My son asked me earlier what kind of Jews we are.
It made me think.
Because for the last few days I’ve seen articles on social media and on online publications about Mizrachi Jews and Ashkenazi Jews and Eastern Jews and all other kind of Jews, articles that seem to imply some are more Jewish or have more rights than others and I thought to myself.
Does it really matter?
I understand the reasons for this, because in this day and age of arguing about skin colour and whether you are brown enough or white enough, it works really well for our enemies to weave a false fantastical narrative that shows that Jews are some kind of white colonialists taking over the poor Arab’s lands in Israel.
But in my view, there is too much focus these days on whether Jews are white or brown or black or from Arab countries or from European countries, because in all honesty, these are distinctions we often bring upon ourselves. To the larger world, including those who wish us harm – it really doesn’t matter to them at all.
A Jew is a Jew is a Jew.
And we are the Jewish people – a people that came into being many thousands of years ago when a man called Abraham broke away from those around him to make a covenant with an invisible God – a covenant that continues to this day. Now it’s true that we have many genetic markers that have travelled through history that are distinctive to the Jewish people, but being a Jew isn’t solely in your blood. That’s the reason that people who convert through the proper Jewish laws (halachic law) are considered 100% Jewish. And it’s also true that just having Jewish blood doesn’t make you Jewish either – as you are only considered a Jew if your mother is Jewish.
It’s also true that the most observant Jew in the world who follows every single Jewish law there is is no more Jewish than the most secular Jew in the world who doesn’t.
It’s also true that every Jew in the world has a birthright – a right that includes being able to live in our Jewish homeland of Israel, but that right doesn’t extend to be able to determine the future of Israel – not unless they choose to make Aliya and become part of the country and its voting public, which is something I completely agree with.
Jews are indigenous to Israel, not because of the colour of our skin, but because our nation was formed there, including our laws, our traditions, our history, our achievements, our successes and even our failures. You only need to look down and bury your hands in the earth beneath you and you’d be sifting through the sands of time looking back in the very places our ancestors existed. And you only need to look up and you’d be looking upon the future of where our people are heading. And you only need to look around its streets at the kaleidoscope of people passing you by in this very day to understand that being a Jew is not about what colour you are either.
No, being a Jew is far more than the superficial trapping of the pigmentation of our skin. It’s far more than whether your grandmother was born in Egypt or born in Poland. It’s far more than whether your family once spoke Yiddish or Ladino.
It’s a spirit – a spirit that has flowed through the fabric of time from its simple beginnings to its more complex present. It’s not an identity that you choose, but rather something that identifies you instead. It lives in us and influences us. It speaks to us – sometimes from the desolate recesses of our mind and sometimes from its blaring and booming center.
We all hear it and we all feel it – and even though far too many of us choose to ignore it, it doesn’t ignore us.
It binds us and connects us from the kindness of Abraham to the struggles of Jacob to the dreams of Joseph, to the anguish of Moses to the beauty of Rachel to the daring of Devorah to the military prowess of King David to the ingenuity of Esther and to hundreds of generations more, because in each of us, we hear them.
They live on through us.
We were together when we left Egypt and we were together in the ghettos of Europe and we were together in the darkest days of European persecution and we were together in our brightest moments as we returned to our homeland of Israel.
And even as antisemitism has exploded again sweeping through this world, we will stand together once more.
For we are the Jews, a people who sometimes appear divided, yet share the same indomitable spirit within all of us – no matter where we come from and no matter whether we live in Israel or have not yet found our way home.
So when my son asked me what kind of Jews we are, I simply replied, we are the same Jews as every other Jew in this world – an ancient people with a birthright that cannot ever be extinguished. And although we may have lived in different countries for many years, we all once came from the Land of Israel many thousands of years ago and one day we will all return there.