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To be or not to be...a Jew?

By Zanna Linskaia

There are differences among Jews about what it means to be Jewish. For orthodox Jews are more important religious elements than for Jews of no religion. Religious Jews are stronger connected to Jewish heritage than secular Jews.

We are living in turbulent time when anti-Semitism is on higher level after WWII in many countries. So, how to survive as a Jew, and how to keep our Jewish identity? In my old interview with a chief Rabbi of Israel Meir Lau he said, that Jews as a nation can disappear not by confrontation with Arabs and Muslims, but by assimilation with non Jews in Western and European countries. Statistics of Jewish population all over the world show the drastically reduced numbers of people who identify themselves as Jewish.

Nevertheless, how Jews survive throughout the centuries? The marvel of Jewish survival had amazed historians and philosophers: they found the answer in Jewish culture, spirit and Torah - the main book of humanity. Great Rabbi Akiva taught us that Torah is for Jewish survival as water for fish. Jews who do not accept it’s laws and refuse to follow it’s rules are like ships broken off an anchor and drifted to the different parts of ocean.

In Jewish history there had been many tragical periods when Jews forcefully converted to Christianity, changing their names and identity. In the former Soviet Union Jewish culture, Yiddish and Hebrew languages, schools and theatres were cancelled - only one thing was permanent - your nationality - “Jew”written in your Soviet passport. As a matter of fact, many Russian and Ukrainian Jews changed their names pretending to be non Jewish. It did not help. Many writers, actors, musicians had public pseudonyms - otherwise they could not be published or had performances. Only few of them kept their own names and Jewish identity.

With the Russian-Ukrainian war Israel accepts now thousands of Jews or Jewish descendants. But how many of them identify themselves as Jewish?

Yedidia Stern, the vice president of the Israel Democracy Institute, admits Jewish identity crisis in Israel with the tension between Western liberal culture and traditional Jewish heritage. Another persona, former Speaker of the Knesset and one time candidate for the leadership of “Avoda” (Labor Party), Avraham Burg went so far and argues that Israel should no longer be a Jewish state, the Law of Return is racist and Israel is in danger of becoming Nazi country. Burg has made the request to have his designation as a Jew and declined his Jewish identity. His critics describe him as “the stereotypical leftist” who began to express revulsion for the world in which he had been raised and for the country which he had served.

His self-disgust sets him even apart from his peers in Israeli society.

Assimilation, anti-Semitism or self-destruction - what can be a biggest thread to Jewish survival and Jewish identity? Arab countries in the Middle East own 99.98% of the land. Jewish state had been allowed to have 0,18% of the territory. The tiny place in the world - Israel, with which we - Jews, have deep and ancient connection for 3,000 years. No, doubt, we should survive, because we have a message to the world and to ourselves - do not fear of hate and oppressions. Light the candles for Shabbat and be proud of your Jewish identity and the Jewish mission.

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