On Rosh Hashana I spoke about Ahavath Yisrael, loving the Jewish people, and was told by a friend that some young people he spoke to found it elitist and distasteful. Permit me three responses:
- Had an Irishman said he loved all the Irish, or an Albanian said she loved all Albanians, my guess is these people would have found it an endearing expression of national pride. Loving and embracing your people of origin is not to hate or look down on others; it is an affirmation made daily by members of almost every group, religious, ethnic, cultural and national.
- Jews, for all their supposed “tribalism,” are deeply universal. Unlike Christianity, Islam or Greek culture, our new year celebrates not the beginning of Judaism but the beginning of the world. Unlike classical Christianity, Judaism insists that one has to be righteous, not Jewish, to attain eternal life. And atop the most universal institution in the world, the United Nations, there is a quote from Isaiah, a Jewish prophet. (And on the Statue of Liberty, welcoming people from all over the world, a poem by a Jewish poet.)
- Of course there are bad Jews, venal Jews, cruel Jews. No one doubts or disputes that. But we are 0.2% of the population of a world that has often sought to destroy us. To celebrate our survival and accomplishments — to celebrate one another — is the most natural thing in the world. What is “distasteful” is depriving Jews alone, of all the world’s many groups, of that privilege.