Yet, the more the Spanish Jews assimilated, the more the hatred toward them grew. According to Roth, “The role of conversos [Jews who converted to Christianity] in society led to fierce hostility against them, finally resulting in actual warfare” that evolved into the Inquisition, causing the ultimate expulsion of the Jews from Spain. Moreover, the chief inquisitor Tomás de Torquemada was himself of Jewish descent, as his grandmother was a conversa.
We could have learned from the experience of our Sephardic ancestors, but we did not. During the 19th and 20th century, the German Jews went through a very similar process to the one in Spain. The book, Assimilation and Community: The Jews in Nineteenth-Century Europe, describes how in 1799, a few years after the start of the Jewish emancipation, David Friedlander, one of the Jewish community’s most prominent leaders, suggested that Berlin Jews would convert to Christianity en-masse. By the middle of the 19th century, Reform Judaism, the ideological progenitor of today’s American Reform movement, went so far in seeking integration in the German Christian society that it suggested the annihilation of circumcision and making Sunday the holy day for the Jews.
We all know how the Jewish assimilation of the German Jews and the denial of their heritage ended. Today’s American Jewry is on the same trail that their coreligionists trod in Jerusalem, Spain, and Germany. So far, I have not seen one reason why it should not end the same.
Why So Many Jews Hate Judaism
From the very beginning, we Jews were different. Our ancestors were an assemblage of individuals from different tribes and cultures who subscribed to the idea of unity above hatred, or as King Solomon put it: “Hatred stirs strife, and love covers all crimes” (Prov 10:12). In other words, our ancestors did not share a common language, birthplace, or culture, but rather an ideology that unity above the ego is the way to build society.
Yet, the ego ever seeks to claim its throne. The Jews cultivated their ideology of unity despite their bursting egos and strove to achieve the ultimate goal of loving others as themselves. Whenever they prevailed, the Jewish people thrived. But when the ego triumphed, the Jews stopped being Jews and became what they were before: individuals from different tribes and cultures. At such times, they hated their forced union and denounced their heritage. In other words, when Jews cannot unite, they become anti-Semitic.
Not for Ourselves
The problem is that our self-hatred is precisely what causes the resurgence of anti-Semitism. If we learn nothing else, this is the lesson we must take from history: The nations become anti-Semitic precisely when, and because we try to assimilate. In 1929, Dr. Kurt Fleischer, leader of the Liberals in the Berlin Jewish Community Assembly, argued that “Anti-Semitism is the scourge that God has sent us in order to lead us together and weld us together.” Similar to Fleischer, Prof. Donald L. Niewyk wrote about the rise of Nazism: “Not a few Jews saw anti-Semitism as a boon that alone could keep the Jews from gradual amalgamation with the larger society and ultimate disappearance.” Some boon that was.
However, unity is not merely a trait we must preserve; it is exactly what we must cultivate among us and bequeath unto the nations. It is no coincidence that the nations adopted as their own the most fundamental tenet in Jewish law: “That which you hate, do not do unto others.” But the nations will not know how to exercise it until we show the way. The more we stall, the more the world will fall into rabid hatred, and will punish us for it.
When Abraham Our Father united the mavericks who fled into his tent from the hatred they sensed among their countryfolk, he generously shared his wisdom with them. Abraham intended for the whole world to be united. In his time, such a people as the Jews did not even exist.
Similar to Abraham, when Moses united the Hebrews at the foot of Mt. Sinai, he “wished to complete the correction of the world” (Ramchal, The Commentary of Ramchal on the Torah). Our mission, therefore, in being “a light unto nations,” is far more demanding than to be “liberal,” allowing everyone to think as they wish. Our mission is to unite the hearts of all of humanity until we are all “as one man with one heart.” Is it any wonder that the world needs to see an example before it can accomplish this?
The most notorious anti-Semite in American history, Henry Ford, recognized the role of the Jews in his book, The International Jew—The World’s Foremost Problem: “Modern reformers, who are constructing model social systems, would do well to look into the social system under which the early Jews were organized.”
I have no doubt that a Trump administration will be far more sympathetic toward Jews and Israel than the current one. However, if we miss out on the opportunity and keep seeking to assimilate rather than to rise above our egos, connect, and be a role model of unity, then the nations will remind us once again of our true role on this planet.
With Regard to Israel
In addition to the above, I think that American Jewry must not only comprehend and exercise its duty to unite, but also pressure the Jews in Israel to do the same. Because American Jewry is so influential here in Israel, it can be very instrumental in achieving this. In my view, it should begin first and foremost with the secular Israeli Jews, since they are more open minded and receptive to notions coming from across the Atlantic. The minute we begin to connect, we, our children, and the entire world will also begin to positively connect around us. In this, we will truly be “a light unto nations.”