'I'm proud to be Jewish, even if it is politically incorrect'

Despite our difficult history, Jews have not only survived, but thrived.

"The call to jump together is a call to define our Jewish identity by inspiration rather than force of circumstance, uniting in joy and celebration around our divine values" (photo credit: REUTERS)
"The call to jump together is a call to define our Jewish identity by inspiration rather than force of circumstance, uniting in joy and celebration around our divine values"
(photo credit: REUTERS)
I will never forget driving from the Givat Shaul neighborhood of Jerusalem to my home in Tel Aviv. Givat Shaul is a religious neighborhood where, similar to Crown Heights in Brooklyn or Antwerp in Belgium, most Jews dress in black, even in the scorching summer heat.
From cars honking instead of stopping at stop signs, to cars weaving in and out of traffic and cutting each other off only to arrive at a red light quicker, and cars that look like they are driving automatically because the driver’s head barely clears the steering wheel to see the road – anyone who has driven in Givat Shaul knows it’s sheer chaos.
And in spite of all of this, that day – the day before Israel’s Independence Day – was even worse. On top of the normal obstacles, young entrepreneurs were running across the street at red lights selling Israeli flags, and one station wagon – with a loudspeaker tied to its roof rack and a flag saying “Messiah” on it – cut me off.
I thought “only in Jerusalem.” As I recounted the situation to a good friend, stating that I couldn’t wait for our 71-year-old young country to become better organized, he responded by saying, “It won’t. We are Jewish. We do things differently.”
I was born in Canada, a Christian country, which was very ordered and achieved its success through that order. I remember thinking he was right. In spite of all of the seeming chaos, we have managed to succeed. Things are getting done, albeit differently than in the West that is born out of the Christian tradition. In Israel, things are being born through a Jewish tradition that is thousands of years old and which is leading to great success.
My friend was not just anybody, but Dr. Harold Rhode, a senior adviser to the Pentagon’s in-house think tank known as the Office of Net Assessment for Cultural Issues Pertaining to the Middle East. Harold understands the culture of the Middle East so well that when the US government would take official trips to Turkey, the American delegation would meet with their Turkish counterparts while Harold would ride around in taxis, speak to the drivers and shopkeepers, and report what was really going on, based on his understanding of Turkish cultural cues.
OUR JEWISH history is fascinating. Imagine a great nation – like the Americans being thrown out of the United States, or the Romans thrown out of Rome, scattered to just about every part of the world from sub-Saharan Africa to the South Pole – preserving their laws and customs, such as freedom of speech and holidays like Thanksgiving, for more than 3,000 years before returning to their country of origin. Add to that countless wars aimed at completely obliterating the Jewish people: the Greeks in the story of Hanukkah; the Persians in the 4th century BCE; the Book of Esther and Purim; the Spanish Inquisition; Russian pogroms; and the Holocaust. Yet, we still survived.
We not only survived but have also made amazing contributions to the world during that time in the arts, sciences, math, business and law. Many other nations would have or have been obliterated in history. But the Jewish nation is the story of survival, triumph and success. We have a lot to be proud of, and while we may be different, something about what we are doing is working.
Then there is modern-day Israel, a country born out of the ashes of the Holocaust with a ragged population of only 600,000 Jews in 1948. Like the history of its people, those 600,000 Jews triumphed over hundreds of millions of hostile enemies and over a dozen armies that sought its obliteration. “Wipe the Jews into the [Mediterranean] Sea,” as the Egyptian president used to declare.
And those 600,000 Jews transformed what Mark Twain called a “barren wasteland” into a modern, vibrant leader making contributions of global proportions around the world, from inventing machines that make drinking water from air, to suits that allowed a paraplegic man to complete the London Marathon, to missile defense systems that are so advanced they intercept the most deadly missiles before they reach their intended target.
It is in Israel where this scattered, ancient culture is being renewed and revived. And for the first time in over 3,000 years, the place is where our Jewish way is able to flourish. And it is flourishing.
The next time a Jew is irked at Israel’s policies on the grounds that “it will make life difficult for them in their host country” because it is deemed politically or socially unacceptable, rather than argue the merits of the policy, what they are saying is they are not free and accepted equally. If they were, they would be able to speak freely.
One of Israel’s defining characteristics is giving value to what is said rather than how it is said. This bluntness is one of the reasons why people from other cultures often think Israelis are rude. Just because something is deemed politically incorrect does not mean it is incorrect in reality. We are different. And that is a good thing.