Jews in exile cannot remain Jewish unless their primary allegiance is to the Jewish People and the Jewish State
This column will argue, convincingly, I hope, that to be Jewish means to owe one’s primary allegiance to the Jewish nation and the State of Israel, regardless of one’s country of citizenship. If this is something that evokes in you, my reader, strong negative emotions, here’s your chance to x out.
The Biblical shaman Balaam, whose very name, “belo-am”, means “one who is nation-less”, saw the Israelite encampment on the eastern shores of the River Jordan just before they were about to enter Canaan. Observing their compound, he famously prophesied that they, the Israelites, today’s Jews, were a nation that “will dwell apart” and “pay no mind to other nations”. Whether Balaam himself existed around the 11th century BC when the Israelites were replacing the Canaanites, is immaterial. We know that the Hebrew Bible in almost the exact form it has today is 2,500 years old and the stories from the Torah, like the one about Balaam are likely much older still.
This suggests that long before the modern concepts of nations and nation states existed as we know them today, Jews saw themselves as separate from the rest of the world. This has held true from then to the current day and is the sole reason that I, writing these lines, am a Jew and so are a few million other people around the globe. We are Jewish, because our ancestors dating back two millennia and more, in each and every generation, made the conscious choice to avoid “minding” the “goyim”, the nations of the world, the Gentiles. They dealt with them in business, even served with valor in their armed forces or in government service, they wrote music that became iconic in their host nations, they created timeless works of art, literature and science, but they never “minded”. They never mingled.
How can I say this with such absolute certainty? Simple. Those who did mingle are no longer Jews. American Jews that marry Gentiles are the last generation of Jews in their family line. It’s really as simple as that. If you are a Jew, it is only because a hundred generations of your ancestors made the choice to remain Jewish by not minding the Gentiles, often at enormous risk and disadvantage to themselves. Whether you plan to continue that tradition, to stay a solid link in this chain, is totally up to you. You are Jewish by birth, but you stay Jewish by choice.
But what exactly is that choice? In practical terms, I mean. The answer has changed over the centuries. In the pre-modern era, the choice was mostly one of religion. Whether in Christendom or in the Islamic world it was always safer and more advantageous to convert. Many did. Those who didn’t, made the choice to remain Jewish, that is to remain marginalized. Benjamin D’Israeli, the noted British politician of the late 19th century, had to convert to Anglican Christianity in order to become prime minister. He did and was no longer a Jew. The world back then was so defined by religion that the choice of conversion or the avoidance thereof was determinative of all other choices: the choice of a spouse, a career, and even a place of residence and a wardrobe.
As the world secularized and the ghettos in Europe were opened up by Napoleon, the choices became more complex. Today, in the post-exilic world that includes the sovereign Jewish state of Israel, about half of world Jewry, the half that resides in Israel, has no choice at all. They are Jews by default. Mixed marriages exist on the margins and even then the non-Jewish partner usually converts and the kids are raised as Jewish, Hebrew-speaking Israelis. Religious observance or lack thereof is not important; the whole country, the official Israel, lives by the Jewish calendar. Judaism is in the air, in the food, in the water, and most importantly in the landscape and in the language.
For Jews living in exile, the vast majority of them in America, the choice that is required of them is much more proactive. Being a tiny minority of under 2%, they, should they want to remain Jewish, must seek out a Jewish spouse, maintain a minimum of Jewish religious observance at home, and load up their children’s cultural cart with all the treasure that is Jewish history, culture, and religion, and not just with greasy holiday foods. And there is something else, something that is much more important for keeping your Jewish identity in exile.
That something is implied in the previous sentence. The most crucial, the most critical, and the most difficult choice that one must make in order to remain a Jew in exile is simply that. It is simply realizing with every molecule in your body, with every fiber of your soul that you ARE NOT HOME. It is the constant knowledge that you are in exile. That the country you live in, the country you were born in, the country you are a citizen of, is NOT YOUR COUNTRY. The people who are the majority in your country of exile are NOT YOUR PEOPLE. Those who are in the minority are not your people either. Your people are Jews. Jews who live in your country of exile and in other exiles and, of course, in Israel. You do have a country, but it is not your country of residence. It is Israel.
None of this means that you cannot and should not be a model citizen of your country of exile. If you should choose to serve in its armed forces, you should honor your pledge of allegiance to them, but that may not always be easy. Jonathan Pollard, a hero of the Jewish people who is now rotting in an American jail, chose to honor his true allegiance, the one to his true country, Israel, over his exilic allegiance to America. Pollard was a naval intelligence officer and when the US withheld from Israel (which at that time, unlike today, did not have its own spy satellites) crucial intelligence that could save Jewish lives, he chose his allegiance to Israel and disclosed this information to the Israeli government. If you wish to remain a Jew in America, it may be better if you are a dentist, or a divorce lawyer, or an engineer in a non-military role unless you want to have your loyalties tested like Pollard’s were.
If you are an American Jew and when you visit France and see a skull cap wearing Jew on the street, if you do not feel closer to him than to any Gentile American, you are likely the last Jew in your family; you have already made, albeit perhaps unconsciously, the choice to leave the Jewish people.
My wife and I can hardly be called observing Jews. We eat plenty of pork. But when, on our travels, we hear Hebrew, or see a person with the garb of an ultra-Orthodox Jew, or see a Star of David around a girl’s neck, our hearts fill with warmth, with the kind of joy one only feels when one sees family. It is the kind of feeling one does not feel at any other time, in any other place. If you are not like that, you are likely the last Jew in your family line.
Jewish existence in exile is existence on the margins. If that bothers you, you can come home to Israel or choose to stop being Jewish. The choice that many Jewish Americans kid themselves into making, the choice that ostensibly allows them to be Jews who see in America their true home and in other Americans their true countrymen, is a false choice. It is a choice that has never existed in any of the many exiles that Jews found themselves in over the last two millennia and it does not exist now in America.
Congresswoman Ilhan Omar is an anti-Semite, but not because she accused American Jews of “dual loyalties”. American Jews do have dual loyalties and if they don’t, they are not really Jews. Omar understands this very well, because her own loyalty is to the Ummah, the Nation of Islam and most definitely not to the United States, no matter what oath she swore. She is an anti-Semite simply because she hates Jews; her dual loyalty accusation is only a tactic she uses to deflect the well-justified attacks on her, many by Jews in and out of Congress, for her rabid anti-Semitism.
Jews are few, but we are survivors. We have outlived most nations and empires and we will most certainly outlive America. This longevity comes at a high price, a price that most Jews in exile have not been willing to pay, but if you, my reader, are Jewish, your ancestors were among those who have. May you not betray their memory by choosing otherwise.