As Jews, based on our sheer numbers, we are a small minority in this world, but there is every reason for us to be extremely proud of who we are.
With roughly 15 million Jews in a world of 7.7 billion people, we make up less than .2% of the world population. However, despite our small size, we’ve been recognized with over 20% of the Nobel Prizes for contributions to the sciences, medicine, literature, economics, and peace.
Most Jews tend to believe not only in a strong core religious education, but in higher education and lifelong learning, and others excel even when starting out and innovating from their garages. From Abraham and Moses to Einstein and Freud, and even to today’s Jews leading the Technology revolution–such as Steve Ballmer, Sergey Brin, Michael Dell, Larry Ellison, Larry Page, and Mark Zuckerberg–the Jewish contribution is truly unparalleled.
Furthermore, since the modern-day State of Israel, our inventiveness and problem-solving has only blossomed with innovations ranging from drip irrigation systems to bionic exoskeletons. Moreover, as a geographically small country, Israel maintains one of the best and most modern militaries in the world. Additionally, this excellence manifests not only from industry to defense, but when it come to charity, the Jewish people tend to punch above their weight in per-capita giving.
However, even as a minority, not all Jews are the same. In fact, in many ways, we are as different as can be and not only in terms of how we practice our Judaism (Ashkanezi and Sephardic as well as how religious we are haredi, misnaged, modern orthodox, conservative, reform, secular, etc), but in virtually every facet from where we live, how we look, our talents, what we do professionally, and what we are interested in. Regretfully, we must also admit that there are some Jews that like all people are fallible and do things that we are not proud of–this is part of our humanity as well. I remember this collage of Jews in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art that portrayed our diversity even within our unity as Jewish people.
Whatever type of Jews, we can probably agree that being a minority has its pros and cons. On one hand, we see ourselves as having a unique mission in this world as a “light unto the nations”–to be a good influence, do good deeds, help others, and worship Hashem. On the other hand, as a minority we have suffered through anti-Semitism (including almost non-stop at today’s United Nations), persecution, exile, and the Holocaust, and so we fully know our share of discrimination, tragedy, suffering, and death.
In this light, it was interesting for me to be a class on managing diversity this week and to hear someone tell a story about their experience with being a minority (despite normally being a majority). Currently, the person was a white male living in the United States, and when asked how it feels, he half-jokingly said, “It’s pretty privileged!” But then, he went on to tell that when he was in the military, he served for a while in Japan. He described not only how different their culture was, but how as a Caucasian, he felt he was a “second-class citizen.” One on hand, he told how he really enjoyed it in Japan and even dated seriously, looked for a job, and thought about settling there. However, in the end, he decided to leave, because “He chose not to be a minority.” When he said that, it really struck me as profound. He chose not to be a minority, but as Jews our choices are much more complicated.
Certainly, as Jews, we can chose not to be a minority in terms of where we live–dispersed throughout the world, we can, and many do, choose to make “Aliyah” to Israel. But even while we are not a minority in Israel, we will always remain a minority globally. Whatever our contributions are and however we try to be apart of the rest of the world (including through the mistaken belief that assimilation is the answer), as a people, we will always be different–because we live by the Torah.
And it’s okay to be different, because as I learned this week, in a sense all people are minorities, each different in their own way–whether by race, religion, sexual orientation, age, disability, life circumstance, or even choice. For example, aside from being I think the only Jew in this class, I was one of the only non-scientists. But that didn’t matter, because when I heard people’s stories, I learned that they all felt like minorities and different for their own reasons: One didn’t speak English well, another didn’t really have a homeland, one chose not have children, and another was from a remote part of the world, and so. The bottom line was that to get along, we need to understand the differences in all people, and at least to try to imagine what it is like to walk in their shoes.
Ultimately, we can learn to understand and respect each other, find our commonalities, and fundamentally look at everyone’s humanity. Remember that everyone is a minority and different in their own way, and that’s part of our life’s challenges and also what makes us special. Being a Jew is certainly being a minority and we have our own unique challenges in terms of ant-Semitism, assimilation, and maintaining our unity. But the key is that we don’t need to change ourselves or assimilate to successfully be a part of the larger world.
Until Mashiach, there will always be some people that hate on us and want to destroy us–perhaps and unfortunately, that’s just who they are. But we choose not be anyone else but Jews, because that’s who we are–and there is every reason to be ourselves, maintain our faith of thousands of years, continue to make awesome contributions that benefit mankind, and be forever proud to be a Jew.