To be a Jew for a Day

Last month I went to a site of historical, cultural and religious significance literally in my own back yard, but which I’d nor made time to get to.  I have wanted to go to the Friends of Zion Museum in Jerusalem since it opened, and finally made the time.  The museum is significant in many ways, a topic for another article.  But one of the things that most impressed me as we went through the exhibit with a Christian group from San Diego was the comment in passing of a young woman who was so taken with the experience that she said, “I wish I could be Jewish.”

There are many famous converts to Judaism.  Yet, as a people who actively do not proselytize, the comment meant a lot. I wish I had the opportunity to take her to lunch afterward and learn what motivated this feeling and connect with her more deeply.  Did she want to feel what it was like? Express solidarity with us? Did she mean it literally?

This reminded me of a story my friend Max once shared.  His father was a strict parent and holocaust survivor who had lost his first wife and children in the Nazi inferno.  Max was a precocious child and tested limits with his father as an adolescent. One day, when Max’s father had told Max he expected more out of him in one particular way relating to Jewish observance, Max pounded his hand on the table and shouted in frustration, “It’s tough to be a Jew!”  In Yiddish.

As a people who have been persecuted basically since Abraham, I wondered if this young woman really knew what such identification even meant.  To publically identify as a Jew can be dangerous, and if she learned how dangerous I wondered if she would she shy away from even expressing such an idea. Or would she seek to connect with the Jewish people even more as did those featured in the Friends of Zion Museum?

While discrimination and being Jewish unfortunately go hand in hand, this notion played out recently by comments from American Jewish friends, and made me contemplate the status and safety of Jews in the US (and certainly around the world) as precarious and even dangerous.

“Dianne” wrote to me asking for guidance on making Aliyah, the process by which a Jew is able to receive automatic Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return.  An interesting fact, and relevant in this case, Israel’s Law of Return was adopted not only to welcome Jews back to our homeland, but to counter Nazi racial ideology that “qualified” one for extermination if he or she had just one Jewish grandparent.  So, similarly, the one Jewish grandparent rule was maintained, basically as a slap in the face to the failed albeit evil Nazi regime; if you were bad enough to die in a Nazi gas chamber or other mass murder of Jews, you were good enough to receive automatic Israeli citizenship.

Dianne wrote, “What do I need to do to become an Israeli citizen? I was the grocery store today and a man came up next to me while I got peaches.  I turned around and nearly bumped into him and he said. ‘You don’t have much time left.’ I said ‘excuse me,’ thinking he was psychotic or something. He flicked my Star of David necklace and said, ‘soon you will be up the chimneys. The world is starting to see what you are, in the name of Allah we will make sure we finish you off.’”

Her complete reply to the anti-Semite was colorful and not fit for quoting here, but part of it was awesome. “Good luck with that. I will die wrapped in the Israeli flag with an Uzi in my hands.

In an entirely different context, another American Jewish friend wrote about a religious issue with which he differed on a policy Israel had just adopted.  But amid calls for protest and reducing support to Israel, he clearly understood that “Israel is our insurance policy and although I may not like paying car, home or even life insurance, I do so because it makes sense.”  As crazy as Israel might make him feel, he was not about to stop payment and risk canceling that policy.  The message was clear: when the US becomes so unwelcoming or unsafe for Jews, as has happened in just about every society where Jews have lived for millennia, he needed Israel to be there if only for his physical safety.

Most recently, my cousin posted on Facebook how a friend just had a Nazi swastika painted on her house.  Jew hatred is everywhere.

Of course I am an advocate of all Jews coming home, but I view Israel not as a card up ones sleeve for a worst case scenario.  Israel is our best hope, fulfilling the Divine promise from God to Abraham in every generation since and in countless ways today.  We don’t need a rise in anti-Semitism to internalize that Israel is our home.

A few years ago my friend, Pastor Victor tried an experiment. He set out one day with a kippah on his head to feel what it was like and undertake the awe of being perceived as a Jew for a day. Whether a kippah or a gold Star of David necklace, Jews can often be easily identified.  It happens that Dianne was Jewish, she could have just as easily been a Christian Zionist like Victor, and many other Christian friends, who express their connection to, love for, and being grafted into the covenant of the Jewish people with God, by wearing a piece of jewelry or some other symbol of that love and connection.

Anti-Semitism comes in many forms.   Sometimes that comes in the form of Holocaust denial; pedaling the outrage that the Holocaust simply didn’t happen, or was exaggerated in order for Jews or gain control through sympathy, or some other such contorted and evil nonsense.  I experienced that personally when after writing an article once about my relatives who were murdered in the holocaust, one such evil anti-Semitic denier wrote back calling me a liar, that none of my relatives were killed in gas chambers because they didn’t exist.  Really!?  It’s like denying gravity, and people not only believe it, but use it against us. All the time.

Then of course there are the more simple anti Semites like the one Dianne encountered who affirmed the gas chambers, and basically expressing that he’s sorry more of us were not murdered.  His threat to incinerate her and any other Jews are evil and not something to take lightly.

If it weren’t so sad and scary it’d be funny that anti-Semites can’t even get their hate straight.  Their hatred is so blinding and all defining that they even contradict one another.

I recently attended the wedding of two friends, one of whom converted to Judaism.  Like Ruth, she embraced God, the Creator of the universe and His people.  It’s awesome and inspiring when people not only support and stand with unconditionally like my friend Pastor Victor and millions of others.  But it’s another thing altogether when someone throws their lot in to be one of us, with all the rights and privileges and responsibilities, and baggage and hate that that attracts as well.

I can’t help but think that we need more Ruths, but we also need more Victors, and we need more righteous gentiles as celebrated in the Friends of Zion Museum. I wish I had spoken to the young woman that day about her interest to become Jewish, not because I want her to do so or not, but because tapping that emotion is so critical to overcoming the anti-Semites that are in our midst, everywhere.

So for the woman I met at the museum, I would start small and say to her that she should get herself a Star of David necklace so that she can show her support visually, and use any interaction with an anti-Semite as an opportunity to deny hate and affirm her support for God’s people.  In fact, if I knew who she was, I’d buy the necklace for her as a gift.

I once heard Dennis Prager speak to a Christian audience at Pastor John Hagee’s church.  He reflected on another dimension of the growing bond between Jews and Christians.  Prager said, “because of the Holocaust, when I and other Jews meet a Christian, it is in the back of my/our mind: ‘Would this Christian hide and protect me if there was another Holocaust.’”

Would you?

What would you do if wearing a Star of David or kippah and you were confronted by an anti-Semite in person with such a threat as Dianne did?

Are you ready to wear the Star or a kippah to identify as a Jew, even for a day?

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