I’m a half Jew!

Jacob, the “half Jew,” responded to my blog on eugenics, Before Hitler, America’s Master Race Program, describing his struggle to overcome family prejudice and assert his identity as a Jew. Too often, and particularly among some in Israel, the struggle to preserve identity in the Diaspora is too easily dismissed, the Diaspora written off. Arrogance demeans the arrogant who without thought forget Hillel’s admonition regarding saving even one life. The true Jewish heroes are the Jacobs in the world for whom being Jewish is a prize worth the struggle. Kippas off to the Diaspora, and the Jews who earn the title!

Jacob: “I’m a half Jew, but day to day a Jew in public. But, with my family, and I mean anyone in my Jewish and family lineage associated with my surname, I’m a misfit, ignored, shunned blacklisted. I look Jewish and have not changed my name to avoid the identity. My life is as a Jew.

“I’m guessing that most Americans (Jews, Irish, Germans etc.) wanting to assimilate, to get into the club culture, renounced all traits, even religion (at least within my family) when they became American.

“What I did learn about my Jewish heritage I had to learn for myself. My family provided nothing, absolutely nothing. They erased, at the family level, all Jewishness. I had to learn about my lineage from books, Jewish society records etc, by hours and hours of research.

“I was able to easily find the names and the towns in Russia and Lithuania that my Jewish ancestors were from. But no one in my family had any idea of our descendants, nor did many even seem to care. They identify their parents and grandparents as “from Russia,” not Jews from Russia.

“Perhaps this is one of the reasons why American Jews such as my ancestors were not more vocal during World War II. My great grandfather published a newspaper. He was born in the US, but his father was born in Lithuania. I’m guessing that his paper did not publish articles about eugenics during world war II. And although it was rumored he was in the mob, that made him a folk hero, a tough guy that in the US Army fought the Nazis. But not speaking, writing in his papers about the Holocaust… Fighting the Nazis in Germany while remaining silent in the United States… That does not sound very courageous to me; it sounds, frankly, cowardly.”

DT: You are far more Jewish, Jacob, than most who are born into the people and religion with no question regarding identity. Your struggle against the odds to define and assert your identity is an inspiration, an example to the rest of us and, particularly, “Jews” who so easily dismiss those among us who do not live according to their “standard” of Who is a Jew.

An aside. Jacob. I met a couple when I lived in Wisconsin. Both born Lutheran (the dominant branch of Christianity in the area), both divorced and remarried. And both, they had only later discovered, of Jewish ancestry. And, as yourself, very proud that they are “Jews.”

I think we who do not have to struggle with our identity have much to learn, and appreciate, from you and that couple, Jacob. And, appreciating the danger of the 1935 Nuremberg Laws defining “Jew” back to a single convert Jewish grandparent, I am proud that the State of Israel’s Grandparent Amendment to the Law of Return recognizes the risk to you and they, and provides equal protection for all “Jews,” back even to a single Jewish grandparent in time of need.

Thank you for your Comment!

About the Author
David made aliya in 1960 and has been active in Jewish issues since. He was a regional director for JNF in New York, created JUDAC, Jews United to Defend the Auschwitz Cemetery during that controversy; at the request of Jonathan Pollard created and led Justice for the Pollards in 1989.