Years ago, when I first became an American citizen, I had to take the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. I remember how disturbed I was then when the thought of “What if the U.S. and Yisrael ever enter a political conflict,” occurred to me. I decided to push that thought away as far as possible into the creases of my sub consciousness.
Fortunately, it laid dormant for a long time until several years ago.
Comically enough, though, it was not so much the actions of America or the U.S. government and its policies vis-a-vis Israel, Medinat Yisrael that served as the catalyst or the wake-up element for its disturbing resurgence. Rather, it is the American Jewish community that has brought that troubling thought of conflict of loyalty back into life.
As many here know, I care about my fellow Jews, first and foremost, wherever they are but I can only speak about those who live in the US. I have been following the American Jewish community for many years, first as one of its members and later as an outsider who had strong connections to it through family and friends. I was unhappy with the way those ties unfolded themselves to me.
I initially saw some cracks in Jewish unity and loyalty to our Jewish culture and heritage when I worked as a Hebrew and Sunday School teacher at one of the northern California synagogues. As part of my duties, I instructed a course entitled “Jewish customs and traditions.”
One day, I decided to dedicate the lesson to “Jewish Contributions to World Civilization.” Listing all the achievements and major contributions of Jews to the world was a good way, I felt, to start as I was hoping to instill great pride in young American Jews. “So, you see,” I concluded, “Jews have given many gifts to the world.”
“And so have Catholics,” answered one very outspoken student.
I was taken back by that response. “That is true,” I did not hesitate to say. I chose my words very carefully as I was trying to decipher the reason behind this unexpected comeback. “Of course, Catholics have contributed much to world civilization,” I continued, “but this is a Jewish class in a synagogue. “ I could feel my blood temperature rising. “Let Catholics discuss and teach their contributions to the world in their churches, in their Sunday schools. Do you think they bother to discuss the gifts of the Jews in their Sunday schools?” I calmly said, still trying to control myself.
I was proud. I was even more proud when I walked uprightly into the Rabbi’s office to meet with some angry parents. Though I knew I had a job to keep, I was ready to face them and defend my position.
“We teach our children to be universal,” the head of the PTA started.”
I did not linger with my response. “How can we and our children be supporting the contributions of others if we are ignorant of our own?” I challenged them. “Dear Rabbi,” I said as I turned to face him, “you lost your eye as you were walking alongside Dr. Martin Luther King in Montgomery Alabama when you joined their fight for civil rights. Where are you and your loyalty to our people when they need the support for their rights to educate their youth to be proud of their heritage? How can we support the good fight of others when ours is still raging?” He smiled and ,lowered his eyes.
That was forty years ago. Little seems to have changed. Now, as then, some of our Jews feel the need to fight the battles of others while neglecting the future of their own. Moreover, that support, on more than one occasion, is done while sacrificing our own on the altars of justice and universality.
Why are Jews so keen to be like everyone? When will our fellow Jews realize that their loyalty should be primarily to Jews and Judaism, our heritage and our essence? After all, are not these values the ones that have kept us going for over two millennia? So why are we struggling so hard to, seek approval and recognition? Should the world not love us and be grateful to us for some of our gifts, ones that we shared so readily with it? Why are Jews so eagerly willing to give slices of our own in return for that approval, for that love, for being accepted and supported? Why are some of us so ready to betray the memory of those who died while protecting those values? What will it take for our fellow Jews to understand that we are not like everyone else, that we cannot be like other nations?
We cannot, not because we are better, not because we are worse but because we are different.
A free People is a People free of conflict. As long as the internal conflict of loyalty in Judaism continues, we will never be free. We may well have physically left the Diaspora but the Diaspora, as it seems, has not yet left our souls.
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