Jews can’t escape their identity and Christians can’t live without it

In a conversation about the delicate negotiations between Israel and her neighbors, the Prime Minister of Israel, Golda Meir, appealed to the Jewish US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, for his support of Israel. Henry immediately boasted, “Golda, you must remember that first I am an American, second I am secretary of state, and third I am a Jew.” To which Meir replied, “Henry, you forget that in Israel we read from right to left.”

A similar conversation took place years before in a different time and place. The geopolitics were different, but the story is the same: an advocate for the Jewish people appealed to a prominent Jewish political leader with the hope of securing peace and protection for the Jews. This dialogue happened 2,500 years ago between Mordecai the Jew and Esther – the Jewish Queen of the Persian empire. Mordecai’s appeal to Esther is recorded in the Scroll of Esther:

“Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14).

Mordecai was saying in essence, “Esther, you won’t find safety in the Persian palace or in the preeminence of being Queen. Our peoples very existence is in grave danger so don’t think you are a Persian first, a Queen second, and a Jew third. Remember you are a Jew first because there is no escaping your calling and identity – an identity that is deeply more significant than national borders or titles in an empire. An identity that discovers its relief and deliverance in the miraculous not in magnificent palaces.” Like Golda Meir’s advice to Henry Kissinger, Mordecai reminded Esther that she was first a Jew – that she should read from right to left.

In a time when antisemitism is exponentially expanding around the globe, Mordecai’s message to Esther is a good reminder for Jews to celebrate their identity without fear within the light and joyful surroundings of the Jewish community – a community whose strength comes from its deep values passed down from generation to generation. In her book, People Love Dead Jews, Dara Horn talks about Jewish values:

“Since ancient times, in every place they have ever lived, Jews have represented the frightening prospect of freedom. As long as Jews existed in any society, there was evidence that it in fact wasn’t necessary to believe what everyone else believed, that those who disagreed with their neighbors could survive and even flourish against all odds. The Jews’ continued distinctiveness, despite overwhelming pressure to become like everyone else, demonstrated their enormous effort to cultivate that freedom: devotion to law and story, deep literacy, and an absolute obsessiveness about consciously transmitting those values between generations. The existence of Jews in any society is a reminder that freedom is possible, but only with responsibility – and that freedom without responsibility is no freedom at all.”

In his book, The Crucifixion of the Jews, the late Franklin Littell said, “Antisemitism provides an identity for individuals who would otherwise lack self-awareness. The Jew gives the anti-Semite his identity as a kind of antimatter; his anxiety and self-hate is polarized in tension toward the one marked as a carrier of history. The Jew has a historical identity. Even if he denies his faith, a Jew nevertheless has a rendezvous with his Jewish destiny. Even if you flee from that destiny, it pursues you.”

May Jews who have wandered from their identity re-discover that identity and value it first and foremost. May they read from right to left.

There is another message about the celebration of Jewish Identity in the scroll of Esther and it is directed to non-Jews. When Mordecai and Esther were commissioned by King Ahasuerus to write a new decree for the protection of all the Jews in the Persian Empire, a curious thing happened. Many who were not Jews throughout the vast empire joined themselves to the Jews and celebrated with them:

“The Jews had light and gladness and joy and honor. And in every province and in every city, wherever the king’s command and his edict reached, there was gladness and joy among the Jews, a feast and a holiday. And many from the peoples of the country declared themselves Jews” (Esther 8:16-17).

Although Christianity has a long history of persecuting Jews, and though it continues its painful and hurtful separation from its Jewish legacy and foundation, there is a remnant of sorts like in the book of Esther – a beautiful, redemptive, and restorative one – slowly growing within the Christian community. Without a hidden and unauthentic agenda, these Christians from the nations sincerely love and honor Jewish people. They understand that without the calling and identity of the Jewish people the very foundation of their Christian faith is taken away. A passage from the book of Zachariah seems to indicate a future heartfelt honor will abide in many non-Jews for their Jewish elder brothers and sisters:

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you” (Zechariah 8:23).

As the claws of Antisemitism continue to expand their reach, may Jews of all backgrounds find strength in the shared values of their community and deep meaning in their identity and calling – may they find solace in being Jews first. May they read from right to left.

As well, may Christians from the nations discover the richness of the Jewish foundation of their faith, break free from the collective Antisemitism of their past, and be the first to humbly honor the Jewish people for the values the Jews have passed down to them. May Christians re-discover the rudiments of their identity have come from Jewish patriarchs, prophets, and fathers. During the Holocaust, German Christians for the most part held contempt for the Jews and the Jewish foundation of their faith resulting in the murder of six million Jewish innocents. They were Germans first and Christians second. May Christians of today not repeat history. May they be Christians first and in the words of Golda Meir, “read from right to left.”

Works Consulted:

1. Dara Horn, People Love Dead Jews: reports from a haunted present (New York, N.Y.: W.W. Norton and Company, 2021) 106-107.

2. Franklin H. Littell, The Crucifixion of the Jews: the failure of Christians to understand the Jewish experience (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1986, 1996), 109-111.

About the Author
Aaron David Fruh is the President of Israel Team Advocates, whose mission it is to change the growing anti-Israel narrative on college campuses. Aaron is the author of five books including The Casualty of Contempt: the alarming rise of Antisemitism and what can be done to stop it (editor), and Two Minute Warning: why it’s time to honor the Jewish people before the clock runs out. Aaron has written for The Jerusalem Post and The Algemeiner.