We have become the New Maranos. Like our counterparts in Spain in the 1400s, Diaspora Jews are finding themselves in an invidious position. Constantly called upon to swear allegiance to our place of domicile, the country that houses our bodies, our businesses and our families and sometimes even our hearts, yet at the same time required to defend the home of our souls, the place of our longing and the home of our brothers. For us, The Two State Solution means something quite different to those living in Israel.
In some ways the French are lucky. No more pretenses. No longer do they need to debate one of the questions we have asked for years. “Are we French Jews or Jewish Frenchmen?” (That doesn’t actually sound right and I am not sure that they have even asked the question), but I would think that they have. Certainly if they did they would have asked in that beautiful sounding but impossible language to learn. But I do know, coming from a long line of German Jews, (or it is Jewish Germans?) that we have long debated this issue, without success. Sadly too, the question always seems to be answered not by us, but by our hosts. My wife’s Great –great grandfather having fought in World War One for his German homeland was an early casualty of Hitler’s goons when he tried to teach them respect that they should have for a war veteran. His question was answered when it was too late.
As South African Jews we have long decided that the dangers of the country lie not in the approach to our religion or heritage but in other factors such as crime and economics and to date we have comfortably balanced precarious factors of being South African whilst at the same time supportive of Israel, with relative ease. That is until recently.
And it’s not so simple as it is more than the good weather that keeps us here. It is the fact that we have babies and children and parents and grandparents. We have brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews. We have our local coffee spot, we have friends and we have support. We have medical conditions, we have children with challenges and we have aspirations. We have businesses and we have networks. It is the fact that we have given and contributed and continue to contribute to the society that hosts us. We are at the forefront of research and humanitarian pursuits and business and so many other areas. We were active in the fight against an appalling apartheid system that plague the country for decades and we continue to be a voice of reason and rationality. We are invested. But then again, didn’t we say that in Spain and in North Africa and Germany?
But it is becoming harder to maintain that balance. The time is upon us that we are being called on almost daily in one form or another, to declare our allegiance to the land in which we live. There is threat of prosecution against our sons who want to serve in the IDF and store owners are being questions as to whether to the proceeds in any way support Israel. Social media is auditing us and we are being called on to tap dance with greater precision than ever before. And so we publicly wave our South African flags whilst in the basement, like the Maranos of old, we light our Shabbat candles.
No other group in South Africa, or I suspect in other countries have this demand placed on them. There are countless states that are Islamic by charter, but no Muslim in South Africa needs to proclaim his loyalty in the same way that no Christian and no Hindu will ever be called on to answer this question.
More and more I see the circles “that go round and round” and see the threads of our history as they link us from one generation to the next, even centuries later. And whereas we are not quite on the level of our Spanish ancestors, this is a theme worth keeping an eye on as we descend slowly into the basement.