A few months ago, my best friend recommended Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ “A Letter in the Scroll.” I finally got around to reading it this weekend on a train to New York City, and I had a difficult time putting the book down. In a couple hundred words, Rabbi Sack’s journey to understanding his own identity helped me construct my own reasons for strengthening my connection to the Jewish people.
So I asked myself the following question: What has kept me Jewish?
I did not have the easiest Jewish upbringing. From bullying in Hebrew school to the question of identity in an interfaith family, it was never simple to fully identify with my people, my culture, and my faith. However, the one staple that remained integral to my identity was the State of Israel. For as long as I could remember, I never lost sight in what Israel represented to our people. The third independent Jewish state, reborn from the ashes of the Shoah, and a formidable, liberal, democratic society that mirrored the values I cherish to this day.
My love for Israel augmented in my first trip in the summer of 2009, where I laid my eyes on the Kotel for the first time, walked the same streets as our people did over 3,500 years ago, marched through the Negev with sand flowing between my toes, and walking on the Temple Mount. While I was there, I realized why Zionists yearned to return here. Our right to return home has been protected since the 1920s, and it would never be infringed due to Arab terrorism and Western double standards.
Since then, and more so now than ever, I dedicate myself to defending the Jewish people. It has never been easy, and at times, it has drained me of my energy. Yet I do not see myself doing anything else. As of now, I have not crossed a path that fits me so perfectly. I have never felt such satisfaction in my life than what I experience when I stand up for Israel, for the Jewish community, and against the despicable bigotry that we all face from Copenhagen to Claremont.
But why? Why do I get fulfillment in the face of hatred against our people?
For me, Jewish history always tell the story of survival and of revival. The stories that drew my attention from my earliest days in Hebrew school included rebellion, resistance, and undaunted courage. What I recall from the story of Chanukah was not the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days, but rather seeing the Maccabees resist the genocidal conquest of the Seleucid Empire. I only learned in college that it was not only the Seleucid Greeks that opposed our rights to practice our faith, but also Hellenized Jews who opposed the Talmudic practices that define us today. It taught me that even our own can turn their backs against us for the sake of their ideological convictions.
Yet what really keeps my fire burning remains the incomplete families and the troubled history that our people have overcome. Some of my peers’ parents did not have the luxury of knowing their grandparents. My grandparents did not know the histories of theirs, either. The towns where millions of Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Mizrahi, and Beta Yisrael Jews grew up in decades and centuries ago no longer exist. We do not have that privilege of tracing back our histories to the same degree that I can trace my former Methodist father’s side of the family. All of that is due to anti-Semitism, from the Europeans to the Arabs.
I fight for my people not because I can’t trace my family back centuries, but because I want my future child’s great-grandchildren to remember who my mother was. I want my descendants to know that our family came from the same bloodline as the Maccabees who reclaimed Judea over 2000 years ago, who revolted against the Romans, who remained Jewish in Renaissance-era Europe, and who kept the faith in the 20th and 21st centuries when anti-Semitism targeted the State of Israel and Jewish communities around the globe. I fight for my descendant’s ability to continue our family’s tradition of upholding a 5,000 year old community that maintained a covenant to G-d and remains worthy of His praises.
Thus, I get fulfillment for fighting hatred because I know we will win. I do not fear our enemies, because they should be afraid of us. They should tremble in the face of a community that has the strength of the lion and has outlived the great powers that tried to annihilate us. These wretched souls can continue to wreak havoc against our people, but they will not succeed in destroying us. Their time is running out, and our history will always outlive theirs. These people are just another chapter of our long story of survival and redemption.
So why am I a Jew?
Because I am a son of David’s people.
Because I am the son of Maccabees.
Because I am the son of a Jew.
Because I am a Zionist.
Because I am a native person able to return home following millennia of exile.
Because I can be nothing else.
And I don’t want to be anyone else.