In 1930 Theodor Lessing published a book in Germany entitled “Der Judische Selbsthaas”, Jewish Self-Hate, in which he described how prominent Jewish intellectuals, seeking to gain popularity and full acceptance by Germany’s non-Jews, sought an escape from everything Jewish.
Most changed their Jewish-sounding names into German names and avoided any contact with Jews or Judaism. They were described as katholischer als der Papst…. More Catholic than the Pope.
I was reminded of it after reading an opinion piece by Jeremy Rosen, a British rabbi, which he entitled “Embarrassed to be Israeli” (or Jewish)?
In the late 1980’s I was invited to Amsterdam to offer classes for Jewish adults in basic Hebrew reading. The emphasis was on learning how to read the Hebrew alphabet and thereby being able to follow prayers in the siddur. In the first class there were twelve adults, all but one born Jewish.
During free discussion time, each spoke of themselves and their families with shared experiences in Nazi-occupied Holland. A few spoke positively about Dutch friends or neighbors who hid them or who provided extra rations for them. Most spoke negatively about pre-war Dutch friends who ignored them during the war. All bore bitterness to the Dutch police of that time who helped the Gestapo to round up Jews in hiding who were to be shipped to the Westerbork internment camp prior to being shipped to Bergen-Belsen.
More of Holland’s Jews were murdered in concentration and death camps than any other Jewish population from any conquered European country. More than seventy-five percent of Dutch Jews were exterminated.
One woman in the class, in her early forties, related the following story. She told it to us in Dutch and as I speak Dutch, this is a literal translation of the story she shared with us.
Her mother had been born in Utrecht as a Jew with the given name of Lili Van den Berg. After the war, upon her return to Holland she settled in Nijmegen and changed her name to Wilhelmina de Vries. She wanted no contact with anyone or anything Jewish. She blamed her suffering on the curse of being born a Jew.
One day her daughter came to visit her. Around her neck she wore a chain with a magen David. When her mother opened the door and saw the Jewish star which her daughter was wearing, she screamed out “take off that filthy chain or you can never enter my house. I am not a Jew and I want nothing to do with Jews or their cursed religion”.
Other students responded in similar vein. None of their parents were affiliated with any Jewish community and wanted only to be absorbed into the Dutch nation.
Embarrassed to be Jewish came to mind when I read Rabbi Rosen’s “Embarrassed to be Israeli?”
Several years later I had an opposite experience. I was scheduled to fly from Tel Aviv to Budapest but my new Israeli passport was not ready. In its place I was given a temporary teudat maavar, a laissez-passer document.
Upon my arrival at Budapest’s air terminal, the customs official looked at my document and said to me “it is not an acceptable passport. You cannot enter Hungary on that document. Have you no other passport?”
As it so happened I did have another passport which would have permitted me into Hungary with no problem. But I denied having any other passport. “I am an Israeli citizen and this laissez-passer is temporary until I receive the new regular national passport”, I told her.
Still she held to her position. “It is not a recognized passport”. “What shall I do?” I asked her.
“You must remain in the terminal and take the next flight back to Tel-Aviv”, was her reply.
I asked to speak with a supervisor or a senior customs and immigration official. When one came to speak with me courteously I showed my teudat maavar and also my Israel teudat zehut, national ID card. He listened to me and turned to the customs official speaking to her in Hungarian.
“It’s OK”, he said. “We can make an exception for you but in any future visits to Hungary you must enter only on your official Israeli passport”. The customs officer stamped my laissez-passer and I was allowed to leave the terminal.
Did I need all this aggravation? Did I need to go through such an unpleasant experience? After all, I did have another valid passport in my pocket but I stubbornly refused to show it. Why? Because I am immensely proud of Israel and of being an Israeli. I treasure my Israeli passport. It identifies me to others and always reminds me of who I am. A Jew and an Israeli. And very proud of being both.
“Embarrassed to be Israeli”? No sir. Not me. Not ever.