Encountering peace: being jewish

Religion has never been the central core of my Jewish identity

Celebrating Simhat Torah at the Western Wall. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Celebrating Simhat Torah at the Western Wall.
Being Jewish and part of the Jewish people has been a central part of my consciousness and identity for as long as I can remember. Religion has never been the central core of my Jewish identity, peoplehood has been. My Judaism has never been defined by antisemitism. Allowing such a definition dignifies and perhaps even legitimizes antisemitism.
The Holocaust is not the single most important thing that has happened to the Jewish people in modern times, the establishment of the State of Israel is. Israel was not established because of the Holocaust and not even as a response to it. Zionism was the national liberation movement of the Jewish people and Israel is the state of the Jews, not a Jewish state.
Having not been born in the State of Israel, I came home to Israel, because this is where my roots are and I believe this is where my future is – as part of the Jewish people. But as much as I feel home in Israel and there is no place on earth where I call home except here, the State of Israel has pushed me further away from the Jewish religion and gives me an increasing sense of alienation from the religious rituals and customs of Judaism.
My secular Jewish identity has an ideology. My ideology comes with a cradle of history, culture and language that is forever expanding, expressed with exuberance and creativeness that easily completes with any other society in the modern world. The rebirth of the Hebrew language – an unprecedented phenomenon – in our ancient homeland has created a library of new classics that our Jewish identity has shaped and that shape our identity.
In more recent times, our language is actively interacting with our sister language, Arabic, the language not only of our neighbors but also of some of our greatest scholars, such as the Rambam, enriching our culture and yes, our identity.
It is not the so-called Left which has forgotten what it means to be a Jew, it is the right-wing religious ultra-Orthodox and ultra-nationalists who are redefining Judaism as belonging to a particular political camp, or supporting a particular prime minister, or by believing that parts of the Land of Israel were liberated by divine design and not occupied in a war fought by our army in self defense.
The State of Israel has alienated me from religious Judaism by sanctifying stones and not human life and humanitarian values. Judaism in the State of Israel is claimed by a monopolistic orthodoxy one of the leaders of which, a rabbi and the chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, standing in front of secular Jews at the last Haaretz Peace Conference, said: “I am willing to sit and talk to Israel’s worst enemies, but I will not sit with Conservative or Reform Jews.” Is that what being Jewish means? How can it be Jewish to deny equal rights for all Jews in the State of Israel? How can it be Jewish for Israel to be the only democratic country in the world where Reform or a Conservative rabbis cannot performs rites of passage? Jewish law doesn’t even demand that a rabbi perform a wedding ceremony, so denying the rights of non-Orthodox Jews can be defined as being Jewish? I am Jewish. I was born Jewish. I have been raised Jewish. I married a Jewish woman and have raised three Jewish children. I now have a Jewish granddaughter living in the first Hebrew city, Tel Aviv. I immigrated to the homeland of the Jewish people and believe that I have worked every single day of my 39 years in Israel to make the Jewish homeland a better place.
By the way, I am also an atheist.
I am also very Jewish and there is nothing that anyone can do that will convince me that the criminal in prison for theft or violence or rape who wears a kippa and prays three times a day, and keeps the Shabbat according to Jewish law and fasts on Yom Kippur and doesn’t eat hametz on Passover is more Jewish than I am.
I don’t pray. I don’t go to synagogue.
I don’t fast on Yom Kippur.
I keep the Shabbat according to my own rules and I only eat matza on the eve of Passover and yes, I am very Jewish.
I am very Jewish and I am very connected to the Land of Israel and the State of Israel. I am Jewish and I feel attachment to all of the Land of Israel – also to Judea and Samaria. I am Jewish and I live in Jerusalem and there is no place on earth I would rather live. Our Jewish history was in Judea and Samaria, but our future is not there. If Judea and Samaria were not also the home of almost three million Palestinian Arabs the situation might be different. But because we want Israel to be the democratic nation-state of the Jewish people, Judea and Samaria cannot remain under Israeli sovereignty.
I believe that the state of the Jewish people must be a democratic state. The lessons of our history and the values that we have imparted to the world are built on a foundation of human rights, human dignity, compassion and equality. The State of Israel cannot be the nation-state of the Jewish people when half of the population under its sovereignty are not Jewish and do not want to be Jewish, or part of the nationstate of the Jewish people. The most un-Jewish thing I can think of is forcing the Palestinian Arabs of Judea and Samaria out of the land where they were born or confiscating their property.
I accuse! I accuse those who believe that in the name of Judaism and the Jewish people they can deny millions of people their human and political rights because they are non-Jews or because they don’t recognize the legitimacy of Zionism.
Those who continue to march Israel forward into a non-democratic binational reality have forgotten what it means to be Jewish. I accuse those who deny modern and liberal expressions of Judaism as no longer being Jewish or being part of the Jewish people of forgetting what it means to be Jewish.
