In a recent JTA article on Rudy Giuliani’s criticism of George Soros, the former New York City mayor is quoted as saying, “If you are an atheist, if he is, are you universally accepted as Jewish? I don’t know. If you’re an atheist you can’t be a Christian or Muslim.”
Giuliani is not alone when it comes to misunderstanding interwoven pieces of Jewish identity. What does it mean to be part of the Jewish people? Is it merely a circumstance of birth? After all, it’s possible to become a member of the Jewish people without having been born Jewish. Is it tied to religious practice? There are lots of non-practicing Jews who still proudly call themselves Jewish.
Are Jews a nationality? Israel is the home of the Jewish people, but most weren’t born there and half of the Jewish people in the world live elsewhere. An ethnicity? There are Jews with backgrounds from countries all over the world. Are Jews a race? Looking at physical traits of Jews around the world should answer that one. Is Judaism a culture? While we all live in our bubbles, it certainly can’t be said that Jews are a homogeneous group. Depending on background, Jews enjoy very different kinds of food, music, art, and conversation.
So who are the Jewish people?
We can have non-Jewish parents and still become Jewish. We can have doubts about God, and even not believe in a deity at all, and still be Jewish. We can live in Israel or anywhere in the world and still be Jewish. We can be Caucasian, Black, Brown, or any other color and still be Jewish. We can eat jachnun and matzah balls. We can listen to Leonard Cohen and Sarit Hadad. We can be on the political left, right or center. We can be straight, gay, bi, or and trans.
We define ourselves in a way that defies definition.
Our many enemies and detractors have never discriminated, but they don’t get to define us. We do.