Aryeh Jacobowitz

Thoughts of a Shaliach – The battle of Jewish identity

We are in the middle of a great battle today, the battle over Jewish Identity. The facts are astonishing and very worrying. Intermarriage is at an all-time high, faster than the disappearance of the lost Ten Tribes over two thousand years ago. This age old battle is nothing new to the Jewish nation. In the time of Hellenistic Greece, many Jews were torn between parts of their identity. “Who are we? why be Jewish? what good can possibly come from being so different?”  they asked themselves and wondered. Some Jews disagreed. They fought for their right to Jewish identity and to be Jews. After great battles, we finally won. But the question rang on over and over, generation after generation incessantly forcing us to answer. All around the world, where there were Jews these questions were asked. In Spain some answered as “Morranos”, others answered by leaving their homes. In the time of emancipation, some wanted to be a German who was also part of the religion of Moses, with a mere creed of rituals they must fulfil as their Jewish identity and nothing else. Others at the time refused to succumb, remembering that their Judaism came first.

Today it is not so different. Studies show, that in a few hundred years the Jews of America will be mostly lost. Assimilation is at large all around the world. There are “Jewish” organizations that even help intermarried Jews live a life of assimilation. The Jewish identity is no more than folklore if not superfluous already. It has no true meaning and no inherent value. In an age of pluralism and multiculturalism in the west, there is no saying who is a Jew anymore, there is just no point. Anyone can decide one day they are a Jew and that is it, who are we to say otherwise? We are stuck trying to hold both ends of the rope. We yearn to be a pluralistic, inclusive, liberal nation, while at the same time we are destroying the very ground we stand on. If anyone today can be a Jew, then is anyone really a Jew anymore?

As I go around communities here in America, getting to know what really is going on, I can say that assimilation is not really a problem to worry about. The situation is far worse. In a few hundred years the Jews will not be erased from America, but we will have at least two different nations. Two different people who will call themselves Jews, each by their own standard and judgment.  As these chasms between the Jewish nation grow, we must take the time to decide what it means to be a Jew, and what is this Jewish identity that we stubbornly fought over for thousands of years, not giving in to our enemies who worked tirelessly to wipe us off the face of the earth.

There are three options. First one is to bury our heads in the sand and pretend that there is nothing going on. Second, we can open up our borders completely, accept everyone and be completely inclusive. Each of these leaves us with nothing. The first option leaves us with a great tear within our nation; the second leaves us with no real “us”. The third option is the hardest, but it is also the best. It demands us to go back to our roots. To return to our great heritage, our history, our affluent libraries, our culture, our true identity. We must search deep within ourselves and build our identity from the bottom up again, build a ladder with invincible foundations in the ground with its head reaching up to the sky. Anyone can join and climb the ladder, but there are set safety rules to make sure you do not fall of course on our journey to infinity. Through our texts and wisdom that are unique to us, we will build the old yet new iron clad Jewish identity. For too long we have looked at others to decide how and who we should be. We have built our justice system based on the British law system, the army based on German tactics, and our theatres, literature and music based on western popular culture. Why do we look outside for the answers to these essential questions? Do we not have enough law texts -Mishna, Talmud, Shulchan Aruch and more? Do we not have flowing rivers of our own literature-Psalms, Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi, Bialik and more, that we must go out and borrow from others? The Jewish world is an infinite spring that never shall cease to give life to us and to the world as long as we keep it alive.

It is time to return to the one small sealed can of oil that has not been touched or influenced by the outside world, and light it up for the entire world to see the Jewish light. A light so bright no one can remain indifferent to it. A light that revitalizes our Jewish identity from the hollow empty identity we see as superfluous today.  It is a light only we can shine. When we shine our unique light we will find that it cannot only heal all chasms inside our small fragile nation and eliminate much darkness, but it can also shine beyond our wildest dreams and imagination.




About the Author
Aryeh is 24 years old, married and currently a shaliach (emissary) of the Jewish Agency in the united states of America. He served for three years as a warrior and commander in the IDF, and led troops into Gaza in operation protective edge. He studied in Yeshiva in "Eli" for three years learning Torah, Judaism and philosophy.
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