There’s nothing like war to strengthen Jewish identity

You have to wonder what a PEW study would say now about Jewish identity in the middle of a war in Israel and Gaza that has taken to the streets of Europe and America, the media, the blogosphere and social media alike. Whether you condemn Israeli actions or support it, one thing is for sure people are stating they are Jewish. There are voices coming out supporting Gaza emphatically claiming they don’t want Israel to do what it is doing in the name of Judaism and that they would rather not belong to a religion that condones the actions of the Israeli Defense Forces. On the flip side there are Jews coming out of the woodworks for pro-Israeli rallies and decrying Hamas and her actions as well as the supporters of the Palestinians who are spewing anti-Jewish hatred throughout the streets of the world.

Jewish identity might be at an all-time high in the 21st century with a collective PTSD taking hold of the Jewish conscious. Allusions to the Holocaust have taken center stage in anti-Israeli protests and pro-Israeli rallies where screams to send the Jews to the gas chambers have been met with cries to protect the Jewish people so they don’t go once again to the camps like sheep to the slaughter.

Thus two forces are coming together, our history and our present: the memories of a genocide that was and a war that is. The two poles of Jewish identity in modern times: the Holocaust and Israel, are currently acting as lightning rods to strengthen Jewish identity. Nevertheless, the Jewish identity that we are seeing isn’t galvanizing the Jewish people as a single voice, there isn’t an am echad, lev echad (one nation, one heart) but a polarization. Even within the different camps of pro and anti-Israel there are splintering voices. Political lines rather than religious belief, are defining Judaism in this war, in this day, in this age.

When the last rocket flies, and the last solider leaves Gaza, when the media and the United Nations in a postmortem reenact this war blow by blow and the world both Jewish and non-Jewish argue “the truth” of what happened where will Judaism lie? Will we individually have strengthened our Jewish identities to be left with a more blurry understanding of what is Judaism, a Judaism politicized and polarized?



About the Author
Yael Weinstein joined the Colorado Agency for Jewish Education as a faculty member in 2009. Yael earned her M.A. in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies from Brandeis University, focusing on the topics of Anti-Semitism and Jewish Identity. At Brandeis, Yael worked as a teaching assistant for Dennis Ross, former U.S. Ambassador. Yael also works with the curriculum development team at the international Melton office at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
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