Steve Kramer
Steve Kramer

Whither Jewish Identity 5782

Do you believe that our universe, and all other possible universes, was created by an everlasting supreme force? Or, do you believe that our universe, and all other possible universes, was created ex nihilo, out of nothing but coincidence? Is it even relevant?

I believe that this is a pertinent question at this time of year, the Jewish High Holy Days. In the months of Elul and Tishrei, Jews are prompted to reflect on their beliefs and actions regarding their loved ones, their friends and acquaintances, and people in general. Upon reflection, if one determines that his/her conduct has hurt another, action is urged to acknowledge that and, if possible, to ask for forgiveness from the recipient. This conduct exemplifies Jewish identity on a high moral level. If the High Holy Days mean nothing to you, your children, or your grandchildren, their Jewish identity is wavering, to say the least.

Does a belief in a supreme being, or not, enter into this picture? If the former guides you, and you are Jewish, the format for repenting is emphasized and codified in our monotheistic beliefs. Or, if you have the latter opinion, you might follow the religious format for humanistic reasons, because this behavior promotes wellbeing for all of humanity. But humanism is a shaky foundation for moral behavior, since it is dependent of the notions of the current, host society, which can run the gamut from freedom to slavery, or less dramatically, from “color blindness” to “critical race theory.”

This leads me to the question of how important is it for Jews to believe in a Creator or some type of Intelligent Design. Can one be Jewish and leave God out of it? It seems that way, judging from the multiple strains of Judaism (ultra Orthodox, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, and other congregations) which differ from each other in their adherence to the Creator. In fact, some claim to be Orthodox and do not believe in a Supreme Being. Today, many less observant rabbinical students seeking ordination and rabbis in pulpits eschew a belief in a supreme being and are ignorant of the centrality of Israel to Judaism.

This leads me to a problem prevalent outside of Israel, of Jews disparaging their religion and even more, becoming knee-jerk critics of Israel – its actions and even its very existence. Why do I say outside of Israel? Because by living in Israel one imbibes the essence of Judaism without even trying: speaking the Biblical language, following the biblical calendar, “celebrating” the holidays, and in many cases, living among the historical remains of our previous Jewish kingdoms: Jerusalem, Hebron, Tiberius, and Safed/Tsfat.

In Israel, many if not most of secular Jews (who are the plurality) fast on Yom Kippur, don’t even think of driving on that day, attend a Seder and eat matzah on Passover, have some sort of family evening meal on Friday night, don’t work on Saturday (Shabbat), and attend lectures or take courses on Jewish subjects. There are secular public schools which teach Jewish history, the Bible, and the holidays. There are also religious public schools for the Orthodox and many other private schools and yeshivas for those who eschew the state educational system.

Alarmingly, there is growing disaffection among some Jews in the Diaspora who have disdain for the Jewish religion and indifference, or even hostility to Israel, the homeland of the Jews and its national state. These uber-critics have allied themselves with the Jew haters, intentionally in many cases and unintentionally in some.

I have a hard time reconciling myself to this Jewish hatred of our religion and country. I think the haters, especially the younger generation of college age, are ignorant even if intelligent, and haven’t gained the faculty of critical thinking. Or, if they were taught it, it was nullified by the non-stop onslaught of negativity towards Jews and Israel emanating from the mass media and its promoters, including newspapers (especially The New York Times) Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, huge “woke” corporations and now, even in colleges and universities which anoint “diversity” as the highest value – but ignore the fact that Jews are a tiny minority of 2% in the US.

My hope is that people who have no curiosity and who have stopped thinking for themselves will eventually wise up. The Jewish ones would realize that they have inherited an incredible legacy by virtue of their Jewish roots, a legacy which goes back four thousand years. And also that they are fortunate to live in the period where Jews have regained sovereignty over their homeland, Israel, from which most Jews were exiled by the Roman Empire in 70 CE, but which has continuously had a Jewish presence since about 1,000 BCE.

I wish all my readers, regardless of religion or belief in a creator, to have a healthy, satisfying, and prosperous year in 5782!

About the Author
Steve Kramer grew up in Atlantic City, graduated from Johns Hopkins in 1967, adopted the hippie lifestyle until 1973, then joined the family business for 15 years. Steve moved to Israel from Margate, NJ in 1991 with his family. He has written more than 1100 articles about Israel and Jews since making Aliyah. Steve and his wife Michal live in Kfar Saba.
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