Jewish problems might just be about Jewish self-awareness

There appears to be a certain predictability when it comes to reporting on Israeli and Jewish issues. Authors typically align their ideology based on whether Israel should make more or less concessions to achieve peace. Or whether being visibly Jewish contributes to the problem of Antisemitism. Or whether all our problems as a people are merely caused by the Arabs or the radical Left or the ultra-orthodox or the Alt-Right or Donald Trump or the media or the UN?

Well whatever you believe, to me it feels like almost every piece has some combination of the aforementioned, along with some palpable agenda or narrative, with some historical evidence thrown in for good measure. It’s painfully formulaic and to be completely honest, it’s getting ever-so tiresome. It’s almost mathematical:

(Something Bad Happening in Israel or to Jews + Previous Jewish History) ÷ Political Agenda x Severity of Event = Who to Blame.

In essence, we’re shifting responsibility and it’s a very convenient mechanism to distract from what may be source of the issue. However, I believe that many of our problems as a people are self-inflicted. Allow me to explain.

In Rabbinic literature the Jewish people are likened to the moon due to our national fortunes’ waxing and waning. Sometimes we’re on the way up and sometimes on the way down. In the last century alone, we’ve seen this pattern occur in overdrive with two World Wars, the Holocaust, the return of the Jewish people to its ancestral homeland and various manifestations of antisemitism. A cursory look at these events might indicate a natural happenstance without any purposeful guidance. But taking a deeper and broader view of Jewish history and more importantly at the Jewish mission itself gives an understanding of how and why things occur.

Simply put – we Jews are not a normal people. The rules of nature, history and destiny apply to us in a different way. Our relationship with the Eternal Ideal gave us a certain measure of control over our future. By aligning ourselves with The Eternal One, we became eternal in a sense. However this unique bond is dependent on upkeep of our end of the deal. By maintaining our role as the messengers of the idea that we are here to make the world a better place, we are granted heavenly blessings and gifts. The Torah and its Mitzvot are an extension of this concept as both elements outline that our actions, thoughts and words have the potential to improve our world. Amazingly, every spiritually focussed deed we perform can be used as a pathway toward universal harmony. The disproportionate number Jewish of academic, social, scientific and humanitarian achievements are testament to this ideal being encoded into our “Jewish DNA”. We can see our lives and work as opportunities for positive change if we choose to.

Yet despite our seemingly lofty and indestructible appearance, whenever we deviate from our role and try to align our outlook in an alternative perspective, we experience the “normalcy” of the world. By trying to be less Jewish, ironically we tend to become singled out for all the stereotypically negative aspects of being Jewish. History has shown us that assimilation, disconnection from Jewish knowledge and being away from our homeland, subjects us to the most heinous and frightening events imaginable. But whenever we have been Jewishly self-aware of our purpose and uniqueness, we have prevailed and often thrived. Even in the darkest periods of our history, sparks of hope flash as reminders that we can unite as a people and complete our calling. Incredibly, this glowing ember of optimism has never been extinguished and permeates our history throughout the ages.

The simplicity of Jewish self-awareness does not lie in seeing our history as a direct cause-and-effect relationship whereby being a better Jew and moving to Israel unlocks a magical formula for world peace. We can change the world right where we are and in everything that we do. Be it a Rabbi delving into a holy book, an Israeli solider on a routine patrol, a young woman studying at university, a young Zionistic family making Aliyah or a retired grandmother reading to the elderly. If we see ourselves as one special people, with a special job and special land we can stop looking elsewhere for how to get our problems solved and focus our energies inward to help ourselves and ultimately our world. Although things might not get better quickly or easily, at the very least being connected to our Jewish identity will help us realise that we are part of the solution, not the problem.

About the Author
Joseph (Yossi) Frenkel is a Podiatrist, academic, freelance writer and (very) amateur basketballer from Melbourne, Australia. His busy family and community life never ceases to be a source of inspiration, frustration and comedy!
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