Several days ago I received an email from a friend forwarding an article from a wonderful website dedicated to promoting 'random acts of kindness' in the world. I concurred that it was a good thing to do, (while I believe in doing other things as well) - and I actually signed up as a member!
That said, I want to expound on an idea related to those acts, and related to my previous blog, which paraphrased the letter I sent to the author of that website.
We are Jews. What the heck is that? Who exactly are we? Well, lets go back in history a bit...
Crash Course in Jewish History, 'al regel achat' ("on one leg" = quickly and superficially!): [source: Jewish Virtual Library - errors or omissions are mine alone]
Way, way back, before Avraham (Abraham) came on the scene and even before his father Terach, there ruled and warred in Mesopotamia beginning from around the year 1170 BCE various Semitic peoples. The Assyrians for a time ruled in the north, but they were beaten by peoples from the south, and eventually overrun by Hammurabi, thus effectively 'disappearing from history'. Other nations of the time were Hittites and Hurrians who fought the Assyrians and had similar values.
Assyrian rule was characterized, as was their arch-enemy Babylon and every other nations' rule at the time, by war, conquest, and vanquishing the enemy. Some civilizations made strides in economic, social or cultural areas - including the Assyrians, in science and mathematics - but that was a result of their occupation with wars, strategies and conquests, not because of their great altruism!
Until the birth of Avraham, the different nations populating the world believed in multiple gods, sometimes even sacrificing their children to 'appease' those gods (gosh, why didn't I think of that when my kids were little and driving me crazy!), and believed in waging wars.
Avraham was born in around 1800 BCE (1948 since the creation of the world...and Israel was granted Statehood in the same year, CE. Hmm-mm....) to an idol-worshipping, idol-making father, Terach. According to recorded history (as far as I know), Avraham was the first to question the belief in idols as gods. He understood that they were inanimate objects created by man and had no power whatsoever (this really ticked his father off).
Avraham sought G-d first, and then G-d communicated with Him. To make a long story longer (!), a Covenant was created between G-d and Avraham which involved "rights and obligations on both sides".
This was the beginning of the Jewish People. According to Jewish tradition, G-d gave Jews the land of Israel, a set of civil and religious laws to live by, very different from the way of life of everyone else. We were to be 'ohr la-goyim' (a light unto the nations); and if we lived by those laws, He would always be with us and we would always continue to be His people. These laws were highly civilized for their time (and still are today), emphasizing fair treatment and exemplary behavior between man and man, as well as laws between man and G-d, e.g., observing and honoring the Sabbath, keeping the laws of Kashrut (kosher laws), etc.
That's it, in a nutshell! (whew!) This is what observant Jews believe. If we didn't, what is the purpose of the Land of Israel for the Jews? We could just as well live in Uganda (which had actually been suggested...)! And we would be just like everyone else on the planet.
But we aren't like everyone else on the planet! We are different, because we adhered to what we believed all these thousands of years was G-d's Covenant with Avraham and the Jewish People.
And that was and apparently still is, a thorn in everyone's side. The Jewish People gave the world its civil law. The Jewish People is the basis for two other great religions, Christianity and Islam. Christianity, at least, is even based on the Old Testament, which is our Torah. So, they believe as well (-or should) that the Land of Israel was given to the Jewish People by G-d Himself.
But our enemies, who are publicly threatening our existence are loudly proclaiming THE BIG LIE, that we have no history in nor do we have a right to the land. And the rest of the world is standing by, silent. If you proclaim a lie long enough and loud enough, people will begin to believe you (including even yourself!).
And that's where the Identity Crisis - the title of this blog - comes into play. If we believe that we are just like everybody else, then, who needs Israel?! Then, our enemies are justified in blowing us to bits! Certainly, it's easier to just live in the United States than in Israel (I'm not familiar enough with Europe to comment...). Why fight to keep it? We could move into Texas - much bigger, no enemies at our borders, a car in every garage... We could even give up being Jews; why bother? 'Chosen People'? Chosen for what, to be slaughtered and slandered through the ages?? Who needs it!
Who needs it, indeed...
But if we believe we are different, that G-d spoke to us and made us His People, that He took us out of bondage in Egypt, then we are obligated to stand up for the right to be who we are, to live by that which we believe, and not allow others who hate us, for whatever reason (is their conscience bothering them? Are we their concscience??) to persecute us and drive us from our land. And the Jews have been persecuted by almost everyone for thousands of years. Logically we shouldn't even be here after all the atrocities perpetrated against us!
It's not as if we were war-mongers and constantly attacking or even threatening others; when was the last time you were afraid of a bunch of Hassidim walking towards you on the street? To paraphrase Dennis Miller (I think it was he who wrote this-forgive me if it is not): " at the most, you'd be afraid the Jews would debate you to death!"
So, we need to continue to do our kindnesses to others, to live by the Divine Morality which has kept us one of the most highly civilized nations in the world; that is our task, as given to us by G-d. But that goes part and parcel with knowing who we are, and standing up for the Truth.
As is written about what Mark Twain said about the Jewish People: 'prejudice against Jews derived neither from their public conduct nor their religion, but from envy that Christians felt toward Jewish economic achievements... Twain observed that envy "is a much more hate-inspiring thing than is any detail connected with religion.'
In his Concerning the Jews, Mark Twain concluded thus:
"The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then . . . passed away. The Greek and the Roman followed. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts. … All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?"
I welcome your comments.