The author is the founder and co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives. www.
What in heaven’s name? What in God’s name were they thinking? No, not Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore when he allegedly groped underage girls half his age, and not Donald Trump when he boasted of his adulterous affairs, groin grabbing and sexual prowess.
You don’t need a degree in psychiatry to know what those two sexual predators had on their minds.
What I’m referring to is all those white Evangelicals who stand by pedophiles and philanderers even as they loudly proclaim their devotion to “family values.”
Since Alabama Senate candidate Moore was accused by five different women of sexual assault when they were teens and he was in his thirties, his support among Evangelicals has held steady.
Some Evangelical leaders suggest that’s because what counts is not the candidates’ behavior but whether they will fight to enact the religious Right’s agenda and deliver more than prayers.
They like Trump because he is anti-abortion, opposes Planned Parenthood, opposes immigration, wants to break the wall separating church and state, brings religious extremists like Mike Pence into high office and puts them on the bench, and he wants people to say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holiday.”
Many, particularly in places like Alabama, also see in Trump a candidate who is a white man born in this country, not a woman or a person of color who may not be Christian or native born. They’re telling reporters they’d rather vote for an accused pedophile than a Democrat.
A study by the Public Religion Research Institute found “moral rectitude wasn’t as important to Evangelical voters as it once was – and that many believed a person who acts immorally in their personal lives still can serve morally in office,” The Washington Post reported.
Fourteen Republican senators have called for Moore to step aside, as this is written. Only one is a woman – Susan Collins of Maine. The other four Republican women – Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Deb Fischer of Nebraska – have said nothing or taken the cop-out “if true he should step aside.” (Incidentally, there are 16 female Democratic senators.) Moore was unfit before the current allegations became public.
He repeatedly declared his view that the rights of the states superseded those of the federal government and that his version of the Protestant Bible took precedence over the US Constitution.
Moore has been popular in Alabama for standing up to the federal courts, even though that twice got him removed as chief justice of the Alabama supreme court. First when he put a granite block engraved with the Ten Commandments in the Supreme Court building, and then when he tried to block issuing marriage licenses for same-sex couples.
Moore is threatening to sue the Washington Post over the story of his pursuit of teenage girls. He may file a suit but after getting the immediate publicity he seeks, he will quickly drop it because the last thing he wants is to be questioned under oath and on the record by the Post’s lawyers.
Steve Bannon, Trump’s former strategic adviser now running Breitbart News, stands firmly behind Moore, whom he made the poster boy for his insurgency campaign to overthrow the GOP establishment and reshape the party in the image of his protégé, Trump.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), Bannon’s top target, has suggested Sessions would be a good choice as a write-in candidate should Moore step aside.
That would please Trump, who makes no secret of his desire to get rid of his attorney general.
He is still angry with Sessions for recusing himself in the Russiagate investigation, which led to the firing of FBI director James Comey and appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller.
It is at that point that the investigation went from looking into Russia’s role in the election to possible high crimes and misdemeanors by the president himself.
Trump revealed in an NBC interview and in an Oval Office meeting with top Russian officials that he dumped Comey to stop the FBI investigation of then-national security adviser Mike Flynn.
Flynn was fired ostensibly for lying to the vice president, but he may best be remembered for his cheerleading at Trump campaign rallies and the Republican convention.
While Trump was telling excited crowds that if elected he’d order his attorney general to open a criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton, Flynn was leading chants of “Lock her up.”
Ironically, Flynn may be the one headed to prison for his unregistered work for foreign governments. His name could be on one of possibly four sealed indictments reportedly handed down by the grand jury.
If Sessions goes, Trump is expected to appoint a new attorney general who will fire Mueller and end the Russiagate investigations, but it may be too late and too unpopular even among Republicans.
Sessions has been anxious to keep his job and is under pressure from some House Republicans to execute the president’s campaign promise by naming a second special counsel to investigate Clinton. He told Congress his staff is exploring it. Trump will also want the new prosecutor to go after another of his enemies, Comey, who he calls a “liar” and a “leaker.”
There is no precedent in US history for a president to launch a criminal investigation of his former opponent. But Trump is unprecedented as well as unschooled in history. He is also vengeful and obsessed with the legitimacy of his election, which he won in the Electoral College but lost by three million in the popular vote tally.
While no American president has ever prosecuted his former opponents, there is precedent among foreign leaders Trump particularly admires, including Vladimir Putin in Russia, Xi Jinping in China, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey and even Kim Jong-un in North Korea. Granted, not all the losers were hauled into court – some went directly to jail and others didn’t live that long.
A Moore victory on December 12 would be a mixed bag for both parties. The Republicans would keep their two-seat advantage in the Senate but that comes with the albatross of an accused pedophile who is unlikely to be a team player. For the Democrats it provides a campaign asset to keep Jews voting for the party in overwhelming numbers, and it will help build on the gains Democrats made last month among women voters in Virginia and other races.