Daniel Jenshel

How are we Jews different?

I recently heard a rabbi’s sermon where he described a situation where two dogs were passing each other. One dog was a huge yet timid dog and the other a small and feisty one. The scenario played out such that the smaller dog, upon approaching the larger dog went on this barking rampage, while the larger dog remained calm yet apprehensive and slowly backed out of the confrontation. The question was posed how the smaller dog could be so confident and sure of themselves believing that a loud bark would be a defense mechanism against such a seemingly larger adversary who could surely defend and even hurt the small opponent. The answer seemed to be about experience and confidence. The rabbi proposed that the smaller dog was sure of itself and determined that it either didn’t care about the size of the risk in front of them or had a cunning plan to attack, defeat and win the battle.

This made me think about the current situation we as Jews are facing amid rampant antisemitism, untrue narratives, and misinformation.

So who is the big and who is the small dog in our current narrative? We Jews constantly see ourselves as the minority in our historical narrative. We know our story of survival and rejuvenation (in every generation there is someone trying to defeat us) and we relay it to every generation through the seder night on Pesach. However, I am constantly surprised and bewildered that despite our insignificance in numbers, the world at large characterize the Jews, in the fields of business, politics and society, as this mighty and influential nation. Not a people of less than 15 million people, while the global Muslim population has now surpassed two billion.

I am constantly trying to understand how two religions originating from a single source seem to have embraced and followed such different paths. I would like to believe that all religions, and in particular, Islam and Judaism, were born out of truth, love and adding value to the world. I would like to think that most followers in both streams are good people that just want to live happy lives with as little drama and hardship as possible and hopefully leave the world a little better than when they arrived. So why does it feel like Islam, at the extreme point, seems to be building momentum and even legitimacy while Judaism at the centrist point feels like it has become a global pariah.

If I take a snapshot of the environment today, it feels like there are no moderates in Islam. I’m not even referring to a moderate approach to Israel but more so, a harder lined approach to Hamas and other terror organizations. Since October 7th I can’t recall a single Islamic leader calling out the atrocities of the day and violence that ensued. All I have witnesses is an attraction to the far-right voices of Islam that have not only influenced their own communities but spread lies, hate, and anger to parts of the wider society. And why does it appear that Jewish communities on a hole, support and promote the mainstream centrist views on a wide range of social & political topics, while often questioning and even alienating the extreme views of the right and the left? Conversely, it appears to me that Islamic community members are drawn to the extreme views with little presence and even resistance to the centrist camp. Is this because Islam as a religion is a much less forgiving faith with a stricter charter and less appetite for change and modernization? And if this is correct, what does it say about Judaism? Has the modernization of our religion caused us to move away from possible protection by leniency and potential apathy of observing the laws? I don’t think so.

Jews are the people of the book and this intrinsic nature supported by learning, knowledge and questioning has allowed us to maintain the religion and our customs for millennia because of our ability to find that middle ground that makes it relevant in every generation.

Our decisions in life are guided by education and building knowledge for utilization at the right times in our life. We build and praise community leaders and we thirst for the truth in every aspect of our lives. We never accept the first answer and we fact check until the facts are the basis of our opinions and views. This information builds our confidence that our history is real and our unbelievable survival as people was not just chance, but living out a legacy that was set by biblical and historical leaders that built our land in Israel, thousands of years before it was known as Israel.

Judaism teaches us not to accept things on face value, not to follow the crowd and not to joining a chanting song that is not only racist and bias but a song that we don’t even know the background or validity to. I would like to think that Islam also teaches according to some of these foundations, but the evidence is hard to corelate. I wonder what the reaction to October 7TH and the aftermath could have been if Islam and their leaders collectively reacted based on the principle of collecting facts and staying centrist. All we would have needed was a few influential Islamic regional and spiritual leaders to calm, guide and lead their followers into a period of reflection, empathy, and actuality. Leaders that could have created a Palestinian state decades ago without any bloodshed on either side. Leaders that could have built cities and futures for a generation of people and leaders that could have left a legacy of partnership and cohesiveness instead of one of hatred and victimhood.

My assessment of the pro-Palestinian demonstrations and riots internationally is that they are populated by a small number of actual Palestinian Muslims and seemed to have a disproportionate number of white Anglo-Saxons. What emotional connection do these people have with the cause that encourages such motivation and enthusiasm to applaud at times hate, discrimination and antisemitism while not an ounce of support or acknowledge for Jewish suffering. I can only surmise that these individuals have not been taught or been exposed to educational fact checking , to a duopoly of empathy between two sides suffering or an ability to hold two narratives that can exist side by side.

So, if the Jews are the small dog and Islam is the big dog in my initial story, what approach do we take. Do we try to have the loudest bark always knowing that the larger dog will bark louder? Do we increase our confidence and continue to be load and proud Jews, living the lives our grandparents wanted for us when they arrived in this foreign land. Lives that allowed us to build our Jewish identity freely and passionately and at the same time contribute greatly through our secular lives. Do we make the small dog smarter by educating itself on how the larger dog will react in certain situations and just outsmart the larger dog through this knowledge building? And do we learn when not to confront the larger dog, thus not putting us into a situation that maybe is not in our best interest or makes the larger dog feel more superior and powerful. I think the answer is all these things.

We will always be the smaller dog, but this can bring agility, wittiness, and chutzpa, let’s start using it.

Daniel Jenshel is an active member of the Melbourne Jewish community holding various board positions including UJEB , Jewish Care, Zionist Federation of Australia, and Caulfield Hebrew congregation.

The views held above are personal opinions and may not be representative of any organizations he is involved in.

About the Author
With over 30 years in community and business contribution, Daniel brings an energy and enthusiasm to every role he commits to. With competencies in business development, marketing, strategy and implementation , Daniel has been able to leverage these skills in his community involvement. These not for profit and Jewish community volunteering roles include; Synagogues in Melbourne and the Gold coast, board positions with UJEB and Jewish care, advisory positions with CCARE as well as serving on previous CHC boards and as President in 2017 / 2018. Daniel is also the co founder of Men's Haven in Melbourne.
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